In this post: We need to help our boys display more than just three simple emotions so they can feel more connected to others. Here are 11 traits I’m instilling in my sons to help my boys manage their emotions.
As a mother of four sons, I’ve heard this a million times: “Boys are not as emotional as girls.” It’s always coupled with the encouragement that I have it “easier” than girl moms since they have to deal with the “emotional side “of parenting.
But the truth is, as human beings, boys experience the same emotions as girls. Full stop. (Also, each gender has “harder” and “easier” moments when it comes to parenting).
Here’s where the cultural narrative diverts: Boys, particularly when they are teenagers, are not given the same emotional education as girls because people often believe the lie that males have the emotional capacity for three emotions: Glad, sad, and mad.
We do not encourage boys, particularly in the teenage years, to feel the full range of emotions, and we certainly are not teaching boys how to manage their emotions.
Coupled with this lie is the toxic shame we heap on adolescent boys for expressing sadness, fear, anxiety, or vulnerability of any sort. It may be as overt as punishing a boy who cries or as covert as telling him to “man up” when he’s upset, instead of having a real conversation about what is actually going on.
We Need to Shift the Narrative About Masculinity to Help Boys Manage Their Emotions
As a boy mom, I’m hyper-aware of these narratives about men that our culture embraces. And while I celebrate my boys’ masculine energy and life outlook, I want to shift some of the toxic lies and stereotypes about masculinity that are so much a cultural norm that we don’t even recognize them at times, such as:
We complain that our men have the emotional awareness of a teaspoon but swallow the lie that men just “aren’t as emotional” as women.
We laugh and roll our eyes at bumbling portrayals of clueless husbands and fathers on TV and social media, but never demand that we change the scripts.
We wonder why teens and men commit violent crimes but never teach them that what they are feeling is grief, disappointment, or loneliness. Their emotional pain, with no outlet, metastasizes and come out as rage in their behavior.
We feel weird when men admit they deal with issues such as body image, anxiety, and depression but are shocked and horrified when they take their own lives. We need to stop judgment when it comes to mental health.
We don’t model comfort and gentleness to our boys when they are hurt, either physically or emotionally or teach them healthy ways to cope. We tell them to toughen up. After all, “boys don’t cry” and need to be the tough guy.
We often don’t model apologizing and relationship repair to our own children, even though they are always watching and need to learn positive emotional expression from both males and females.
We give in too easily to the smiles and charm of a cute and convincing son, and they learn that mom’s “no” means “convince me.” This becomes a problem with issues such as consent and understanding how to manage frustrations.
11 Traits I’m Instilling in My Sons to Help Them Understand Their Emotions
While, in recent years, our society has made amazing progress in recognizing narratives of toxic masculinity, we still have a long way to go. To combat some of these narratives, here are 11 truths I’m striving to instill in my sons:
1. Boys have as many emotions and moods as girls.
2. There are dozens of emotions beyond sad, mad, and glad. Let’s learn to recognize them together and build their emotional vocabulary.
3. You can be strong and gentle.
4. It’s okay to cry. It’s not embarrassing. It’s normal.
5. Men need to take care of their mental health, and it’s okay to seek professional help and attend therapy..
6. When you’re upset, you need to talk about it. Don’t let it turn toxic inside you.
7. Comfort others when they are upset, with words and touch.
8. Good relationships take work.
9. It’s not weak to apologize; in fact, it means you’re strong and mature.
10. In the home there’s no men’s work or women’s work—there’s just work.
11. No means no. Full stop.
We Are Starting to See a Culture Shift When It Comes to Males and Emotions
In our culture, even though emotional awareness, relationship management, and family life have been traditionally labeled as “feminine”, the conversation is shifting. Our culture is beginning to embrace the truth that emotional intelligence, empathy, and relational maturity are for all humans.
I want to be part of the conversation and shift the dialogue, stepping up to the plate as a “Boy Mom”. I want to do my part to change the narratives of toxic masculinity, doing the hard work of raising boys to be men who are both masculine and emotionally mature. It helps to start young, but we can make a lasting impression during the teen years as young men are managing hormones, changing bodies, and developing brains.
While the sobering reality is that any teaching or guiding on my part as a mother is never a 100% safeguard against my sons’ choices, the truth is that being proactive is essential, especially in the world we live in today that includes the #metoo movement, mass shootings, mental health crises, and rising suicide rates among the male population.
We cannot be passive; we cannot shrug and dismiss in despair; we cannot hide from difficult conversations or confrontations,
We need to help our boys understand their positive and negative emotions, identify the triggers that cause rage and offer appropriate ways for them to cope, encourage them to build solid friendships and deep connections that fill them up, and be a safe place for them when they get it wrong.
We need to nurture them with love instead of feeling we need to toughen them up. The goal should be autonomy, the ability to address and advocate their needs in relation to others; not isolating independence that makes them feel like a failure when they are sad or defeated.
There is so much we as parents can do to confront the culture, to transform the narrative for our sons, and to raise our boys to be the healthy, mature, and heroic men that our world needs.
Let’s teach our boys to be emotionally aware and mature, knowledgeable and in control of their bodies, emotions, and minds, and confident that their strength and gentleness can be used as a force of good in their relationships and in the world.
Let’s start the conversation today.
This is a contributed post from Brittany Meng. Brittany Meng is a military wife who currently lives in Illinois with her husband, four sons and one daughter. She is the host of The Motherhood Metamorphosis podcast and the author of Unexpected: Learning to love your unpredictable story (2018). She writes about special needs, self-care, spiritual growth, and raising kids without losing your mind. Follow her on Facebook here.
Want to learn more about how to raise boys who are in touch with their emotions? This book, How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Raise Good Men, is helpful and recommended by several mental health professionals.