A Mother’s Story: Helping Children Find Their Path in Life
“Super, serious, big-time trouble.” So said a t-shirt I saw once in the boys’ department of a major retailer of children’s apparel, alongside other shirts describing boys as mischievous monsters, little devils, tough guys, and video game addicts who hate school.
That is the message our culture sends about boys and I believed it for a long time. Having had no brothers to give me a different perspective, I thought that boys were inherently difficult — perpetual motion machines with destructive tendencies and a disdain for authority.
So entrenched is this stereotype that when I was expecting my first child I found myself declaring that I absolutely, categorically did not want a boy.
But I had one boy, and then another, and I could not be happier. The stereotypes I once had disappeared when my first son was born. What I saw in him, and later in his brother, was not a future troublemaker, but a beautiful little person full of potential and promise.
Through my efforts to guide my sons through a world that equates masculinity with toughness and stoicism, I have learned a great deal about helping children become the people they are meant to be. Among the most important lessons: we cannot make generalizations about boys (or girls) based on gender, nor should we try to force them to conform to society’s ideas of what they “should” be. Rather, we should: recognize and welcome the individuality in each of them; introduce them to a world of experiences that enable them to grow and learn about who they are and what they want from life; and encourage them to follow their hearts, pursue the things that interest them, and stay true to themselves, even if that means venturing beyond socially prescribed notions about what is appropriate for their gender.
When given the freedom to try new things and decide what they like, children will flourish. They will find infinite unique ways to express their individuality. They will grow up with a strong
sense of self and the confidence they need to make their own decisions and form their own opinions. Most importantly—whether they conform to typical notions about their gender or defy all expectations and conventional wisdom about what they “should” be—they will be happy. And that is all that parents could ever want for their child.
Crystal Smith is an author and blogger. Her book The Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture is Teaching Young Boys about Masculinity was selected a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the 2012 Oakville Arts Awards.