(Don’t) Toughen Up
Max is a gentle soul, a lover not a fighter and wears his heart on his sleeve. He needs scratches to be kissed better, no matter where they are; bum scratches are the worst kind. He runs up to ‘big boys’ in the park and requests a hug – he is yet to have had his offer taken up. He is bemused by other boys’ fascination with their balls, the sporty balls that is. When he does find himself on the wrong end of a kick, he looks at them with bemused eyes and then looks at me and asks “why?” – I don’t really know what to tell him.
In recent times I’ve found myself wanting to ‘toughen’ him up, only I don’t really want to toughen him up, I love him just the way he is. What I’m actually doing is pre-empting the concerns I have for him when he one day turns up at school and his gentle ways are seen as a weakness. I see a lot of my own personality in his, I was the same gentle soul, still am and it didn’t take the schoolyard bullies long to work out that I was an easy target. How do you toughen a 2 year old anyhow? Less sympathy when they hurt themself? Less cuddles before bed? No reprimands when they show aggression towards others? Martial Arts films before bed?
Last week I was eves dropping on a conversation between two parents, one was telling the other that he’s pleased his 2 year old boy “plays rough” and that he goes out of his way to encourage it. Reading between the lines the Dad in question was what you might call an alpha male, he certainly viewed himself in that way, I think his definition of what it is to be male is about being louder, tougher and stronger than the next one – you know the type? He gave every impression that he would be ashamed if his son didn’t fit into that narrow definition.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Max is just fine the way he is. I don’t want to teach him to “play rough”. If being male is about being tougher, stronger, louder then I’d prefer to concentrate on redefining it, in my own house at least. I’d prefer to teach him that the virtues he has are every bit as valuable. He’ll come a cropper here and there, everyone does, and that’s when we will be there to pick up the pieces and put him back together.
That’s the parent I aspire to be. One who lets him be who he is, whatever that turns out to be. To support him whenever he needs it but not to restrict him, not to make decisions for him and eradicate all potential for mistakes. He seems to be doing a very good job at steering his own ship and with a bit of support and guidance when necessary he’ll arrive at the right destination, his right destination. Hold your line Max, you’re doing just fine.