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My son, who was two and half at the time, and I are over at a friend’s house for dinner. Not mere friends mind you, but the kind who are part of your tribe, family even. We are just about to sit down to an amazing spread of roast beef with a side of mashed potatoes, green beans and biscuits. One of my friends asks my son about his meal and suddenly he bursts out in tears. He exclaims that he does not want to eat what is presented before him. As I observe the exchange that occurs next, I hear my friend say “Boy’s don’t cry”. This instantly created a pang in my heart.
I’ve heard this sentiment many times before, however when I heard it voiced and directed at my son I immediately felt there was a more important truth beneath it. Emotional expression in any child is a social issue and when we tell boys that they cannot cry or girls that they need to be nice we are doing our children a TREMENDOUS disservice. Crying is more than it being about shedding some tears – it is about feeling an emotion and an emotional vulnerability is at the root of what makes us fully human and humane.
The more we allow others to feel and provide a safe space while they are doing it, the more caring they will become towards others in their lives. You see it is the caring about others that fuels empathy and consideration. It is the caring in the face of fear that moves us to display true courage. It is the caring when we are frustrated that creates patience. Caring is one of the most important emotions that we can actively develop and caring begins with feeling.
Tears are significant, but they only tell a part of the emotional story. The question that we can ask of ourselves and of each other is; Can we have a soft heart and express our vulnerable feelings? This is what is underneath the tears and it is the root of our emotional wellbeing and maturity. Feeling safe with others in a way that you can express your vulnerable feelings requires developing a trusting relationship. Unless a close relationship exists, you should not expect someone to share their feelings with you.
For our children, we are the model and we have the ability to give them the gift of showing them how it can be done. We set the stage for them to know it is safe for them to talk about what distresses or hurt’s their feelings. It is up to us demonstrate that space and rather than censoring our own sadness and that of our children, we must show others that it is appropriate and how to handle it.
We must stop constructing the notion that masculinity does not include being caring or sad, just as femininity is only about being nice. When we suggest that girls must be nice we are suppressing feelings of frustrations or resistance which ultimately leads to a lack of confidence that is present in so many women today.
We can’t always expect an individual to come to us when they are upset, it’s up to each of us to pay attention and take notice to reach out when appropriate. Take the time today and tell someone “You’re imperfect, I’ve seen your struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” I believe we are ready to begin to blur the traditional “roles” of what masculine and feminine represent and move into a space of unity and acceptance. Are you ready to make this shift with me?
Grimes, Angie. “Boy’s Don’t Cry” Hope Is Now, August 18: 62-63. Print.