When it Comes to Raising Boys, Emotionally Intelligent is the New Strong

Rethinking How We Teach Our Boys To Be "Manly"

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After a refreshingly honest conversation over coffee with one of my oldest friends about how complicated relationships can be, he sent me this article, “The Secret to a Happy Marriage May be an Emotionally Intelligent Husband.

His caption to this message was, “We’re fucked.”

I totally get his concern. At the risk of stereotyping and generalizing (which as a rule I try not to do), the male species is not notorious for their ability to effectively communicate their feelings. It’s really no fault of their own. Up until recently the powerful cultural messages being sent to our boys was to stifle their emotions in an effort to courageously support their families.

We’re now beginning to understand the ramifications of sending such a powerful message to the patriarchs of our society.

So, despite my friend’s grim projections that the future of solid relationships is dependent on emotional intelligence from both parties, I maintain hope. As a mom of two young boys, I have no choice.

When my three-year-old whines and cries or yells with frustration, as his mother I can’t with good conscience ignore or invalidate his emotions. Of course, there are times when I dismiss him, scold him, or lose my patience. But I always regret it. The times when I really listen to him and coach him through an emotional situation, we both feel more connected and his behavior becomes more manageable.

Whether it’s with his smiles and hugs or his tears and disappointment, he is trying to communicate with me. He wants to know he is being heard and understood. He’s trying to figure out his place among the people around him. He’s human. The desire and ability to connect with other humans isn’t a male or female characteristic. It’s a human characteristic.

One of the most important building blocks for developing this characteristic is empathy. Empathy gives us the perspective to be able to treat others with kindness and compassion. It’s a golden rule. But this golden rule and the ability to empathize with others can’t be built on a crumbling foundation of misunderstood and misguided emotions.

When we fail to acknowledge, teach, and manage the emotions of our kids, girls or boys, we deprive them of truly understanding what it means to be empathetic. Behavioral psychologists have found that psychopaths (and others who suffer from mental illness and victimize people) lack the neurological capability to express empathy. While neglecting to make emotional intelligence a priority is not a direct path to social struggles as an adult (there are other factors to consider), it’s a slippery slope that can be avoided.

I hope our generation of parents will be the ones to change the way we think about the emotional development of boys. I hope we continue to see more messages that tell them emotional strength is just as (if not more) important than physical strength. If being honest with their feelings keeps couples out of divorce court citing “irreconcilable differences,” I can’t think of a more powerful demonstration of strength and manliness a father can send his children.

While our culture seems to be divided right now as to how a man should present himself, articles like the one in Business Insider give me hope. It means that people are paying attention. When people pay attention, things start to change.

I’ll continue to pay attention. No one is perfect and sometimes circumstances dictate how we approach something more than our good parenting sense does. But I’ll continue working to tip my balance in the direction of emotional intelligence. It’s definitely not the easy way. But often the right way and the easy way are two very different things.

And no one ever said parenting was easy.

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