When I found out I was having my second boy, I will admit that I grieved a little. I knew he would be my last child — and although I was certain I would love him as intensely as I loved my first son, I was sad that I would never have a daughter. It wasn’t that I wanted a child whose hair I could braid, or who would want to gossip about fashion or boys with me. These were things I was never too interested in myself, so I didn’t particularly crave those experiences. I also knew that having a girl didn’t necessarily mean having a “girly” child. After all, gender is a construct, and having a child born with a vagina does not mean you will have a princess-loving girly girl. But if there was one gender stereotype I bought into, it was that having a girl would mean having a more sensitive, emotional child — one who shared her deepest feelings with me, who would be bonded to me for life the way only my best girlfriends are.
Of course, I also thought about the flip side to this: I pictured us both having PMS at the same time, and screaming and crying at each other as she entered the turbulent teen years.
I haven’t gotten as far as the teenage years yet, but after parenting my two sons for almost a decade, I can tell you that I was wrong — dead wrong. Boys can be as emotional as girls. They can be moody and weepy, a tangled web of feelings. They can connect with you deeply, and share everything with you. They can bond with you for life.
That is — if you let them.
Whether we like it or not, most of us have bought into gender stereotypes. I did, and I’m sure I still do in many ways. But I decided early on with my boys that I was going to let them feel their feelings, express them, own them, and share them.
When they were little and crumbled to the floor because I had given them the wrong shaped toast, I would try to acknowledge that what they were feeling was real (even though it annoyed the heck out of me). If they got hurt and cried, I never told them to “man up.” I gave them tools to be strong and resilient, but I never sent them the message that their feelings were something to hide or to be ashamed of.
And it turns out my boys have tons of feelings — they’re emotional basket cases! I’m kidding, but only a bit.
This past weekend, for instance, we bought a new car. We’d had the same trusty old Honda since we got married 15 years ago, but it was on its last legs (wheels?), and needed to be replaced. Let’s just say my boys didn’t handle the change very well. They both expressed in their own explosive, yet eloquent ways, how very sentimental they felt about the car.
My 9-year-old, through rage-filled tears, begged us to keep the old car, “But it’s the only car I’ve ever known!” My 3-year-old rested his head on my shoulder as I was sitting on the toilet, (we can obviously only discuss anything important while I pee), and said, “Mommy, I’m sad. I don’t like change.”
The same thing happened a week ago when I tried to replace the quilt on my bed. It was old and ragged and had several holes, many of which were generated by my boys roughhousing on the bed. So I bought a brand new quilt from Amazon, and happily draped it across my bed. Both boys — the 9-year-old in particular — were none too pleased.
They were sappily, ridiculously emotionally attached to a freaking blanket!
But it’s not just objects they are attached to. That closeness and bonding that I hoped I would get from a daughter, I get from them tenfold. They never hesitate to pour their hearts out to me. They tell me everything — their hopes, dreams, and fears. They cry, they rage, they blab on and on about everything they think or feel.
I can only imagine what it will be like when puberty hits.
I will say that there is one striking exception to all this. I have noticed that my boys aren’t as emotive with their friends, especially their male friends. They are also a little more emotionally reserved with their dad. They tend to spill it all out to me, for better or worse.
And so, perhaps the “boy” culture around them has indeed affected them.
Of course, this shouldn’t surprise me one bit. Cultural gender expectations run deep, and I can’t shield my sons from all of it. Still, I can offer them a safe space to express, let it out, be themselves. And I hope that as they grow older and become even more socialized, they will remember that feelings are normal and are healthy to express — and the genitals you were born with have no bearing on your ability to be in touch with your softer sides.