Sticks, dirt, and noise; competition; the drive to conquer that increases exponentially with every XY chromosome that enters the arena of play—this is boyhood. American culture has lost an appreciation for the manliness of men, and mothers especially are left unequipped to raise their sons as men. We try to tame them, feminize them, and teach our boys to be gentle and soft. Their way is wrong, and the feminine ideal is better. This is contrary to their very bodily structure. It is a handicap to their character and sense of self.
When a group of boys are together, they are often willing to test the boundaries of safety and sense in an effort to win the micro-competitions happening within the group. On an adult level, this might happen through conversation, career, or sometimes physical effort, but the base desire is there. Fight. Win. Succeed. There is a need to push the limits of their physical and mental abilities against the world to see just where the line of the possible is drawn in the sand of life.
This is often not seen in a single boy. With two, there is a glimpse. With a group, the boyishness begins to shine. There is always the exception to the rule, but this principle applies to the majority of boys. Boyhood, and all its grubby, punchy, smiles, is vastly undervalued in a society that promotes gentleness, submission, and passivity in its males. This is altering the male psyche, and not for the better.
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From seven weeks old in the womb, a male child begins to show the effects of testosterone. This influences every part of his being, including his eyes, which develop with a focus on movement and detail, contrary to the female eyes which perceive color and depth in sharper clarity. (Ladies, this is why your husband neither notices nor cares about the difference between your red dress and your blush dress.)
I look out at my yard and see the grass blowing and the sunshine dancing over the bushes and contrasting with the shadows beneath. My son, however, looks at the yard and sees a shovel waiting to be filled with dust and thrown into the sky. He sees the trees, not for their color, but as potential sparring partners for his budding climbing skills. The worldview is remarkably different; motion, action, and detail are the focus.
Men’s muscles grow fast and strong, and they inarguably exceed that of the average female musculature. I am a fit woman who weight-trains regularly, and yet I strain to lift my husband who is a scant twenty pounds heavier than myself. He, however, can pick me up and move me with an ease that would be frightening in any other scenario.
This is not a bad thing. Men should be different—they are made to be so and this makes sense from an evolutionary and biological standpoint. They need to fight, hunt, and protect. However, we have lost our appreciation for this, and it is hurting boys. Deep in everyone’s soul is a desire to be recognized for who and what they are and reassured that it is good. We cannot accomplish this for our boys while attempting to change the very nature of what they are.
Little boys need dirt, sunshine, water, and other boys, at least according to an old recipe in a historical women’s magazine. They need to know that their battle is good, that when they fight the imagined dragon and bring you its bloody head, you will praise their valor rather than recoil in disgust. Little boys need dirt, sunshine, water, and other boys, at least according to an old recipe in a historical women’s magazine. They need to know that their battle is goodTweet This
Don’t tell them to be kind to the dragon, which in their minds encompasses all things frightening and big; congratulate their courage and thank them for saving you from the horrid beast. Not only does this validate that being a hero in spite of danger is a positive attribute, but also this reassures them that their desire to fight and win is worthwhile. A mother’s job is to direct it, not squelch it. Yes, kill the dragon; no, do not kill your brother.
Rescuing Mom is practice for all the other rescuing they may be called to do in life, whether it is in the military line of duty, standing firm against challenges to their family life, or pushing forward in a career move that is risky but warranted. They need to test danger so that when they encounter it later, they know just how far they can push and expect success.
Boys are not all rough and harsh. They are sweet and caring, but their sweetness is seen through the lens of their masculinity. They want to bring gifts, to care, to protect, even if they are too young to articulate it so specifically. My boys pick me flowers to show affection, and they bring the uneven stems of half-opened blossoms to be displayed on the dining room table. They will generously offer to scoop a poop so I don’t have to do that, “Because you don’t like poop mom, and we do!” This is not bad; it is just boy.
These are the building blocks of manhood. How can we expect to have strong, capable men when we discourage the very nature they embody? Gentleness, submission, and the softer arts are certainly virtues that boys should learn, but they must be learned in the context of masculinity. Develop these virtues as a man, not as a male copy of the female example.
As a mother, it can be quite challenging sometimes to understand these little creatures so different from myself. But, when I bend down to see the world their way and exclaim over their muscles, or resist the urge to console when they are stoically trying to push through an injury, they are so grateful. They want to be big strong men, and they will rise to the expectation of that when treated as such.
Let them run around the yard yelling like hooligans. Not before eight in the morning, of course; but let them run, yell, dig, pit their strength against the world. Appreciate the grubby gifts they bring and the funny, boyish things they say. But in it all, cherish boyhood, nurture masculinity, and let your little Superman grow up as the man he is meant to be.