In a lot of cases when a male baby is born, he is showered with love and affection. This slowly dissipates over time, as the project begins to make sure that the child is taught to perform masculinity commences. It begins in small ways, like encouraging them not to show emotion even when they are hurt. Words like mommy or daddies “little man” erases the fact that they are not little men, they are vulnerable children. Just when they need to be babied and protected the most, we start to withdraw affection from them, in the false idea that this will toughen them up.
Recently, I have been keenly reminded of this because my son’s tenth birthday is quickly approaching. He has had a very rough year dealing with racist attacks at school. I know that he feels rejected by some of his classmates. At more than anytime in his childhood, I find that he is reaching out for affection. He constantly wants to be near me. He has moved beyond his ritual hug and kiss hello after school, to being obviously demanding of more.
Yesterday when I was cooking dinner, he asked if he could fry the ground beef for the pasta sauce that I was making. Destruction loves to cook, but this is not what his offer to help was about. He very much wanted to spend time alone with me, and since his little brother is to little to effectively help, he knew that he would be the center of my attention, while we made supper together.
As he reaches out to me, now more than ever, I realize that what he needs is to feel that he is loved and that his affection is returned. This is a very vulnerable time in the life of a little boy. As he enters the teenage years, he will be encouraged to put away childish things, but love and affection should never fall into that category. He will be taught that part of moving forward, is moving away from me, because I am a woman, and that to become a man he needs to seek male guidance. None of this is in anyway a suggestion that boys don’t benefit from having a loving father, but they need their mothers as well.
Even though I have always been a strict parent, without doubt, I know that he sees me as his soft place to land. I think that this is an absolute necessity, in a world in which boys are taught to be self reliant and withdrawn. Matching him hug for hug is something I have no problem doing. I want him to know without doubt, that no matter what curve balls the world throws at him, that I will always have his back. I think in the end, this softer approach to raising boys will result in men who are more in touch with who they are and how they feel. For me, parenting is about love, teaching them how to think critically, and providing a safe environment. Pulling away our affection from boys as they age, because we think that this prepares them for manhood, is not only cruel, it leads to maladjusted men. Showing someone that we love them should never been deemed a bad thing.