Thursday, January 27, 2011

Boys Don't Cry. But Maybe They Should

Tough little man
I don't care about football. I know nothing about any of the teams or players. So, it wasn't statistics that caught my eye and made me read this story about Chicago Bears' QB, Jay Cutler. It was the headline, "Cutler cried when told about player's criticism of his toughness". Yes, the fact that a man had shown some emotional vulnerability when he was told that other players around the league had questioned his effort and toughness when he pulled out of a game due to injury made headlines. The author of the article had this to say:
Though some have already used Cutler's tears to prove their point that he's a wimp, shouldn't the opposite hold true? (This isn't elementary school. We should know by now that crying isn't necessarily a sign of weakness.) If I was someone who doubted Cutler's injury (and I'm not), the fact that he cried about it would indicate to me that he cared more than I thought. An apathetic man doesn't tend to cry. A quitter would probably feel the need to defend himself. Those tears suggest he's neither of those things.
Before you get worried, I'm not headed into a discussion about whether or not Cutler was really injured or whether he should have played in this all-important game (really, I don't get why people care so much about this stuff), but what intrigued me was twofold. First, that such a big deal was made about this athlete showing some emotion other than what one might expect from macho football types and second that teammates and football enthusiasts felt this guy should have "toughed it out" and played regardless of any injury. After all, isn't that the "manly" thing to do? 

I don't know. All this pressure to "man up" or "be a man" seems pretty ridiculous to me. If those of us with boys take a look at our little ones and really look at their sweet, sensitive natures and pay attention to their fears and their questions we might realize that little boys aren't born macho. If we stop to know our boys for who they are, rather than what society says they should be, would it be easier to imagine that when they grow older that the boy who cried over a squirrel squashed by a car or who delighted in a rainbow after a storm, is actually inside that surly teenager or that tough football player?

Tuning in to emotions,
rather than turning them off
Boys develop that part of their brain that controls language later than girls do which may, in part, explain why girls generally tend to be more at ease with expressing their feelings and emotions. In the terrific book, "Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys", the authors discuss this in the early chapters, saying:
"We know that ease with verbal expression improves impulse control. So does emotional understanding, or being able to be conscious of your emotions and the reasons you feel a certain way. When this literacy is absent, the emotions tend to be expressed through movement or action" 
Turning boys into exceptional men
Hence, the typical male "action" response of needing to do something when presented with a problem. Understanding the development of our children does help understand their actions. For books about understanding the boys and men in our lives, I highly recommend both "Raising Cain" and "The Wonder of Boys" which has the excellent subtitle: "What Parents, Mentors And Educators Can Do To Shape Boys Into Exceptional Men".

And this is what drew me to that story about the football player in the first place. Don't we want a world of boys (and men) who know what they are feeling, who express themselves, who can ask for what they need, who freely give love and are able to receive it? Aren't those exceptional men who can do that? Why do we still revere the strong, silent type? Perhaps Quarterback Jay Cutler was just overcome with frustration when tears welled up, or perhaps he was genuinely hurt at being mocked. Whatever the case, it seems to me that a culture in which someone who is demeaned first for not acting "manly" enough when injured, and then for showing emotion about the ridicule he receives, has truly missed the mark. 

I hope I am raising my son in such a way that he is learning to recognize and label the complex emotions he experiences. I want him to know that expressing those feelings makes him healthier, happier and yes, stronger. And I am working to raise my daughter to know that a boy (or a man) who shows his feelings is someone to admire and someone who she should want to be around. I don't want my daughter marrying someone who doesn't know how to communicate with her! Our job as parents is to raise emotionally intelligent boys; if we fail to do that, we are also failing our daughters. Think about it.

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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7 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Steven Brogden said...

Another great post, Gina. I admit to wanting my 5mo Matt to be understanding and emotionally intelligent as you describe, but I also know the schoolyard can be rough, and want him to be "tough" as well. My wife looks at him and sees only a sweet little baby. I look at him and, while I too see the sweet little baby, I also hope he will be tough and strong, however that is best described.

Unrelated: did anyone else think of The Cure when they read the title? Does that make me (gasp) old?

Dana said...

I just voted for you. Keeping my fingers crossed that you bump up in the standings!
Also, want to guess which two of my four children cry the most? My boys, of course. My 4yo boy, in fact, is our most emotional. Hands down. I've never read either of the books you recommended though obviously I've heard them talked about repeatedly. I think the universe is telling me it's time to check them out.

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you for the note, Steven, I totally know what you mean. You don't want your son to get picked on and not feel strong and confident, but you want him to have a balance. I think that's where emotional intelligence is key. A boy who understands himself grows up to be a confident, strong man.

Thank you so much for your note (& your vote), Dana! I'm terrible about asking for help so I have been steadily dropping off the page. :-) Thanks again!

And I have to agree with you - my son is way more sensitive than my daughter. She has tantrums, he cries woefully. LOL. The've literally been that way since birth! I am almost finished with The Wonder of Boys and really am liking it. And Raising Cain was really eye opening for me - not just for understanding my son, but my husband as well. Hope you like them!

Christina Simon said...

Hi Gina! My son has a hard time crying sometimes and I know it's because he thinks boys shouldn't cry. It's such a part of our culture (maybe even the entire globe). But, if you're a guy and you cry at work, watch out!

Christina Simon said...

Oh, wait. My son did cry when he got the wind knocked out of him in flag football (he was tackled by another kid). Thank goodness he cried!

Mia said...

Thanks for another fantastic post Gina! Another reason why we will not be encouraging Jonah to play football! (That and the early onset dementia caused by concussions). I feel like this is a very American cultural phenomenon because in France, where they definitely do not teach emotional intelligence to children at all, they do not frown upon men who cry or ask them to "man up." But as a culture, they put a lot less emphasis on sports (as seen by their abysmal performances at the Olympics) and a lot more emphasis on art, literature and philosophy.
Jonah is a very sensitive little guy and I have corrected Gabe a couple of times when he has told Jonah in a consoling manner not to cry. Yes, cry if you're sad! Cry if you're frustrated! I can't wait to read Raising Caine (in fact I hear there's a DVD) and The Wonder of Boys for some new insights.
@Steven, I was listing to The Cure's Boys Don't Cry on the radio with Jonah (my 3yo) and I was talking through most of it, trying to explain that what the singer was trying to say is that boys DO cry! Way to ruin a song, I know...
@Dana and Gina, I voted again too. We're more than willing to vote, you just need to remind us! Put the reminder on every post and we'll do it every time!

The Twin Coach said...

Mia, that is such am interesting take on things. I can totally see where the European style of making art, literature etc. Of more value would lead to a culture that is more sophisticated on many levels. My father grew up in Germany and couldn't be further from your "typical" man. And the idea that the over emphasis on sports might be one of the culprits is interesting. I'm with you on the football thing, but I do think sports can be great for kids. Leg me know what you think of the books! And thanks so much for the vote!

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