Raising boys that are nice to girls. And not just nice, but, respectful, kind, supportive. The kind of boy turned man that you would be proud to marry off. Oh where to begin.
Our culture can be so weird, right? To this day the word the ‘masculinity’ can still be associated with a boy high fiving friends in the locker room. We know what we get when a boy is raised with the ‘boy’ code: a mask of masculinity, false bravado, the need to be aggressive and to win, and to ignore or repress feelings of vulnerability in themselves or other. These are the men who seem strong but who are, actually, weakest in many ways because they’re hiding or are unaware of their neediness and are poorly equipped to engage in any kind of actual honest relationship.
And yet there are boys that are thriving. That have connected and respectful relationships with not only peers but with their mothers. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen friends of L’s and their older brothers that truly love and respect and are connected to their moms. Not in an apron string mama’s boy kind of way, but in a underlining sense of understanding. Boys that are being taught that empathy, nuturance, and a talent for friendships and relationships are not just feminine qualities.
What are these moms doing right? I chatted with a few of them and did a bit of research and reflected on what I’ve done with my own boys so far and here is what I’ve come up with.
- Teach them (very) young to develop friendships with boys and girls. It’s only natural to set up the playdates with the other boy running around wild, trucks in hand. Makes total sense. Yet from a very young age, I’m talking like 6 months, both my boys have been playing playing playing with boys and girls. In fact, they both have very close friends they have had almost their whole lives and I don’t think they even knew for the first few years there was a difference between them. To this day, at almost ten, L lists one particular girl at the top of his boy dominant friend list time and time again. It may have shifted into a more embarassing shy smile kind of way, but that foundation was laid strong.
- Teach them the concept of girls first. This may seem so basic but I’m thinking if, from very early on, boys are taught girls first that is just a good thing all around. They both took the concept to the extreme in the preschool years. The other day as B was leaving baseball and I was still gathering my things (and his) he was standing at the door yelling ‘mom I’m holding the door for you!!!! Laaaaaadies first!!!!!’ Thank you B, thank you. I’m coming.
- Feelings, feelings, feelings. It’s not just a feminine trait to express feelings. Boys can cry. And you can talk to them about why they are crying or upset or angry or hurt. Listen. And in return give them feelings back. Boys who get affection, love, respect, and compassion, grow up whole, not unconsciously seeking what they needed from their parents in the earlier years. We are not contaminating them with ‘female’ qualities yet rather we are giving them the foundation needed to grow into actual emphatic human beings.
- Teach them the whole meaning of the word ‘strong.’ Boys love the word strong am I right? Strength muscle grrrrrr. All in constant rotation around here. Yet strength goes way beyond biceps and flexing. Use the word strong in a way they’d least expect. For example, “you were such a kind and strong friend that you went to visit your friend in the hospital.’ Make that connection for them that it took something from within that was strong and acknowledge it in a positive way.
- Young boys are watching their dads. This is so obvious, right? And of course day to day to day no one, neither mom nor dad, can be the perfect example. And yet there are things that are just innately nice for the young boys to hear out loud. ‘You sit down, you cooked. I will clean up.’ Amen. Also, just show up. Go to the game. Get home for dinner. Be present. Easier said that done at times but my goodness I have huge faith it makes a difference in those impressionable brains.
Baby steps, am I right? Laying the foundation early in hopes that a few things stick. Sure there will be times they will all be complete idiots, that’s all part of it. Yet let’s hope the good overrules most of the time. I’m so hopeful that a boy who is fully and deeply loved, who learns to acknowledge his feelings and is well equipped to express them, and who learns to take responsibility for his actions, to value compassion and live it daily — this is the boy who will grow into a man who’ll make a loving companion. That’s good for the friend he will be and the woman he eventually may marry. And even better for the man he becomes.