I have mulled and eschewed a great deal recently on how to gather, collate and put my thoughts on this point across given that it is so closely related to another topic I have recently had a conversation about with my daughter. And of course, I did not want to bombard you with two posts on the same topic!
As I see my children grow up and unfurl their timid wings and take their first nervous flights, I have sincerely prayed with all the love in a mother’s heart that I shall be able to effectively impart to them some of the life lessons I have learnt so as to ensure that by some stroke of fate or preemptive knowledge my children are able to circumvent the mistakes I made.
Parenting can at times be quite akin to looking at our children make mistakes whilst being stood behind a glass wall ourselves. We can see where the potential pitfalls lie but, are unable to stop them from taking a tumble or a slip.
To be entirely honest, when has age not repeatedly forewarned and when has youth couples with its heady mix of euphoria paused to listen. In the very same breath, my mind tries to pacify my heart by gently whispering the words ‘did they ever learn to run before tumbling once or twice?’
Of late, my school loving, happy, jovial and chirpy seven-year-old seemed to have experienced a decline in his usual euphoric demeanor towards the start of the school day. It was not so much that he did not want to go to school, but rather it was the dragging of feet than the usual running full speed into the classroom that set my motherly alarm bells ringing a bit.
My experience of motherhood has taught me that some issues involve a certain amount of subtle and covert poking and prodding to get to the truth that hides behind. What is starkly obvious to the naked eye may in reality be miles away from the truth. A smile can sometimes be the external stoic facade behind which many a contrary emotion may lurk, swirl, be thwarted and refused the chance to surface.
I have also realized that conversations are the key to building strong relationships. Of my three children, my seven-year-old is the one who often hides his tears behind his smile. Smiling is his coping technique when it comes to handling intense feelings or sadness of any sort.
A long hot chocolate session and a dozen or more marshmallows later, my seven-year-old let me on to the piece of the jigsaw puzzle that had been conspicuous in its absence these last few days and the reason behind his hesitation to go to school. What emerged was that a few boys in his class had been bullying and excluding him.
Like many mothers around the globe I too believe in standing up to bullying. Somewhere in my mind I am convinced that if I stand up for my son, my son will learn to stand up for himself and others being led by example. And I also believe in taking the right steps at the right time to rectify the situation and to nip the issue in the bud before it becomes anything more sinister.
However, keeping the topic of bullying aside to discuss on a different day and for the sake of this particular topic, let me come back to the issue of my son trying to evade the problem and avert his eyes. My children have from their very nascent years been taught that an honest heart and clear conscience never averts eyes. And sometimes all it takes is a gentle hand and silence to get those eyes to look up and share what lies and weighs heavy upon their hearts.
Once the initial tears had broken free from the self imposed captivity there was no stopping the stormy waters that had thus far been swirling and raging inside of him, hidden and kept encased behind a wall of smiles. And this is what got me talking to my little boy and impressing upon him the fact that boys and yes, even big boys do cry. “But big boys don’t cry” said my seven-year-old, “my friends said so”. I am sure this was not the first time this line has been mouthed and I’m equally sure it isn’t the last time either. Though I do unequivocally advocate that it is high time we stopped using this adage and laid it to rest forever.
No child, boy or girl should ever be told to withhold their emotions on the pretext of appearing ‘weak’. And above all stereotypical and generalized definitions should never be forcefully juxtaposed upon the still so nascent psyche of a mind that is just about unfurling its wings and exploring the world around.
I feel it is high time we expunged these purported and frequently contorted concepts and preconceived ideas of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ and all that their external contraptions and manifestations ‘should’ validate and exhibit.
Beyond the encapsulation of the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ one inherent part of the equation which I feel we all need to bear in mind is that we are all human beings. And tears are a human way of expressing emotions. Curtailing and restricting that innate and almost primal emotion behind an iron curtain of false bravado, just to prove to the outer world that we are strong, I feel sometimes thwarts and crushes a part of our inner soul bit by bit.
Hiding tears, stifling emotions and not allowing oneself to feel the pain of the situation should never be construed to be the steps one needs to take in order to be a ‘big’ boy or ‘grown’ man. Rather the strength of character is made manifest in times of trial. But if in those times of trial we were to hide our emotions and not emote what we feel, don’t you think we’d be propagating an idea that it is alright for us to hide our truest and most raw emotions behind a mask. And if this be the accepted norm, then aren’t we all partaking in a masquerade on the world stage, with our true selves hidden from all?
In the case of my son, this was perhaps not a huge trial in the greater scheme of things. But I also believe that if our baby steps are right then our longer gaits in life will be that much firmer and stronger.
So yes I tried as best as I could to impress positively upon my son that day that it is alright to cry if something hurts your heart. It is alright to let those tears flow that prick at the corners of your eye. Strengthen yourself in your hearts, deeds, thoughts and actions. But no, never hold yourself back if sometimes something in life makes you cry.
My son is perhaps too small to understand this in its entirety. But one thing is crystal clear to him and that is that, big boys are boys with big hearts and a gentle soul. Big boys are those who help friends out and stand up for them. Big boys are also those who gently wipe away a tear with a smile if a friend ever cries. Big boys also cry.
For now, he sees this with the logic that reasons ‘my mummy said so’. But I pray that in times to come, when ‘mummy’ is no longer the centrifugal force in his life, he will still affirm in his heart and mind that tears are not a sign of weakness. Though maybe at that time it would be because in his heart, mind and soul ‘He thinks so’.
And this mummy could never be more proud of him!