Offend not the little ones

The Bible says that it is better for a man to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to abuse children.  Perhaps the punishment is a bit harsh, but I think this is one concept taught in the Bible that is correct.  (Of course, in another place, it advocates child abuse--"spare the rod, spoil the child" but that wouldn't be the only contradiction in there.)

I came across this picture the other day and posted it on my wall.  I was quite affronted when I had someone actually defend calling boys "girly" and "whiny" when they cry, so I wanted to share more of my feelings on the matter.

Several years ago, I was watching a play with a family that I know.  One of their boys (maybe 5 or so at the time, I don't recall) was sitting on my lap and fell asleep.  After a while, I felt warmth spread around my lap.  This was unprecedented.  I really didn't know what to do.  I leaned over to my wife and informed her of the development.  The play was almost over, so I figured I'd just wait until the end before I did anything.

When the play was over, it didn't take very long for the parents to find out what had happened.  To be honest, I don't recall precisely how the mom reacted, but I do recall how the dad reacted, and I was horribly disappointed about it.  He berated the child.  He made him feel bad about something that he was already embarrassed about.  I knew how the boy was feeling.  I know what it's like to pee your pants in public.  I wet myself as late as 9th grade, and it embarrassed me completely every time it happened (it was usually because I was too scared to ask the teacher for a hall pass).  The last thing a child in that situation needs is a parent to make them feel worse than they already do.  This boy felt bad that he had moistened his pants.  Nobody likes walking around in wetness.  He was embarrassed that it had happened.  What he needed was parents to reassure him and tell him that it would be okay--that they would fix it for him.

No, I don't think that parents should coddle their children and try to fix all of their kids' problems for them.  But, I do think that parents need to be sensitive to their children's feelings.  There may be times when a parent should try to instill guilt into their child, but there are also times when the guilt is inherent and the parent simply needs to help the child through the experience.  As I listened to the father insult his own child, I asked myself "What does this accomplish?  What good comes from this kind of treatment of a child?"  I could see none.  What I saw was a boy being estranged from his father.  I saw the lines of open and honest communication between father and son being worn down.  After experiencing that kind of treatment, how will the boy feel about his father?  He is not very likely to feel that his father wants to be involved in his own hardships.  He's more likely to feel that his dad will simply be disappointed in him if he does anything wrong.  So, he won't share things close to his heart with his dad.  He'll hold them in and keep them secret.  That's not what I want for my son.

I want my son to feel like he can talk to me about things that are bothering him.  I want him to feel like I'm on his side.  If there's a problem in my boy's life, I want him to feel like the three of us (him, Conrad, and myself) are all working together and the problem is the enemy.  The last thing I want is for him to feel like he has his own problems to fight by himself, and also two dads that he needs to fight.  Because one day it won't be "Dad, I peed my pants."  It will be "Dad, my girlfriend's pregnant." or "Dad, I just broke up." or "Dad, I just wrecked your car."  Will these be things I want him to be able to come talk to me about?  You bet.  I may not know how to react or how to help, but I sure as hell want to know about it, and I want my son to know that he can find an advocate in me.  And if I want him to feel comfortable talking to me about the serious things in his later years, I really need to do my best to make him feel comfortable with the things that are serious in a 5-year-old's life.

I honestly have difficulty understanding why a loving parent would teach their boy "real men don't cry" or any variation thereof.  Many of the traits that are commonly associated with masculinity (or femininity) are simply not desirable.  It is not good to encourage a child to be unfeeling or unemotional. All people cry.  Whether you're a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.  There are times when you feel like crying, and that's okay.  There is no weakness in shedding tears.  There is no strength in putting on a facade of unfeelingness.  If my son feels like crying, I want to be there to cry with him.  I don't want to teach him that crying is girly or bad or weak.  I want to do everything I can to build my son up, not tear him down or instill in him false stereotypes.