I visited a Catholic church during a recent trip to New York City. My wife and I attended Sunday morning mass and sat behind parents who had a two-year-old son. The boy was fidgety, bored, and confused by his surroundings. He behaved as any two-year-old would at church. The boy’s father undoubtedly was irritated by his son. But instead of telling the boy to be quiet, he would pinch him. The most upsetting aspect of this display of parenting came just before communion. The boy took notice of a profound moment and said aloud, “Wow! Who is that?” pointing toward the priest, who held up the Eucharist. Instead of answering the question, the kid’s father flicked his ear so hard that the boy started to cry. He then reprimanded his son: “Boys don’t cry.”
That boy’s dad probably was parenting the only way he knew how—which is probably how his father parented him. If we are unconscious of our inherited beliefs, they will determine the way we parent. And some of those beliefs are social norms that can destroy your son’s masculine identity and lead to stunted growth. Here are 5 social norms that will stunt your son’s growth into manhood.
Men don’t cry.
This is the biggest lie fathers have told their sons. But crying is not a sign of weakness. Crying is a healthy expression of emotions. As children grow, they discover an inner world of feelings. Actions in their physical world cause emotions in their subjective world. The two are intertwined. By telling a boy it is not manly to cry, you teach him to repress his emotions and give him a false understanding of masculinity. Repressed emotions always explode or create underlying physical health problems in the future.
Men don’t cook.
Many boys believed this growing up. If you are a man who does not cook in your household, then you may be part of the problem. You do not have to be a Michelin starred chef, but you do need to be able to whip up something other than hot dogs and mac and cheese. Fathers should teach their sons that cooking showcases responsibility, general care for their health and well-being, and is a powerful way to practice the lost arts of focus and attention building.
Masculine = not feminine.
Boys grow up with subtle cues from society that say, “to be masculine is to avoid feminism at all costs.” Every bully they encounter has this belief. So boys call each other feminine names as insults in order to downplay their manhood. As fathers, it is our responsibility to show our sons that masculinity and femininity are not at war with each other. God created men and women as complementary figures. Together, they represent the human person in its fullness. While men tend to be more sensual, we need to embrace more of what we lack: sentimentality.
Sports are better than art.
We want to encourage boys to try out for sports because society has told us that boys play organized sports and girls participate in the fine arts. Sports are great for discipline, emotional intelligence, and strategic planning—but they are not for every boy. If your son is not into sports, do not force him into it. Encourage him to experience multiple extracurricular activities. Maybe chess is his game or perhaps he will enjoy dancing in the school’s musical. It is true that in many schools, sports clubs usually get more money, which makes them more accessible. Still, as dads, we can teach our boys that the fine arts help develop them in subjective ways that foster authentic masculinity.
Boys will be boys.In reality, ‘boys will be boys’ is an excuse to avoid the difficult job of shaping a boy into a man.
As parents, we teach this one through our actions. If we have sons and daughters, we cannot allow our sons to get away with certain behaviors because “boys will be boys” and only hold our daughters to a higher standard. This incorrectly teaches boys that girls are the only ones who need to act responsibly and that they must be able to manage a boy’s “uncontrollable” behavior. In reality, “boys will be boys” is an excuse to avoid the difficult job of shaping a boy into a man by properly redirecting his masculine desires.
Sound off: Which of these social norms do you believe is most damaging and why?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are three words you would use to describe a man?”