I have a five-year-old son. He is spirited, energetic, stubborn, and seriously close to being a wild animal. In short, he is exhausting. He runs and yells and skips and laughs. He gets mad and throws tantrums. He plays with cars and trucks and throws balls. He can be a little destructive sometimes. But you know what else? He loves, hard. He hugs, he kisses, he talks about “filling up buckets” for the people he cares about. He asks for makeup when he sees me getting ready in the morning. He wears my heels around the house sometimes. He likes his nails painted when mine are, he plays house with his baby brother, and he is the best snuggler I have ever met in my entire life.
It’s hard sometimes because his personality is a force to be reckoned with. I hear it all the time. He’s a boy! He’s allllll boy. What a boy! ! And I see people laughing at these statements. It happens so much. And most people are well-meaning and I get a laugh as they say it, but truth be told it really bothers me. It bothers me because these people see the impulsive and aggressive side of my son, and they laugh it off. They see him arguing with me about something insignificant (like how he wants yet ANOTHER transformer from Target) and laugh and make excuses for his behavior. “Oh, he’s just a boy!”
I see it when he shows his sensitive side, when he wants to be affectionate or play with dolls, and people (ahem Father-in-law, I’m looking at you) will criticize him for it. “Boys don’t play with dolls!” “Boys don’t wear dresses!” “Boys don’t act like girls!” and you know what? Fuck that noise. We are literally teaching our sons to see girls as less-than. That “feminine” means being a cry-baby, whiny, a tattletale, and a million other negative things. This is not good enough. Not for our daughters and not for our sons. I want my sons to know that they can be anything. And not just that they can be anything, but that ANYONE can be ANYTHING. Even girls.
For me, this means conditioning my sons from the very beginning that emotions are not to be punished. They are to be validated and handled in an appropriate manner. For instance, when my oldest does cry because he heard no to another effing transformer (seriously? WHY ARE THERE SO MANY?), he knows he will not be punished, chastised, or in trouble in any way for crying. He is allowed to feel sadness, disappointment, hurt, and anger. One of my proudest moments was a few months ago when my in-laws were visiting and my son got upset about missing something fun because they were visiting. My father-in-law said, “Oh stop crying, ya little girl.” Before I even got my earrings off, my son said, “That’s a very rude thing to say, I am a boy and I am allowed to be upset. You don’t get to tell me how to feel, grandpa.” MIC. DROP. SON.
My in-laws have come to learn that shit like that doesn’t fly in my house. Because here, “boys will be boys” means that boys get to be themselves. If my son wants painted fingernails and comfy leggings, that’s cool with me. If he wants to wear makeup to school, that’s still a no-no though because I didn’t get to rock eyeliner to school until I was 14 so no way I’m letting a five-year-old wear it. On the weekends, he does like a little bit of orange eyeshadow or a bit of brow pencil. What can I say? Like mother, like son. “Boys will be boys” also means that they are held to the same standards that I would hold a daughter to—like the no makeup rule, for instance. Or the fact that I encourage them to follow their passions. My oldest changes his mind all the time in regards to what he wants to be when he grows up. Right now he is pretty dead set on being a construction worker, an artist, and “cool”. You do you, kid.
At the end of the day, I am honored to look around and see so many of my friends parenting in a way that allows for so much more emotional freedom for little boys and so much more disdain for toxic masculinity. Rape culture starts from day one. Teaching girls that boys push them because they like them is rape culture. Teaching boys that they are acting like “little girls” when they cry is rape culture. This all permeates and then lends itself to the ideals that women are not only less than men, but their feelings are insignificant, do not matter, and therefore, women do not matter. Although, this phenomenon is another blog for another day, it is imperative to understand the damage done to our sons and daughters when we laugh and say, “Boys will be boys!”
I often discuss books that I reach for when teaching my kids different themes, and this is no different. Books I love are “How Full is Your Bucket?”, “The Feelings Book”, “In My Heart”, and “You, Me, and Empathy”. Now that my oldest is five, he can make real life connections to the books we’re reading. I am honored that the universe has given me two incredibly, magnificent, and adorable boys to raise into the world. And I refuse to give them excuses for poor behavior just because they have a penis. Kid by kid, it adds up. And while the world right now is a dumpster fire that could explode at any moment, I truly have hope for the future. And I can’t wait to see what kind of future our kids grow into.