tl;dr Boys are way different than girls and aren’t little meanies because they call another boy a name
Raising a son is hard. And I have to say that raising a son as a single mom or a mom with no help from dad is probably the hardest thing that can be done as a parent today because there are so many societal “norms” that are being applied to young boys that sometimes letting a boy’s natural character out means that he’s in some way a problem child. I am not complaining about raising a son in any way, shape or form. Instead I am saying that raising a son can be challenging, particularly when the natural character of a boy is at odds with what a parent, or society in general, deems appropriate.
The reason I say this is because of an incident I learned about today involving my son. He has had his share of scraps and run-ins this school year, and has been spoken to quite a bit for behavior and behavior related issues. To me, this is to be expected for an eight year old boy. Hell, when I was his age I was doing much of the same stuff he’s doing today. Pretty much every boy in my school was. I think that’s because, in general, boys have a way about them that is unique to boys. We are loud, aggressive, forward, vocal, sometimes condescending, sometimes domineering, sometimes mean and sometimes rude. I am not saying these are all good qualities. I’m just saying, put a group of boys (or men) in a room and in a short amount of time you will see all of these qualities manifest in some capacity among the males in the room.
As boys, we know this. We live this. We expect this from other boys. And because of that, we, as boys, challenge the norms that we are faced with (that is another quality of boys). When we see a boy that might be bigger, stronger, smarter, faster… our inclination is to establish dominance over that boy. We do that in various ways, from hurling insults to competing in sports to physically dominating another boy. And sometimes, as a stronger, smarter, faster boy, we are challenged by another boy trying to establish dominance of his own. Again, this is not only understood among boys, it’s expected. And how we as boys handle these situations begins to identify us among our sphere of influence. This process begins at a very young age and continues for most, if not all, of a man’s life. To understand this concept, observe a group of guys enjoying drinks and talking. How long does it take before one of the guys insults one of his friends, calls him a name or challenges his manhood? How long does it take for a man to establish his own amazingness by telling stories of his work, or how he handled a situation with a coworker, or how he handled something with his kids? It is the way we are with each other.
The incident that my son was involved in went like this… he was playing a game of Mercy with another boy. When the other kid lost, the kid began to whine about it to which my son replied “Stop being a little girl”. Now to those that don’t understand boys, this might come across as rude, condescending or even bullying. To those of us who grew up on the playground, we know this is a way of establishing presence and dominance among our peers. While I am not excusing the conduct of my son, I think it needs to be stated that among boys, games of strength and bravado always come at a cost in that there will inherently be a winner and a loser. In both the winning and the losing, there is a way to conduct yourself that is honorable among other boys. There are also ways to conduct yourself that are less than honorable among boys. So when a boy behaves in a way that is “dishonorable” among the group, it is natural for another boy to call him on that. This happens quite often in regular daily activities of a lot of men (and women, too, but probably not in as pronounced a way as with the guys). Again, I am not saying it is right or wrong, I am merely saying that this is to be expected, particularly among boys.
In the case of my son and his behavior, it is easy to look at him and say he was being mean or bullying the other boy. Personally, I think that’s a load of crap. Bullying, to me, would be something like my son seeing another boy, that he isn’t close with, wearing a pink shirt or sporting long hair and, out of nowhere, approaching him with a “What are you, a girl?”. To me, that is not only bullying but completely unacceptable behavior. It is unwarranted, unmerited and totally inappropriate. But in the case of two boys playing a game of strength and one boy losing then whining about it, to be derided for it in some way, to me, is not bullying. It is playground politics. It’s the same playground politics that say if we’re playing dodgeball and I know you can’t catch, you’re the target I’m throwing at. It’s the same playground politics that say if we’re playing tag and you’re the slow kid, you’re getting tagged first. And it is also the same politics that say if you’ve handled being the slow kid, getting tagged and not being able to get out of it while still being cool about it, you’re probably gonna end up being tight with a couple of dudes that will make sure you are never tagged.
Now moms, this is for you: boys and girls are different in many, many ways. How we feel things is different. How we respond is different. But trying to make your boy understand things from a girl’s perspective – or even YOUR perspective – will more than likely not work most of the time. While your boy may nod at you and say “yes momma, I understand”, the chances of it sticking with him are pretty slim. This is because you can never really take the character out of the boy. You can punish it, discipline it… even make him feel bad for it. But ultimately his character will continue to shine through – good or bad – and he will do what he will naturally do. If you are a single mom raising a son, or if your son’s dad isn’t as involved as he should be, please know that your best bet as his parent is to lead, coach and teach your son how to manage his boyness. Don’t condemn him for being what he naturally is. Don’t try to stifle his character or shut it down, but instead find creative ways to let that character of his flourish. No, that isn’t easy, but it is much less frustrating and much less likely to cause resentment from him later on life.