It’s Okay to Cry
When I found out I was going to have a son, a bunch of anxiety washed over me.
I was excited, of course, to have a child no matter the gender. But I carried a lot of baggage from my childhood (and beyond) of shaping my relationship with masculinity.
One of my key qualities as a child was that I would cry a lot. I was “sensitive” as most of my friends and family called me, and still am to this day (though I’ve made strides in learning to use it in a way that doesn’t derail me or the people around me). And what I got from most of the people in my life was, “stop crying. You’re being too sensitive.”
I knew that one of the most important lessons I would need to teach my son is that crying is okay. Too often as a teacher, I dealt with boys whose parents had somehow convinced them that crying was a bad thing and that they should stop. In fact, crying is an emotional response. It’s a way of processing. And if boys, or anyone else, are taught to restrain themselves from processing emotions, then we’ll end up with a lot of toxic men in our culture.
But that lesson will have to wait. Because right now, he’s amazing at crying.
He doesn’t understand words yet, at least not in an instructive way. And he spends a good portion of his waking life crying. He cries if he’s too hot or too cold. He cries if his diaper is too tight. He cries because he’s crying sometimes. Sometimes he laughs and cries at the same time.
And yet, no one shames him. No one tells him to stop. Because they understand that it’s part of being a baby, and that babies cry.
Adults cry too. Every single adult I’ve ever known cries. Because, again, they are process strong emotions, and as adults we’ve learned to handle big emotions more efficiently. Children, all of them, are still developing this skill.
The problem with telling young boys that they shouldn’t cry is that we are forcing them to teach themselves how to skip over the sadness and go directly to anger, since that’s about the only way I can think of to avoid crying and processing sadness.
The world could use less angry men. The world could benefit from more men who can process emotions gracefully.
But I don’t yet have to tell my infant son that it’s okay to cry.
He already knows.