Our sons do not live in the same world we grew up in, and therefore the way we parent them must change with the times or they could be left behind. Today, girls are being encouraged to develop both the masculine and feminine sides of themselves. To meet the expectations of society parents encourage their girls to be interested in others and to nurture relationships. Parents then supplement this by entering their daughters in sports and by telling them they can be firefighters, surgeons, and astronauts. Girls are given the freedom to mix ‘thinking’ with ‘feeling’ preparing them to be balanced leaders in a modern economy.
Yet, while our daughters are being provided these messages of balance and freedom to express themselves, our sons are too often dissuaded from ‘feeling their feelings’ and pursuing interests that are considered feminine. There exists societal conditioning that boys are supposed to take action and test boundaries, and therefore parents don’t encourage them to pursue the skills that would equip them to build careers in creative or caring professions. By preventing our sons from becoming whole and complete human beings, parents inadvertently inhibit their employment prospects and limit their ability to relate to the feelings of others. These boys grow up to become leaders without the ability to empathize with their constituencies and are thus unable to engender the trust of others.
To improve our sons’ chance at a more fulfilling and productive life, we must challenge and in some cases alter our values. The production-orientation of our society has led us to believe that those who exhibit the ‘get up and go’ attributes associated with being masculine are superior to those who demonstrate ‘stay calm and quiet’ characteristics traditionally considered feminine. Parents want to protect their sons from being perceived as ‘weak’ or ‘less than’ so while girls are taught to develop the full spectrum of themselves boys are taught to be as emotionally repressed as Dr Spock from the Star Trek™ series.
Ultimately, encouraging boys to stuff their emotions by implementing the ‘boys don’t cry’ model results in men with an array of depression-related health problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, binge drinking or other substance abuse. Sadly, it can also make them more vulnerable to suicide. Research shows that the stigma around showing emotions discourages men from seeking help and as a result Canadian males are four times more likely to die by suicide than women and the gap continues to widen.
Supressing boy’s feminine skills limits their employment prospects as was described in The New York Times Magazine’s article The Jobs Americans Do. The article advised men to give up hard hats saying that the American work force, which was once defined by making things, is now driven primarily by serving others.
Columbia Business School is helping their students develop the skills to meet this fastest growing segment of our economy. The program teaches how to interpret body language and facial expressions to help students develop a sensitive leadership style and improve their emotional intelligence. Associate professor Jamie Ladge at Northeastern University, told Atlantic Magazine, “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side’ but it is clear that’s what we’re advocating” he said.
Obviously, it is in the best interests of our sons to help them develop ‘the full circle of themselves’, and so here are a few parenting techniques to consider:
1) Allow your son to explore the full range of his emotions. Support and empathize with him when he says, “I am sad; I am uncertain; I feel hurt or I am scared”. Let him express this openly and without recrimination.
2) Avoid gender labels. Instead of saying, ‘two boys are playing” say “two friends are playing” or “two kids are playing”. We may not see any harm in mentioning gender but the more we do, the more likely it will be that our children segregate and adopt gender-stereotypes.
3) Make a mix toys available to him. Offer building blocks along with doll carriages, racing cars and creative kitchens. Children learn from play and you’ll be teaching your son that these are all parts of himself.
4) Let go of gender expected behaviour by encouraging your son to daydream, become emotionally tuned to others and accept caregiving responsibility.
5) Have your son spend time in the company of girls so he can adopt their conditioned attributes by osmosis and also become comfortable sharing power with them. These early lessons in ‘even-distribution’ will better prepare him to share child-care and family finances in a twenty-first century family.
6) Expose him to strong women through books or movies and discuss examples of men who support these role models.
To better understand these dynamics all age eligible males and females should see the 2017 blockbuster movie Wonder Woman. Not only do we see a female action hero, but we also witness her supported by a very masculine man who wasn’t there to save her. My favourite quote in the movie came from the side-kick Sameer, who upon first seeing Wonder Woman exercise her strength says, “I am frightened and aroused.” He sets a great example for men of all ages: being with a powerful woman doesn’t diminish you, but it can make you more of a man. Isn’t that what we want for all our sons-the opportunity to pursue their dreams, be all they can be as leaders with fulfilling work, and able to enjoy intimate relationships and sharing it all with an equal partner? It is all possible and comes from developing both sides of themselves, both the masculine and feminine. As parents we can help usher both our sons and daughters into a new society of balanced men and women.