Here’s a tween boy parenting story that I thought you might appreciate.
It starts when Jake was three, I was putting him to bed one school night. It was the usual nighttime routine – pajamas, brush teeth, glass of water, story in bed, hug and kiss goodnight.
I went to give him a hug and kiss and he told me, “I don’t kiss.” I’m like, “What do you mean you don’t kiss, I’m your mom, we’re tight!” He simply stated, “I don’t kiss.” Heart. Sank.
At least I could still hug him, and say I love you. He would still let me hug him. But then I kissed him by accident. I already forgot! And it’s so natural! Afterall, I’d only been kissing this little boy every day for the last 1000 plus days!
He wiped it off. I asked him, “Did you just wipe off that kiss?” He kind of avoided eye contact and rolled away from me. Brutal.
Blew my mind it could start that young, and I can’t say it didn’t hurt. To be honest, I know that I drew conclusions about him in that moment. They didn’t sound like conclusions at the time. It was more like passing thoughts…
“Now I’m gonna have to work at this relationship.” “Boys must be harder to connect to.” Ultimately I thought, “Maybe he doesn’t care.” Crazy talk you say. But those thoughts were there.
He’s now in middle school, and I’m still challenged by these thoughts. He doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve at all. He’s hard to read.
Then I got hit over the head with how standard this demeanor is among boys. I had just started reading Rosalind Wiseman’s Masterminds and Wingmen when I got to the section about ‘Why Batman Never Smiles.’ She describes super heroes’ emotions:
“Batman’s emotional range is always somewhere between serious, detached, sullen, and angry.”
Jake and his friends are obsessed with superheroes (right on cue, according to Wiseman). These heroes are pretty stoic dudes. They are strong, invinceable and void of emotion. And middle school boys join forces to emulate them.
Even my husband, who is hilarious and expressive, doesn’t show a lot of vulnerability in front of our kids. That’s great on the one hand, the kids feel secure and safe. On the other hand, it doesn’t show the emotional range of his humanity (which many of us do get to see). It can look like he always has his sh*t together.
That said, I decided not to buy into the flat facial expressions of our boy. I have deliberately been on the lookout for my son’s expression of caring. It’s not always obvious for me, but when I tune in, I do find it.
Many times his caring manifests as righting a wrong or fighting for fairness. Like the time a girl on the bus bought doughnuts for some people but didn’t share with everyone. He absolutely had to get doughnuts for everyone on the bus the next day. Classic Jake.
But I also hear from parents that he is exceptional with his friends’ younger siblings. He has an inclusive and gentle nature.
He’s also an organizer, and he likes to create occasions for his friends to all get together and do something fun. Like go to Skyzone or a haunted house at Halloween. He also has a passion for animals, our environment and the planet.
This boy cares a lot, and he’s trying to figure out how to be a man that cares. I’m now catching on and listening for how he cares with new ears.
He’s now almost 13. I still think about that moment when he was three. He still has his hilarious low-affect, direct manner. And he still doesn’t kiss (his parents, that is – who knows otherwise). But he cares.