–– DIRECTED AT RAISING YOUR BOYS TO BE REAL MEN–
Our culture is cultivating dangerous dynamics for becoming a good man. “It is obvious in our overcrowded prisons and domestic violence shelters, in our adult bookstores and white supremacy groups, in our Ritalin-controlled elementary schools and alcohol-soaked college campuses. Boys are falling behind. Thrust into competition with their peers some boys invest so much energy into keeping up their emotional guard and disguising their deepest and most vulnerable feelings, they often have little or no energy left to apply themselves to their schoolwork” [Real Boys, William Pollack, Ph.D]
When I found that I was having my first baby boy, I was lost. What was I to do with a boy, I asked my sisters? I actually cried, they won’t shop with me, I can’t fix their hair, we won’t relate. . . oh my Lord was I wrong. They are the very best thing ever! And a desire arose within me to learn and ensure that we would raise them up to be good strong dependable men. The first book I was given that impressed me so, was BRINGING UP BOYS by James Dobson. If you have boys, or just a man in your life, I suggest you get and read for I not only was prepared for many things that I would have done in raising my boys that would have shamed and dampened their spirit as men, all based on my lack of knowledge regarding the makeup of BOYS. It prepared and guided me in raising my boys and understanding my man more. Later in the boys life I was given another book which I recently picked up and could not put down as it spoke of many things I was currently looking to better understand and help in my boys life as well as my man’s life. I struggled greatly whether to make my next few writings regarding the BOYS IN MY LIFE, from a viewpoint as a Man’s Woman, or my Boy’s Mom. You will see that I chose to write from the viewpoint of my Boy’s Mom; for when I say, “IT ALL BEGINS WITH THE WOMAN” I believe that to be true as Mom’s we are the first and most valuable teachers with strong enough love to keep the doors open for our Boys, and as women we continue to be the one who must keep that door open or regret being shut out behind it.
As a boy, and later as a man, many feel a sadness and disconnection they cannot describe due to society’s mixed messages about what is expected of them. There is this undefined but very big “Man Code” which is learned and when boys don’t conform to these ideas, society has ways of shame-hardening them into compliance. Boys, feeling ashamed of their vulnerability, mask their emotions and ultimately their true selves.
So how do we help them, and what happens if they aren’t helped.
Boys are getting mixed messages, ‘to be manly but empathetic, cool but open strong yet vulnerable.” They are misunderstood if they act tough, AND misunderstood if they act nice. SO, how can I give the boy the love he needs to still prepare him for tough made culture?
ONE BOYS WORD’S REGARDING SHAME AND ABUSE HE WAS FACING AT SCHOOL.
“I don’t show them that they can hurt me. I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of everybody. I get a little down, but I’m very good at hiding it. It’s like I wear a mask. Even when the kids call me names or taunt me, I never show them how much it crushes me inside. I keep it all in. When asked what does one do with the sadness? I ted to let it boil inside until I can’t hold it any longer, and then I explode. It’s like I have a breakdown, screaming and yelling.” HIDE BEHIND THE MASK. And too often we compliment this action as being tough and “handling it”. Hiding behind the mask and using it to hide his deepest thoughts and feelings – his real self – from everyone, even the people closest to him. Creating a man who presents himself as one who can handle it, everything is fine, I am invincible.
There are many situations that as a boy cannot be handled alone – but due to shame and blame and “tough” rules, it presents a position where they do not know how to ask for help, even from people who love him. As this boy grows, he feels it necessary to cut himself off from any feelings that society teaches him is unacceptable for men and boys – fear, uncertainty, feelings of loneliness and need. They think it necessary that they handle their problems alone. The problem for those who want to help or love, is that on the outside they seem cheerful and resilient while keeping inside the feelings that don’t fit the “male code” They have learned to wear the mask skillfully, in fact they don’t even know they are doing it, and problems below the surface become very obvious only when boys or men go “over the edge”.
“The “man code” is so strong yet so subtle, in its influence that boys may not even know they are living their lives in accordance with it. In fact, they may not realize there is such a thing until they violate the code in some way … and, when they do, however, society tends to let them know – swiftly and forcefully…” [Real Boys, William Pollack, Ph.D.]
Get behind the Mask
Do you really want to learn how to understand a “boy’s” deepest feelings and experience, to come to know who he really is and to help him love and feel comfortable…
- As parents, we must first become sensitive to the early signs of the masking of feelings.
- Learn a “new way” to talk to them, so they don’t feel afraid or ashamed. No aggression even if in defense, listen and ask in a “helpful” way
- Learn how to accept a boy’s own emotional unique schedule for sharing. Respect his need to be silent and set the clock himself – to determine how much time he needs to remain silent before opening up to share his feelings. If we learn to become sensitive to each boy’s unique timing, we become better at respecting how he copes with emotions and makes it more possible for him to be honest about the feelings behind the mask.
- Enter his space – forge a connection that then enables him to feels safe enough to open up.
- Share your own experiences – and by discovering that we too have felt scared, embarrassed, or disappointed, he begins to feel less ashamed of his own vulnerable feelings.
We now say that we want boys to share their vulnerable feelings, but at the same time we expect them to cover their need for dependency and hide their natural feelings of love and caring behind the mask of masculine autonomy and strength. It’s an impossible assignment for any boy. Boys learn to suffer quietly, in retreat behind the mask of masculinity. They cannot speak, and we can not hear. We choose to believe – that boy doesn’t need us, when in fact he needs us very much.
Lord, help my ears to hear my boys “inner voice”; and continually guide him onto your path. dona
** Please note that many quotes and references will be made to the book: REAL BOYS by William Pollack, Ph.D. from my learnings and knowledge gained when I read his book. I encourage you to pick the book up and get all the greatness from it.