Please stop telling little boys they need to “toughen up”

The last family gathering we had, some of the male adult figures in my son’s life kept saying they needed to “toughen him up”. And here’s the kicker.. he’s not even TWO yet. As his mom, I cringed. I guess I didn’t think as deeply about it in the moment, I laughed it off while taking my son out of their arms as he had his little arms stretched out to me and whined for me to take him. I remember saying: “his body, his choice” – he did not want to be picked up by them at that time. Ultimately, he was just trying to tell them he didn’t like what they were doing − just like I taught him, just like I want him to always be in control of his own body and feel like his opinion is important, his feelings matter. With no words of his own, he sure knew how to make clear that he wanted them to stop. Just like I want him to.

When everyone had left it started to bother me; he doesn’t need to “toughen up”, he definitely doesn’t need to accept things he doesn’t like just because the adults in the room think otherwise. And then I could not help but wonder.. would they say the same thing if he was a girl? Would they have told her to toughen up? I could tell you what I think the answer would be; it’s probably not.

Do one year old boys grow up hearing they are sensitive and need to toughen up? I guess they do, and it makes me scared for my son. For the ones that didn’t know already, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.. being sensitive is NOT a negative thing. I am the first to admit my son is sensitive, but opposed to other adult figures in his life, I’m on the sidelines cheering it on. I’m proud that my child is sensitive and not afraid to show his emotions and stand up for himself, this does NOT make him “weak”. Plus, with his sensitivity also comes his empathy. Even at one years old, he has shown great sensitivity to other peoples feelings, and tends to respond exactly how they need him to.

A few weeks back, my friend came and babysat him, just an hour earlier, she had gotten the news that a close family member passed away unexpectedly. She didn’t tell me; she knew I would have told her not to come. And Finn did exactly what she needed, he laughed, he played, he danced… And when she got sad, he crawled up in her lap and snuggled her, leaning his head on her shoulder. He allowed her to feel, and he knew she needed a hug.

All he asks in return is that others are sensitive to his feelings too, and maybe (who am I kidding, not maybe) this is part of a bigger picture. Especially men struggle to show their emotions and suffer in silence, a quick google search will show you lots of scientific evidence that when it comes to suicide, more males take their own lives than females. And this is no coincidence, men tend to suffer in silence where women tend to seek out help and talk about their feelings. This article even points out: “We condition boys from a very young age to not express emotion, because to express emotion is to be ‘weak.” And not only men are ‘guilty’ of raising little boys this way. As a mother I was surprised to read the following statement from this same article: “mothers talk way more to their girl children than their boy children… and they share and identify feelings more.”

This is a real problem in society, I guess I’ve never been exposed to it as much – I grew up with sisters only. But now that I have a son, I see it first hand, and I cannot keep quiet. So never mind me going all Mama bear on you when you tell my son he’s sensitive or needs to toughen up. If society could only tell more little boys how great it is to be ‘sensitive’, how their feelings are important and how we will always be there to listen. Maybe then, less of those little boys will turn out to be men who suffer alone and in silence.

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