We communicate destructive messages to our sons all the time, often without even realizing it. For example, for years, I did very little to help around the house. Early on, my wife and I decided I would work full-time and she would work part-time so she could be home with the kids as much as possible. Of course, she ended up doing more at home. She was fine with it, but admittedly, there were times I took advantage of that. I’d often come home from work, watch TV while she made dinner, and tell myself it was OK because I was tired.
Eventually, however, I realized I not only was being unfair to my wife (It’s not like she just sat around all day!), but I also was sending skewed messages to my son about a husband and father’s role. I needed to make changes so he could see what partnership really looks like in marriage. But we send these kinds of messages all the time. Which destructive messages do you communicate to your son? Here are 5 common ones we send as dads, both intentionally and unintentionally.
1. Mercy is for the weak.
OK, I know no one actually says this to his son. In fact, I’m definitely channeling the sensei from Karate Kid. But the message that “real men” don’t ask for or need help is something we communicate to our sons all the time. How? By refusing to ask for help. When is the last time your son saw you ask someone to help you? When did he last hear you admit that you don’t know something? We need to model vulnerability and asking for help for our sons.
2. You can handle life on your own.
We often teach our sons that they don’t need close male friends. Again, we might not say this, but we model it. Do you prioritize friendship? Do you model emotional connection with other men? I know—you’re busy and friendships take time. However, it’s critical not just to your emotional health, but to your physical well-being. Just Google “male loneliness” and you’ll find all the data you need. Our sons need to learn that they need friends.
3. Toughen up (don’t show emotion)!
While most of us don’t tell our sons that boys don’t cry, we often treat our sons much differently than our daughters. If our daughters hurt themselves or get their feelings hurt, we comfort, cuddle, and encourage them. When boys have similar experiences, we say, “Get up. Dust yourself off. Be tough. You’re OK.” There are solid reasons to encourage resilience in the face of pain and struggle. We should encourage all kids— boys and girls—to get back up and keep going when life knocks them down. But we have to balance that with affirming that their emotions are valid and it’s good to express them. Tough guys aren’t always stoic. Sometimes tough guys cry. And it’s OK to take a second, dry your eyes, and catch your breath before you get back up.
4. Church is for women and children.If you want faith to be an important part of your child’s life, you have to model it.
If you want faith to be an important part of your child’s life, you have to model it. Sending the wife and kids to church while you stay home to get ready for the 1 p.m. game says more to your child than you may know. Consistently choosing sports or work or home projects over worshipping with your family communicates that “when you’re a man, you won’t need church. But it’s nice for kids and moms.” You want your sons to engage in worship practices when they’re adults? Then you need to engage in worship practices with them while they’re kids.
5. Dad’s job is to make money; mom takes care of everything else.
If you come home from work and kick back in front of the TV while your wife handles homework, dinner, laundry, and bedtime, like I once did, you’re communicating this loud and clear. Of course, if you’re a single dad, this isn’t a problem for you. But our married dads need to remember that kids need to see us engaged in their lives beyond just keeping the lights on. Like everything else on this list, you model the behavior you want to see formed in the lives of your sons.
And as James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share this iMOM article with your wife: 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Raising a Son.
Sound off: What other destructive messages do we send our sons?
Huddle up with your son and ask, “What do you think it means to be a man?”