Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How Do You Make a Man?

It's a hot topic. I've only been in the mom game for about a decade, but there is something that annoys the tar out of me. It's my biggest pet peeve and it's that most annoying of statements: "It's a boy thing." Following as a close second in the pet peeve category: "It's a girl thing." I hate that. Now if we're talking penises and vaginas then yes, it's a boy or a girl thing. The past few days, stupid parental statements and actions have torqued my jaw.

I tend to get more bent out of shape when things seem forbidden to boys or when boys get mocked for doing things that are "for girls." Our society seems much more open to girls experimenting with different activities. If a girl tries something, we call her "adventurous" and we don't want to pigeon-hole her. Boys still don't get that freedom. There lies an unspoken concern among (some) mothers and (more) fathers that if their sons play with certain toys or participate in certain games their manhood might shrivel.

Lately, I've heard that boys shouldn't:

- play in a pink Little Tikes house. Men don't live in houses with pink bricks? Men can only live in camo-covered bunkers? Please. Half the houses in my neighborhood have bricks with pink specks in them and I have yet to see a husband wandering around in his driveway afraid to go inside to his wife and kids because walking into a pink-bricked house might make him less of a man.

- play with a plastic kitchen set. Men don't cook? Does Bobby Flay look gay to you? Do Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and Alton Brown look feeble to you? Besides, who wouldn't want her man to make her a delicious dinner?

- play with dolls. Men can't cuddle their babies? This, freakazoid mothers and fathers of the the world, is why we have men who claim they don't know how to care for babies. Men can nurture just as effectively as women. (Yes, men can nurture effectively - differently than women, but effectively.) Who hasn't melted at the sight of her husband caring for their baby? Little boys can't cuddle a doll and pretend to be Daddy? Don't we need loving, nurturing men?

- play with stuffed animals. Men shouldn't have strong emotional quotients? I'm busy being indignant right now and don't feel like looking it up, but I have read studies that show that kids who play with stuffed animals tend to have stronger skills in negotiating their emotions and therefore adapt better to changes in their environment. Why do you think firefighters and hospitals ask for donated stuffed animals to give to traumatized children?

- play dress-up. Men can't pretend? If your daughter can dress up like a Jedi or an Army hero to save the family from certain doom, your son can't put on fairy wings and pretend to drop fairy dust on his toys to make them fly? First of all, men make some fine actors. Think about Clint Eastwood for just a moment. Men dress in tights to wrestle and no one calls Hulk Hogan gay. And did you see The Rock wearing tights in Tooth Fairy? Oh my, but I digress... Putting on wings or tights or dancing around in his mom's heels won't damage his masculinity any more than your daughter heading a soccer ball will damage her femininity. Speaking of tights brings us to another thing boys don't do:

- dance. Men don't dance? Patrick Swayze made more than a few women swoon. Mikhail Baryshnikov wore tights and danced and no one doubted that he lacked manhood. NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann made an amazing receiver and also danced
ballet. I know this because he appeared on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I'd love to take a turn around the dance floor with my rhythm-free husband. Sigh.

...and the big one...

- cry. "Boys don't cry."
So... by that logic they aren't boys if they cry? I know parents who tell their five year-old son to stop crying because "boys don't cry." Nice. What happened to loving your child as he is? Eventually, kids outgrow crying about everything. And if they don't, their friends will tease them and that will be all the motivation needed to not cry in public. Sure, I understand the argument that by telling them not to cry you're saving them from humiliation. By the same token, aren't you telling them they need to hide their emotions, even from you? Aren't you inadvertently teaching them they can't be truthful with their parents?

I don't want to be the mom who doesn't get to hear her son's sorrows because he knows from experience not to show me his sad emotions. That said, in our house our kids do not get to carry on crying for ages in the common rooms. If they need to cry continuously, they are welcome to let it all out - in their rooms. But I most certainly don't tell them "boys don't cry." Not only do I want my sons to talk to me and tell me what happens in their lives, I want them to talk to their future, respective wives and not shut them out with their moody, brooding nonsense because they lack the emotional tools to communicate.

Likewise, I don't want my husband falling apart in tears at the office because he didn't get the big promotion. I also don't want my husband drinking himself into a stupor or driving like an angry ass because he can't communicate his emotions. I want him to talk to me and effectively share how he feels. If I want that from my husband, don't I want that for my sons? Don't I owe them the training to know how to handle themselves and not just learn to stuff down the blues? Won't that help them grow into better men?

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we force our sons to achieve early manhood.

Wow. I feel better having gotten that off my chest. By no means am I saying I'm a perfect mom. I'm not. I'm a mess. But, I have a hunch that making men out of my boys has less to do with me removing influences and making them "buck up" into something they aren't ready to be and more to do with me loving them where they are and keeping an eye on where we're going. I'm just sayin'.

Want more of my thoughts on being a mom of boys? Read this.

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