When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I received a flood of what I believe was well-intentioned advice. I got some decent tips, but a lot of it was cringe-worthy (i.e. “Make sure to put him in sports so he won’t be a sissy"). The bad advice, although antiquated and impractical, was a throwback of sorts to those old wives’ tales about raising boys that can do far more damage than good.
Ultimately, how you raise your child is entirely up to you, but it’s a good idea to reflect on some of your parenting principles every now and again to see if they make sense in today’s world. You might find that you’ve adopted some ideals that are outdated, or perhaps you’re following a pattern from your own childhood that you don't want to replicate into your own parenting style. “We have so many old ideas about boys and they don’t serve any of us,” Lisa Howe, MSW, a certified peaceful parenting coach, tells Romper. “Challenging these old ideas and focusing on our boys helps them to be who they truly are, which can change everything!”
While some of these old wives’ tales about raising boys might make you chuckle at how silly they are, some just may make you feel sad instead. Read on to see which stereotypes about caring for a boy can actually do more harm than good.
1. Boys Shouldn’t Cry
How many times have you seen a boy try not to cry in public? It’s so incredibly sad to see a child trying to stuff down his tears when all he wants to do is let them (and his emotions) flow. “ It’s important for parents to teach their children to identify their feelings and to allow the child to express their feelings openly,” Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Romper. “This not only benefits the child later in life, but it also gives the parents greater awareness in the emotional well being of the child and can recognize other possible mental health issues that should be addressed by a professional early on.” For example, if your child is depressed or feeling suicidal, he’ll be freer to express himself than having to hide how he truly feels.
2. Boys Don’t Talk About Their Feelings
One of the biggest complaints that a woman might have about her partner is his lack of communication. Well, where do you think he got that from? “One of the most common things you see within relationships is that one of the partners appears to be closed off,” says Dr. Jones. “You’ve seen it in the movies a million times actually — when one partner, usually the guy, doesn’t want to share the way he feels, as though feelings are a bad word.” The problem with that, according to Dr. Jones, is that it can lead to relationship issues, sexual issues, lack of self esteem, and depression, to name a few.
3. Boys Can Do It All On Their Own
Another old wives’ tale about raising boys is that they can do it all on their own and shouldn’t ask for help. But here’s the thing: they probably do need help, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “Socializing boys with this perspective may keep them reaching out for help with mental health challenges due to perceived stigma,” Dr. Joel Ingersoll, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in New Jersey, tells Romper. “Mental health professionals are observing a concerning trend among adolescents and college students who do not proactively seek help until they experience a crisis.” The last thing you want is for your child to suffer silently for years when all he needed was some help, so encourage your child to ask for assistance when he needs it.
4. "Boys Will Be Boys"
How many times have you heard the expression “Boys will be boys?” It’s usually in response to some sort of bad behavior that is often shrugged off by a parent or another adult. “Boys will be boys’ is one of my least favorite old timey parenting phrases,” Dr. Amanda Darnley, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, PA, informs Romper. “It essentially gives boys permission to act on their impulses, and sends the message that we don't really expect them to be able to control themselves.” Dr. Darnley recommends that instead of viewing the inappropriate behavior and dismissing it, boys need to be taught responsibility, accountability and self-control.
5. Boys Shouldn’t Show Emotion
One time when my son was in t-ball, his teammate missed the ball. The boy’s father came over and yelled at the kid for his poor swing, and the kid, naturally, started to cry. When the dad spotted the tears, he became more incensed that the kid was crying on the field in front of everyone. Thing is, boys need to show their emotions (just like girls do), because one day they will grow up and become men who can’t express themselves. “Just because men aren't adept at expressing their feelings, don't for a minute think they don't feel, and feel deeply,” Dr. Barbara Markway Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, wrote in an article for Psychology Today. “Many times, men express their feelings using a secret code — a code that even they can't decipher.” Unless we want our boys to be unable to express themselves both now as children (and then later as husbands and fathers), it’s vital that they be allowed to show their emotions — all of them.
6. Boys Are Aggressive
Let’s say this together: There is no one way to be a boy. So why do we still believe that all boys have to be tough, whether they’re playing or in a classroom? Sure, boys can be strong, but they can also be gentle, kind, and loving, too. But the assumption that boys can’t be anything but rough is part of a toxic masculinity culture described in an article on Tolerance.org. It basically touts a biological essentialism belief that boys are simply hardwired to be aggressive and violent, which just isn’t true.
7. Boys Can’t Play With Girls’ Toys
Boys don’t just play with trucks, and girls don’t just play with dolls. Allowing your son to explore all different types of toys is good for his overall development. “It’s important for parents of young boys to support their interest in playing with ‘girly’ toys like baby dolls,” Katie Lear, LPC, a licensed professional counselor in North Carolina, tells Romper. “As a therapist, I love seeing boys play in a nurturing way: it means they have great role models at home who are showing them what a caring parent is like, so that these boys can grow up to be a caring, nurturing fathers themselves some day.” So offer your child a wide variety of toys without worrying what it is. As long as he’s having fun, that’s what ultimately matters.
8. Sensitive Boys Are “Mama’s Boys”
Nary a person blinks an eye at a tight-knit mother-daughter relationship. But some people might raise an eyebrow high to heaven when they see a mother and her son who are very close, thinking that it’s weird or will somehow “weaken” the boy. Thing is, a mother/son bond can be beautiful when she guides him to be the best person he can be. "A healthy, loving relationship is one where the mom is emotionally supportive of her son,” Kate Stone, author of The Mama's Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger, told NPR. “She recognizes his individuality, his sensitivity, and his vulnerability along with his strengths.” In short, it means parenting your children the same, regardless of gender.
These old wives' tales about raising boys can have a negative impact on your child not just now, but in the future when he is an adult. Teaching your son to express himself as he needs to can ensure his happiness and a healthier relationship for the both of you.
Lisa Howe, MSW, certified peaceful parenting coach
Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist
Dr. Joel Ingersoll, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist