I love hearing my kids talk about their future selves. My daughter will wonder aloud, “How many kids do you think I will have?” I catch my son saying sometimes, “I am going to be a good dad one day.”
With Father’s Day coming up, in addition to celebrating, honoring and elevating the role of the fathers in our lives, I am thinking about how fathers model what it means to be “a man” especially for our sons.
While Men’s studies is an emerging field, with many books and articles written on the subject, one piece that struck me was a New York Times article from 2017 entitled, “Talking to boys the way we talk to girls.”
It shares studies of how parents use language of accomplishment like “proud” and “achieve” with their sons while speaking with our girls in a more analytical way and with words that express shadow emotions like sadness. While as infants and toddlers boys are empathic by nature, as they grow boys can learn stoicism as they act and interact with the world around them.
As fathers and mothers, how can we become more aware of how we speak to our boys to build on their natural empathy? How can we nurture their emotional world to help them lead more resilient and healthy lives?
Dr. Susan David, a Harvard psychologist, shares that we need to let, “boys experience their emotions, all of them, without judgment — or by offering them solutions. This means helping them learn the crucial lessons that ‘Emotions aren’t good or bad’ and that ‘their emotions aren’t bigger than they are. They aren’t something to fear.’”
Asking them questions like “How are you feeling about x?” and “I see that you are angry/frustrated/upset, what’s going on for you?” can be a step toward bringing their emotions out into the world and indicate to them that they have a place in your home and in your relationship. As my 8 year old reminds me, “Don’t keep your feelings in your heart, your heart is not a machsan (storage closet.)” It sounds better in Hebrew!
Standing by, witnessing, and holding their sometimes stormy emotional lives is one small step that fathers and mothers can take to help our boys experience the range of their emotions and become more fully evolved people, partners and the fathers of tomorrow.
Blessings for the journey,