THE BLOG

Tender Is the New Strong for Boys

05/20/2015 05:29 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016
LJ Charleston

Like most parents, I loved the Kate Parker photo essay featuring her vibrant and strong daughters. But as the mother of three boys, it made me ponder the role of gender and our perceptions of strength and beauty. What if boys were pictured being less-than-manly? Would people applaud the images in the same way they applaud photos of young girls being strong, confident, boisterous and full of life?

If you peek past the sports, the wrestling and the wild testosterone, my boys are not your average little men. They do not always behave how society expects them to behave. One of my 13-year-old twins still sleeps with his baby blanket -- how would that go over in most households? In fact, during a recent hospital stay, his first words on waking from surgery were, "Where's my blanky?" Not typical teenage boy stuff. = Just be careful how you breach the subject with him, or you'll end up on the business end of a Chinese burn and a sore arm!

We manage a healthy balance of free expression in our home, but society has some catching up to do. While girls are often praised for being "as good as any boy," and showered with "girl power" cheers, boys are steered well clear of their gentler sides. I've heard boys told to "man up" many times. Ever hear a weeping girl told to "woman up"? When my boys want to cry and act "girly," I do not stop them.

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For them, and for me as a parent, it's not about celebrating a masculine side or a feminine side. For us, it's just about celebrating who we are. Sometimes that means skinned knees and fresh-dug worms, and sometimes it means snuggling up against a baby bunny, posing in a headband made from seaweed, rolling up a t-shirt so it looks like a bikini top and striking a model-like pose.

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Sometimes it means sitting in a café sipping milkshakes or reclining on a trampoline to read a book. Or hanging out in bookstores, softly and quiet as mice. (Unavoidable with a mother who's an author). Sometimes it means being in the kitchen, a floral apron tied around jeans, where the simple act of cracking an egg can bring simple joy. Sometimes it means crying, just because you feel like it.

So, my message to all the boy moms in the world is while girls are given the freedom these days to be strong, think about giving your boys the freedom to be tender and soft. They might surprise you.

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LJ Charleston is a Sydney-based journalist and author of The Mommy Mafia: the urban dictionary of mothers. She has three sons. She will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.

Twitter @themommymafia @ljcharleston