“Man up.” “Grow some balls.” “Don’t be such a pussy.” “You are such a mama’s boy.” These phrases that we see and hear daily cut through me. I want to raise strong, able sons. I want to raise kind sons and confident boys who grow into confident men. To me, that means being confident in who they are, confident in showing their emotions, confident in expressing themselves when they are sad, afraid, unhappy, or overjoyed, and confident that they don’t need to be hiding behind a mask — a fake facade that society sets for them.
Our boys don’t need to be told to “man up” any more than our daughters need to be told to “sit down and act like a lady.” Here’s why:
Nobody is in charge of how a boy feels except him.
The last thing I want for my sons is to be told how they should or shouldn’t feel. Sadness is a natural human emotion — so is grief, remorse, and guilt. These emotions can make us cry and feel like we need to reach out to people, talk about it, and be comforted. What message are we sending to our boys if we tell them they are not allowed to have these feelings? We are telling them they are not worthy, that they need to push their true feelings down. Then their pain is covered in shame. They feel ashamed for even feeling sad, anxious, or lost. And that turns into frustration and anger.
Boys can be empathetic and rough-and-tumble at the same time.
They can cry when they are hurt, and dance and cheer when they are happy. (If they grow to be stoic, that is fantastic if are truly being their whole self. I know both women and men who are like this.) But when they are acting the part of the strong silent type while hiding parts of themselves because that is how they feel they need to act in order to be a man, who is that benefiting?
It interrupts his sense of self.
You can still be a strong person and cry. You can still be brave and cry. You can still be a protector if you need protecting sometimes.
How frustrating it would be to really need help, to want to cry or say how you really feel about something, or to want to stick up for someone, but think you can’t because “real men don’t do that.”
That is a recipe for therapy later in life. And while I am all for therapy, I will be damned if my sons have to go when they are 45 because they felt like they had to hide who they really were half the time.
It sends the wrong message to girls.
If you say “man up” in front of a woman or a girl, you are saying that women are not strong and they are not tough. You are implying that they can’t handle as much and that males are the stronger sex.
They are born one way and told by society they should act another way.
When boys are little, they cry just as much as girls. They show their emotions and talk about their feelings. They want to explore playing with feminine things and even wear feminine clothing. But then they are told that is wrong and not “manly.” They hear the message that it’s not appropriate to ask lots of questions or to act like you just don’t know something. You are supposed to know — you are a man!
Always being (or acting as if you are) in control all the time is not the definition of being a man.
Handling your feelings responsibly and learning to deal with uncomfortable feelings is the definition of a man.
I realize a lot of this “man up” bullshit comes from older men who were raised in a different time when men weren’t supposed to cry, when men weren’t supposed to show fear. So fine, maybe they don’t know any better, but here’s the thing: I know better. We know better. And I am pretty sure those men wish things had felt easier for them.
I want more for my sons. And I will never tell them to “man up,” or “grow some balls and just take care of it.”
It’s not about being “a mama’s boy” and handling everything for them. It is about raising my son to feel like he can be his true self, no matter what that looks like.
I will ask him how he is feeling about things just as much as I ask my daughter, even if he brushes me off. If I don’t do this, I truly believe that is what will eventually make him feel like less of a man.
There is strength in being able to express yourself, and that is what we all want: to raise strong, confident kids regardless of gender.