Since the world will never be completely free of jerks, the rest of us need to arm ourselves and our children with tools to mentally combat the abuse as much as possible.
Knowing what I know about the importance of children getting daily exercise and fresh air (added bonus: I get exercise too), I recently decided we would start walking home from school.
It has been a magical experience and I would like to share with you two discoveries I witnessed once I slowed life down to a walking pace.
The name is Bond, James Bond.
When you hear/read those words, what image comes to mind; an alpha male or a beta male? My mind goes straight to the epitome of what the ideal man should be according to society.
The perfect, powerful, well-dressed, classy, measured, always more agile and clever than the “lesser/weaker” male. Bond never cries. He’s always in control, always ready to fight or f*%k. His emotions bounce from anger to lust to sex to savagery. This ideal…Bond…is a type of “savior” for mankind, keeping the world (or at least Britain) safe, one fight at a time.
Interestingly, a few months ago I saw Daniel Craig (a.k.a. the current James Bond) being publicly shamed for wearing his newborn baby in a baby carrier when he went out shopping. WTF is that all about people? Really? Really? Really?
No wonder men in our culture are confused as to “how to be a man.” In one breath society says how attractive, heartwarming, and even sexy it is when a man holds and cares for his baby, and in the next breath society states very clearly a “REAL MAN” does not carry his baby around.
In our current society all males are measured against this ideal of the “alpha male.” The problem is, this type of man often exhibits what is currently labeled as “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity is a phrase that is getting tossed around lately so let’s take a moment to try to understand it a bit better.
And when our softer, gentler boys are unable to live up to this ideal, and struggle to emotionally cope with the constant onslaught of bullying from peers/parents/TV/news/society, they are turning more and more to violence to fill the void within.
The world is in dire need of sensitive men but I’m not sure we as a society even know how to facilitate this change.
What if that happened? What would it look like if mothers and fathers started getting mad at anyone who shamed a male for expressing a “feminine/weaker” feeling such as fear, sorrow, or submission; yes, even submission.
I believe that to be a great leader you must, at times, be able to submit to and follow someone else to truly understand the experience of those you lead.
So, how do you raise a kind, gentle, caring man who will be strong enough to cry and kick someone’s ass if needed? And gentle enough to calm his sleeping baby and strong enough to withstand the jokes slung at him from his “mates” at work who make fun of him for being a hands-on parent?
When I take a step back and look at the gestalt, or the macro of society, and then take a look at the micro of each individual human being, I see two things parents can do which could force society to change one little boy at a time. These two concepts parents must know about to help foster this change are the following:
It’s my belief that we, as parents, can change the worldview of an entire generation (both genders) by offering them alternative ways to view the world.
By shifting an individual’s worldview their inner voice inevitably changes; these two “ingredients” are of utmost importance in solving the problem of toxic masculinity within our current society.
Society has to stop reinforcing toxic masculinity and until that happens you must be the filter.
Worldview: What is it and how parents can help shape it.
This unique lens helps you experience/interpret the world and is called your worldview. Every living human being has a worldview. You may not be aware of it, or even know it exists because you can’t see it, but you have it nonetheless.
In 2007, the International Education for Peace Institute printed a handbook on how to accomplish world peace. They suggested that by shifting the world’s worldview from a Survival-Based/Identity-Based one to a Unity-Based Worldview, humans might have a chance at world peace.
I won’t go into all the details of the differences because this post is about toxic masculinity; however, you can get a pretty good idea about worldview by examining the graph below.
An individual’s worldview is like a pair of contact lenses that you are born with. Each one of us is born with clear lenses. Then slowly, little by little your contact lenses start to change prescription depending on what you are exposed to and how you are taught by parents to respond to things in the world.
Each of our lenses obviously impacts how we perceive/interpret/understand and react to each other and the world around us. Our lenses are forming from the first second we enter the world.
Were you born into a warm and safe environment? Or were you born into a war zone with bombs exploding nearby? Everything factors into how we see the world.
This brings me back to the topic of this article which is how we (parents) can change toxic masculinity within society.
How do you change your worldview and teach/offer your child(ren) the ideas of tolerance, understanding, empathy, integrity and hope? How do you change your current worldview to a more Unity-Based Worldview?
Here is my preliminary list:
Steps to take to change your worldview:
Question how you see the world around you and what factors (over the course of your life) were impactful in this formation and why? Write it down if needed…
Seek to understand new ways of thinking/seeing the world, which promote unity, togetherness, and those positive traits you seek in yourself and children. An example would be reading a book called The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. Seeing the world through someone else’s lenses often helps us notice a color we haven’t before.
Share with your children (partner/friends/co-workers etc.) the things you’re learning and how it’s changing you for the better. When we teach others, the information we are sharing builds new neural pathways that strengthen this new worldview/outlook. Sometimes a therapist, life coach, or insightful friend is helpful in this process of discovery.
I am still continually growing and “undoing” my knee-jerk reactions in situations which force me to challenge my worldview.
However, in my early 20s (after a few years of college and being away from home) I realized that this type of “win at all costs” mentality was adding a lot of stress to my life. Plus, as I learned more about psychology and humans I began to realize just how much every interaction we have with others impacts our lives. The way forward for me was a Unity-Based worldview.
Just remember, not everyone in your life is going to embrace this new and enlightened you. Just like in chemistry, if one of the elements in a mixture changes, it affects the entire solution.
Imagine that you just walked into a room and forgot what you walked in there for…now pause. What were the words you spoke to yourself when you realized you had forgotten what you were doing? What was the overall gist of what you said? Were the words judgmental, sarcastically funny, supportive, or mean and spiteful?
Those words which popped immediately into your head, without effort, came from what is called your inner voice.
Maybe a phrase your parents often said to you came to mind. That’s because parents are the most influential person in our early formative years.
This image is more effective in explaining how your words impact your child’s inner voice than anything I can write.
Just as we do now, our parent(s) repeated themselves many times in an effort to teach us, keep us safe, and help us “fit in” a specific culture/social group.
It’s normal for your parents to want you to follow and understand the spoken and unspoken rules of the family.
However, here are some harmful “rules” that support the ideals of toxic masculinity:
Women do the dishes
Men do the yard work
Children’s opinions don’t matter on family decisions
Males don’t wear feminine colors or display feminine/weak emotions
Females aren’t allowed to get angry or show aggression
Of course we all know these ideas are outdated. So upgrade. You’re the parent now. You make the rules of the house. Remember though, it’s not just about changing the rules, you have to change that inner voice, too.
Instead of saying things like:
“Don’t be a girl and cry. Man up!”
“Look at what you did! How could you spill the milk again, you lazy thing.”
“Why can’t you stop running around and act like a lady?”
Whatever your family rules were/are I’m pretty sure some of them involve ideas that support toxic masculinity. Identify them and make a conscious effort to try and change them.
Read books/blogs/articles to become more aware of toxic masculinity so you can begin to point it out to yourself and your children.
It amazes me the toxic thoughts that still pop into my mind even after 16 years of continued study and self-exploration once my eyes were opened to the injustices in the world.
It takes a lot of hard work to rewire your brain but it’s worth it and it’s doable! To start the mental reset for your thoughts you must first:
Acknowledge the toxic “rule” when you have it/realize it.
Think about/research facts that dispute this idea.
Repeat the new information you learned multiple times over multiple days to strengthen the new neural pathway.
It could look something like this:
Your son starts to cry when he doesn’t get his way. Your first thought is “boys don’t cry.” You acknowledge this thought and that it supports toxic ways of relating to boys.
In those few seconds after your son starts to cry and before you say something that supports toxic ideals, you stop and rethink, and instead say: “I know it doesn’t feel good to not get what you want. Everyone cries sometimes and that’s ok. Just don’t sit in the sorrow too long because you may miss out on something else you didn’t realize was an option.”
After your son has gotten himself under control and engaged in a new activity, you find quiet times over the next several days to sit him down and talk about the event. Talk about what upset him and talk about how he successfully resolved the situation. Practice coping skills and reaffirm the notion that ALL emotions are OK and felt by everyone. At some point, feel free to bring up the fact that there will come a time when crying in society might not always be the best or appropriate.
This process won’t be easy, especially if you are new to the idea of toxic masculinity and rather see the “symptoms” as simply describing all the men in your life.
It won’t be easy but it will be worth it, and it is necessary for the futures of our boys and girls.
I say that sentence to my son at least once a day. I am raising a soft, gentle, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent little man.
He is very aware of the world around him and since he is being raised by two females, neither of whom will EVER say to him “man up,” his inner voice will hopefully be full of positive phrases not laden down with the ideas of toxic masculinity.
We talk about what they could have done instead (build those positive pathways) and if appropriate, offer kind words or a helping hand to the recipient of the toxic interaction.
Your child needs you to be their filter in a world that is currently stuck in a “eat or be eaten” mentality.
Change the words of the story
and change the ending.
My son just started kindergarten and as I was leaving the school one day, an administrator and I started chatting. This woman has worked in both private and public schools all over the country for many years. Her most notable observations in children over the course of her career is.
She shared that parents don’t seem to allow their child to experience being disappointed and it’s seriously impacting the child’s ability to reach their fullest academic potential. I told her about my blog and that I would be happy to share my thoughts on the topic…so here we go.
This knowledge usually prompts feelings of sadness. We’ve all felt it and have experienced the emotional and physical wound in our hearts when we don’t get what we want. It totally blows, and most people will do almost anything to avoid “bad” feelings.
Let me set the scene: you are feeling pumped up and listening to party music whilst you deck yourself out in your favorite sports fan gear, and as you walk out the door you hear your phone buzz. Your mate just texted to let you know that they’ve had something unexpected come up and won’t be able to meet you at the game. Ugh…disappointment sets in.
Take two: It’s been an incredibly stressful day and you don’t want to cook dinner for the family and decide to “treat” everyone to a night out. For the most part, getting everyone dressed and out of the house goes relatively smoothly. You pick a local place that is a little farther to drive to but that you know has “something for everyone,” so you cope with the hungry noises coming from the back of the car. Once seated, the waitress comes to tell you the daily specials and you find out that they are “sold out” of the main dish your child(ren) eat. Disappointment sets in, followed by a few other feelings, such as complete and utter rage.
Maybe that’s why we (parents) try so hard to protect our children from feelings we deem as negative or uncomfortable. However, it is really a disservice. Instead of shielding our children from those feelings, provide them with age-appropriate coping skills.
Every parent and child supporter (i.e. relative or family friend) want their child to succeed academically and emotionally (i.e. to be content with life and feel happy more than they feel stressed).
Consequently, it’s important to not only teach your child things like colors, shapes and letters. It’s also vital to teach them how to cope with their feelings and the emotionality that comes with simply being a human being who interacts with others.
Herein lies the problem. Many parents are often unaware, or dont have the language needed to be able to explain to their child (in concrete terms) how to appropriately deal with their feelings. I’m most definitely not blaming anyone. I’m simply saying my experience is that knowing about or being able to teach emotional intelligence to your child(ren) isn’t easy for parents as a general rule of thumb.
The term emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) means an individual can:
recognize, understand and manage their own emotions and
recognize and understand how their behaviors influence the emotions of others
Remember being a teenager and losing your temper with your parents, which ended in you losing privileges? You lost control of your emotions; which resulted in a punishment from your parents, because they were trying to teach you how to “hold your tongue.” Emotional intelligence also includes learning how to manage both positive and negative emotions, especially when under pressure.
What do you do when you’re under pressure? I am just going to list a few things people tend to do when they are feeling emotional pressure. Maybe you will be able to relate.
Displace your frustrations on to someone or something else. i.e. co-parent pisses you off, you turn around and yell at the dog for doing something like licking his paw, because the sound irritates you. Or you slam the car door really hard and break something in the process.
Start to “tune out” the world around you. Maybe you start sinking deeper and deeper into your thoughts. You know people are talking to you; but you are so overwhelmed emotionally that it’s like they are speaking underwater and you can’t understand what they are saying.
Begin to panic and resort to your “primitive” means of coping, which is fight, flight or freeze. You verbally or physically attack the person you feel threatened by. You walk away from the perceived threat. You stand still like a deer in headlights, not moving.
At some point in our life we have all been emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope in the moment. There have also been moments when we have felt underwater yet managed to keep our nose and lips above water long enough to regain our emotional footing without losing it.
This brings me back to the point of the blog. How do you as a parent allow your child enough time and space to experience the feeling of being disappointed and then help them recover? Additionally, how do you teach them to cope with negative feelings in general?
Acknowledge the feeling
First of all, let me say if you (the parent) struggle to identify and cope with your feelings (positive or negative) it is important you practice what I’m asking you to do with your child on yourself first. Get a “feel” for what your child will be going through and use your experience to enhance/educate your child.
For example: When at a friend’s house for a playdate, your child wants to play with a toy someone else has, but the other child is not done playing with it. Your child will more than likely do one of the following:
Snatch the toy
Regardless of how your child physically responds, we both can be pretty sure they are feeling disappointed that the toy they want to play with is occupied by someone else. It doesn’t really matter which way your child responded, you can still label and validate the feeling and experience for your child by saying something like…
If needed, feel free to share a time when you felt disappointed. Just make sure to keep the moment about them and not your “glory days of disappointment and doom.”
Refocus the attention
I want to make a clear distinction between helping your child recenter themself emotionally, rather than merely distracting them from their emotions.
Recentering involves experiencing the emotion and sitting in the uncomfortableness that comes with disappointment, then moving through that feeling into a more pleasant one, like excitement that comes from seeing another toy they may have missed. Or sit in the sadness with them and, if you see they are emotionally “stuck” at this point, you can give them a nudge toward another activity or thought.
Distracting involves shifting the child’s attention away from the uncomfortable feeling by ignoring it and shoving it deep down…down into the black metal box that sits at the bottom of your soul and keeps all your “bad feelings” locked up tight with iron chains ensuring its closure along with a 15 digit coded padlock AND a key.
Yes, that is a slight over-exaggeration. Yet, you see where I am going with this, right?
The problem is, more and more studies are coming out showing that “bottled up feelings” end up manifesting themselves in physical symptoms (chronic back or neck pain).
I’ve had a client say they felt like they were carrying the emotional weight of their entire family on their back. Guess what, they had severe back problems which limited their employability, leading to more issues. Again, I’m sure you see where I am going.
When they are ready to recenter on another activity or toy, say something along the lines of:
“Even though we can’t play with that toy… we could find a different toy or go for a wander around? What would YOU like to do?”
Empowering through choice
Giving your child a choice in that moment allows them to feel empowered and in control, which immediately shifts their feeling of disappointment. Yes, they may cry and pitch a fit, regardless of how you approach them. But eventually, over time and through practice, when you bring them “choices,” more than likely they will want to choose one that does NOT include a temper tantrum.
Society in general does not support people who throw fits in public. I don’t believe any child wants to have the label “cry baby” at school or a party. It’s my experience that children desire to learn how to control their behavior. They want to learn how to manage their frustrations and disappointments and not to be laughed at or labeled or pushed to a corner of the room to cope alone
Every ying must have its yang and it’s hard as a parent to watch your child struggle with anything, but especially when your child is feeling crappy. We’ve all been there and seeing it in your child triggers our own natural instinct to protect and shield them from danger.
The problem is you won’t always be around to do that. So, instead of shielding them, arm them with tools of protection like:
Providing language to accurately label their feelings
Teaching them ALL feeling are normal and ok to experience
Modeling for them how you cope/deal with disappointment
Celebrating when your child is successful in coping with disappointment
We all have bad days and feel disappointed about things. How we respond to these small, everyday disappointments factor into how the rest of our day goes. Teach your children that everyone feels disappointed at some point, but it’s the working through the feelings and coming out the other side that is what should be focused on.
We are all born with certain traits such as green eyes, mocha-colored skin, raspberry red hair and for some like me, an overbite to boot. Some of these characteristics can be changed or modified using hair dye or colored contact lenses, or even very expensive dental work.
We are also all born with certain talents/gifts/abilities, or whatever you wanna call it. Sometimes these gifts are obvious to the general masses (i.e. musical talent or sporting ability) and sometimes they aren’t (i.e. generous and kind-spirited or a good problem solver).
I bring this up because parents can be very very hard on themselves, and I know I am one of them. It is hard for me to admit I’m not a “perfect” parent and that I can’t be the “one perfect person” in my child’s life. The funny thing is we can’t be that perfect person for anyone really, not a parent, spouse, teacher or partner.
Ok, now let me get to my point. Here it is. If you have something, anything to offer ANY child in the world, please offer it…fill that gap don’t be shy.
My Younger Village-
My mother used to tell everyone she met that I was raised by the village and I would have to agree. Some village members I sought out and others found me.
For example, we didn’t have a lot of sweets growing up and I am not a “sweet-toothed” person in general. Nevertheless, every once in awhile I get a hankering for something sweet. I guess the need to fulfill that desire is strong because…
You don’t think that’s a good example of a village raising a child?, Before you think my parents were negligent, I assure you they weren’t. They knew the people I was going to see so it was all good in the hood, as they say.
Here’s another example: My mom used to drop me off at a church friend’s house when she needed a break from me or had to run some errands. This family had 6 children and the mom who ran the house didn’t play….you know what I’m saying? Not a criticism at all…
When I was at her house running wild and having fun with her kids, I often found myself sitting in the “time out” chair.
Recently, I was reminiscing with my friend from this family and she said she thinks I sat in the time out chair more than any of her siblings. We had a good chuckle about that…guess I needed some serious fencing at times when I was younger.
God, I sound like I am describing a dog. Well, I guess if you think about smaller type breeds, you know the type that when you let them off the leash they go absolutely bananas? That was me a lot of the time…especially in crowds because I’m a natural extrovert and feed off the crowd’s energy.
Quick side note: Recent research states that time-outs don’t actually work like people think they work. This is a debate for another post. What I will say is this:
Instead of unleashing it on your child, you put them in a time-out instead (i.e. a chair, couch, room, whatever, you just get them out of your line of vision).
Those types of time-outs I’m totally down with because it’s
halting the racing mental train your child was riding, and
prevents you from regretting a behavior.
Many people had a hand in raising me, from the strange man at the grocery store who held me so I would calm down, to my 6th grade teacher who took me aside and told me
Or something along those lines. To everyone: thanks.
My Current Village-
I do believe there are angels among us and my neighbor Robin just happens to be one of them. My co-parent and I literally walked into our house with our freshly-squeezed brand new baby boy when we heard a knock at the door. I knew it wasn’t my family because we had asked them to give us 2 weeks alone with the baby before “showing him off” to anyone. Friends and family ended up coming before that 2 week marker, but Robin was the first.
My family is close enough for visits (a 2 hour drive) but not close enough to help with those day-to-day things like popping over for 15-30 minutes so you can go grab the oldest from preschool without having to wake the youngest from a nap.. Robin fills a very huge gap in our family unit and she most definitely deserves this shout out for helping me with my village. I wish every family had a Robin.
My “Paying it Forward” Village
I have made an effort my entire life to put good energy and deeds into the world and it always comes back to me and then some. Even though I am a parent and have young children I still believe I have to keep “paying into the bank” so I don’t incur a negative balance on my positive karma spreadsheet.
When my son was a little over 3 years old he attended a preschool for a few months. During this time I volunteered at the school because….wait for it….. I believe in paying it forward. I had the time and talent to do several things; I ran a music group and the gardening program for the school.
After school one day on the drive home my son asked me “Momma b. Why don’t you pay attention to me at school like you do the other kids?” (or something along those lines). I told him “Darling, I love you to infinity and beyond (yes, I actually say that and no he has NEVER seen Toy Story…he has always loved numbers and will say to me he loves me as much as “1000” and I say I love him to “2001” etc. Then one day I was over the game and taught him the word infinity so I could “win.” He then askes me what was beyond infinity….hence the comment and hence the feeling that I needed to explain.)
Moving right along. I said to him that I loved him very much and that I was talking to his classmates because they don’t get to see me very often.
(By excited I mean animated and engaged with intense and playful eye contact with the child talking to me…most adults/parents don’t do this. Totally fine…don’t feel pressure to act silly. I just know that acting a little silly often makes someone else feel really good inside, or so I’ve been told/seen).
I further explained that other children don’t get to see their parents as often as he does. We discussed single parent homes and dual income homes (both parents work) and compared the hours those children were able to see their parent(s) vs. the time he got with both of his parents.
I have no clue the child’s background with regard to time spent with their parent, I just know my kids get enough and they can share a little of my love and attention when they’re around other children who may need some.
He got it and he actually stopped coming up to see me as often because he was “leaving space” for those who may need it. Kids get it.
Society in general is built on the idea that we work together for a greater good. So let’s do it. Start filling small (sometimes big) gaps in the lives of the children you are around and who you know might benefit from what you have to offer.
Obviously be respectful of the relationship between the child and their parent(s). Ask the parent if there is anything you can do to help out. You can even point out something you think you could offer their child that they may not know about (a secret hidden talent or skill like magic tricks, or a passion for art history).
Even if you have children, see if there is anyway you can help fill any gaps for other children in your life. It most definitely took a village to raise me and I’m grateful to those in my life who did.