Big Boys Don't Cry Because Little Boys Were Told Not To

If we taught our sons to express their emotions, perhaps we'd raise a generation of empathetic boys who are able to communicate

“It’s alright to cry, crying gets the sad out of you. It’s alright to cry, it might make you feel better.”

When big, macho football icon, Rosey Grier, crooned these words for the 1972 television event ‘Free to Be...You and Me’ it was revolutionary. A man’s man telling little boys that crying was okay? This surely ruffled some feathers during a time when boys were expected to “man up.” Thank goodness no one thinks that way anymore.

Or do they?

There’s no doubt that we've come a long way in terms of gender equality and acceptance of men showing emotions, but this idea of toughening boys up still rears its ugly head. It is not unusual to see a little boy told to stop crying and put on a brave face when they are hurting, physically or emotionally. But is this helpful? If we allow boys to express their emotions, will we ruin their “manhood”?

When I was in university, nearly every girl in my dorm had the same Anne Geddes poster of a shirtless man holding a newborn baby. It was by far the most popular poster at the fair every year. Why was it more popular than the posters of babies alone or the sea of other muscular male models? Because there is nothing sexier than a man with a baby. If you read Geddes’ notes on the photo shoot, you'd know that it wasn’t even his child and that the baby peed all over him—but he was still the man of our dreams. Sensitive men are sexy. Women frequently lament that they wish their male partners would open up more and share their feelings. Less thought is given to why so many of them don’t.

It is no secret that many well-meaning parents discourage displays of emotion from their sons. I have no doubt this comes from a place of love, but it can be damaging. Boys and men feel the same range of emotions as their female counterparts. The notion that women are more emotional is a myth. It is simply more socially acceptable for women to show emotions, so men are conditioned not to. This is helpful to no one.

We have a rule in our house: feelings are never wrong. It is okay to feel angry, sad, happy, jealous, excited, anything. Your feelings are yours and no one can tell you how to feel. What you do with those feelings is another story. You can feel angry, but you can’t throw things, hit, scream or stomp because of it. You can have some time to yourself to cool down. Crying when sad is not discouraged. Chances are good that if you are crying, I will start too. I cry when I am happy, I cry when I am sad, I cried during American Pie....twice. If my kid is sad and crying, I am probably going to as well. Crying is cathartic. It releases endorphins, it gets things out, it takes you to a place where you can actually talk. I cannot imagine denying my child the relief of crying.

So far, my kids take after me in that hurting themselves makes them angry, not sad (with less explicit language, thankfully). Ever drop something on your foot? Stub your toe? Step on Lego figurine heads? I bet your response is not to suck it up and be brave. You make some noise! So why do we expect boys to be any different? 

My goal for my boys is for them to know that their feelings are always valid and that it's okay to express them. Full stop. It is their responsibility, and mine to teach them, that how they express their feelings matters (and hope they don’t notice I turn into Samuel L. Jackson when I injure myself). They have every right to express any and all feelings they have. Maybe if we all encouraged emotional expression a bit more, we would raise a generation of empathetic people who can communicate effectively. I want my boys to know that emotions are part of being human.

And if they don’t take my word for it, I hope they will take Rosey’s. “It’s alright to cry, little boy. I know some big boys that cry too.”

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