After millennia of grossly preferring sons to daughters, our society seems increasingly ready to commit to the narrative of raising bold, confident, independent girls. We are passionate about equality and the possibility of an entire sex having the opportunities that have so long been denied.
Where can the future take us if we encourage and pride ourselves on having daughters? What injustices can we right as we overturn a culture that has left girls and women vulnerable and disenfranchised for so long?
Girl power vs. boy power
The girl revolution is exhilarating, positive, necessary. I am as strong an advocate as any individual can be.
But as human nature so often ensures, one collective action often triggers an unintended and unfortunate reaction. As much as it may make us uncomfortable to contemplate, I believe we may be setting our sons up for grave disappointment.
From TED Talks to The New York Times to parenting articles and conversations with our playgroups, we’re left with the gray area of our boys. Whereas “girl power” often evokes feelings of empowerment and positivity, “boy power” is often reserved for describing negative and destructive forces.
We are continually told we must be vigilant to prevent our boys from being bullies. We are reminded that stereotypical boy behavior perpetuates rape culture and prevents our sons from being emotionally intelligent, competent human beings. In a complete 180-degree role reversal, being a well-raised boy is now largely framed by how he can best support the opposite sex.
I’m not saying that these aren’t conversations we need to be having. I’m also not saying this isn’t bringing about positive change. What I am saying is that the pervasiveness with which these topics seem to permeate every element of boyhood also creates a great deal of negativity and even shame surrounding the business of raising our sons.
Despite the growing body of evidence that girls are outperforming boys in our education systems, graduating from college at higher rates than their male counterparts, and more likely to possess the preferred leadership styles of the 21st-century world, we still aren’t openly able to speak about how our boys might be experiencing vulnerabilities.
An ineffable concoction
Parents contend with two dominating mentalities on boys: Boys are either by nature dirty and destructive little hellions, or they can grow into sensitive, emotionally intelligent, nurturing members of society – should they be raised in the correct enlightened environment.
I have three children, two of whom are boys. Without question, having sons has been the most humbling experience of my parenting journey.
The truth is, it can be overwhelming to contend with mentalities which place boys as either hopeless causes or perpetual improvement projects. So often you’ll hear intimidation, concern, and even fear when an adult discusses the prospect of having sons.
In wrestling with these issues, the truth I always come back to is this: My boys, just like all humans, are ineffable concoctions of genetics, temperaments, hormones, and life experiences. Deny the role of any of the aforementioned ingredients and you miss part of the beauty of being human. To hold that any one theory encapsulates a perfect understanding of raising boys is, in my mind, absolute folly.
My sons possess traits stereotypical of boys. They are boisterous, energetic, physical, and yes, at times aggressive.
They possess traits stereotypical of girls. They are sensitive, emotional, and frequently gravitate toward things that are “lovely” or “beautiful.”
They are different from one another. One is cautious; the other literally thanks God for danger when he prays. One is affectionate; the other only embraces when he is sick or in need of reassurance. One son is happiest playing in the dirt; the other feels most comfortable wearing a sweater vest and tie.
There are times when I have been faced with what is, in my mind, the undeniable interplay of their maleness and their interests. Despite growing up with virtually no screen time and being exposed to a spectrum of activities and experiences, they still, more often than not, prefer boy things.
There are times when I’m left wondering. Though I continually reinforce gentle play, both boys take great delight in destroying things, making noise, and causing a commotion. Modern parenting calls for an unequivocal tapering of this behavior.
At one point, I agreed with that, but now I cannot help but wonder if we are condemning physicality for its association with men the way we formerly looked down on displays of emotion because of its association with women. We’re told to avoid the “boys will be boys” mentality, but are we forgetting that boys will be kids?
At times, I see the heartbreaking vulnerability of being a boy. Being surrounded by a culture of toxic masculinity limits their interests and emotions. They also wrestle with and perhaps even underplay parts of who they are because it’s being misaligned with undesirable “boy power.”
Raising sons with positive boy power
Throughout all this, I see more and more that my job as their parent is to raise my sons up to be the best versions of themselves. I must help them build within their hearts a positive image of themselves – including positive associations with “boy power.”
Boys must be comfortable in their bodies and feel good about being boys. They must learn that they can make this world a more just place because they are inherently agents of good, not bad. They must genuinely support and encourage their female counterparts, all while seeing the uniqueness and value of their individual consciences and their maleness.
Boys growing up in the 21st century still need to hear they can be heroes. They possess the endurance, strength, compassion, and abilities that will compliment all the incredible things our society is encouraging in our girls. Yes, our sons can still slay the dragon, solve the riddle, and save the day, all the while having true partners in our daughters.
Ultimately, I hope our boys can listen to their consciences and live their lives as only they were created to live. To thrive in a world in which every boy and girl sees within themselves a power to bring about good would be a beautiful thing.
This article was previously published on thingsiteachmychildren.com.