In a recent article in the New York Times, “Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls,” author Andrew Reiner presents a strong case for examining how we communicate with our sons. His primary point is that our language and interaction, from birth onward, is minimal in contrast to our communication with our daughters, and as a result limits our sons’ emotional development.
Over the past two decades, the focus on removing the restraints on girls’ and women’s opportunities for wholeness has raised the public discourse and we see incremental results. At the same time, however, we have left those that limit boys and men mostly in place. Being strong, showing no weakness, getting to the finish line regardless of the cost to self or others continues to be the expectations we present to boys. Achievement and winning are the measures of success. Then, no surprise, when they enter into intimate relationships in adolescence and adulthood, they come up short and are criticized for being unable to communicate their feelings, lacking an understanding of the impact of their actions on the other, and often seen as failing as a nurturing partner and parent.
I highly recommend reading Reiner’s article, as well as the work of Harvard’s William Pollack (Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood), and the many writings by Michael Kimmel. These experts help us understand how we hurt boys by pushing them to disconnect too early and to “buck up” when hurt, sad or feeling the pain of another, when what would serve our sons most is encouragement for expressing the full range of feelings and support for their acts of empathy and compassion. The boys will benefit and so will we all.