Young son’s display of emotion worries parents

Question: My 7-year-old son came home teary-eyed after watching a children’s movie at a friend’s house. Apparently one of the characters was constantly teased and mistreated by the other kids in the film. It upset my son for the rest of the day. Is this level and display of emotion something I should be concerned about?

Jim: Perhaps my own experience can be of some value here. My mom died when I was 9. I still remember what people told me over and over the day of her funeral. They said, “Be a big boy, and don’t cry.” I’m sure they meant well, but comments like that send a skewed message to young boys. It teaches them that real men don’t show emotion – that they’re all strength, but

no heart.

In my case, I wanted to be strong for my mom. And according to the adult voices around me, that meant I wasn’t allowed to shed a tear. So I went through the whole funeral fighting and suppressing my emotions. I remember looking into my mom’s casket and thinking, “I gotta stay strong and be a man.”

Not only is that a heavy burden for a young child to bear, it communicates the wrong idea about what a real man looks and acts like. Strength is without a doubt a crucial aspect of masculinity. It’s courage, integrity and character. It’s part of what makes men good husbands and fathers.

But being a strong man doesn’t mean guys should be unfeeling, analytical machines. Our wives and children also need us to be able to feel. That means not only expressing our emotions freely and appropriately, but being sensitive to theirs as well.

Authentic masculinity isn’t a choice between strength or tenderness. It’s about strength and tenderness – and as a parent, I’d encourage you to help your son cultivate both.

Jim Daly is an author, president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.