‘It’s ok for girls to cry…but boys don’t cry’.
A supposedly innocuous comment made to Poppy recently by a well-meaning (male) adult trying to make Poppy feel better for crying after hurting herself.
A comment that made me feel like everything was still so wrong with the world and made me silently boil. I didn’t want to embarrass the person or cause a scene, so rather than correcting them on their outdated viewpoint on what characterises strength in the male of our species, I feebly grappled to correct Poppy’s opinion (if it had be waivered by said comment) without causing offence, offering up “but Felix cries a lot, which is absolutely fine”. A response and conversation that has sat heavily with me for well over a week.
One of the totally brilliant parts of Felix’s little personality is that he is totally 100% transparent with his emotions. It amazes me that at 2 years old he can already identify when particular events or behaviour have made him, as he puts it ‘feel sad’. But it terrifies me that this might be seen as a weakness by people that he will encounter throughout his life. Does every little boy start off like this then become afraid or conditioned to not express emotions as freely?
How are we to change the horrifying mental health and male suicide statistics if their are generations still willing to teach our children that, if you’re male, showing your emotions isn’t acceptable? According to the Office of National Statistics males accounted for three-quarters of suicides registered in 2017 (4,382 deaths), which has been the case since the mid-1990s.
I am trying to raise my children that discussing emotions is healthy. From the moment they started to communicate and the frustration took hold, I found a brilliant way of diffusing tension, anger or a potential tantrum was by simply saying, talk to me. Tell me what’s making you cross or what you’d like to happen. Honestly, it saved so many locked-horns situations.
Now they’re a little older I try to always encourage them to discuss what’s troubling them. My opinion is if they can’t talk to me about the little things that worry them then how will they be equipped to talk to me or anyone else about the things that are really seriously troubling them?
One other thing I’m doing to try combat negativity towards emotional expression is introducing relatable stories and heroes into bedtime reading for both children. We’ve been reading the brilliant Scrambled heads books since Poppy was born, a brilliant book that teaches children about mental health, but recently introduced the Boys who dare to be different as well. The only thing is, I don’t think that expressing emotions should set a boy apart, it should be the norm.
What really worried me the most about the above exchange though, was the influence that those words would have on Poppy. That she might utter them to a little boy at school or maybe when she’s older and the words from a girl to a boy will mean so much more and cut so much deeper.
I’m just hoping that what we have done so far and what we will continue teaching at home will be enough to tip the balance to make it normal and hopefully, eventually, celebrated.
Am I right to worry? Or overreacting?