My son is naturally sweet. He gives everyone kisses, even our cat who - in the beginning - did not like him at all. He’ll chase her around our ridiculously small apartment, attempting to hug her or kiss her, sometimes in hilariously inappropriate locations.
He wakes his father and I up with kisses and hugs and snuggles, burying his full head of hair into the crook of my neck or the nook of his dad’s arms. He gives kisses without provocation and presses his lips to the screen of my phone when we’re FaceTiming Grandma, because she’s far away and another visit just can’t come soon enough.
He chases children in the playground, trying to hug them and kiss them and play with them. I have to corral him back for a one-on-one swinging session or a mom-son game of peekaboo, apologizing to parents who are concerned about germs and strangers.
I look at him and, while I smile and I’m filled with this near-painful warmth of love and admiration, I worry that this natural sweetness will fade. I fear that my son will one day recognize these qualities in himself and believe that they'll make him “weak” or “girly” or whatever other fictitious stereotype society will attempt to spoon feed him.
Which is why I am not going to raise a kind man. I am going to raise a kind person.
I will not bog my child down with gender stereotypes, that will convince him that kindness and compassion and empathy and affection are dangerous affronts to his manhood. I will not pigeonhole him into a personality that clearly doesn’t parallel his natural tendency to love and be loved.
Because that’s what we do to children, far too early and for all the wrong reasons. We tell little boys that they shouldn’t play with dolls, even though they’ll one day (if they choose) hold their son or daughter just like they hold a Barbie. We tell little boys to play with big toy trucks instead of toy kitchens, even though they'll be more likely to cook a meal than they will be to drive a tractor trailer. We tell little boys that they shouldn’t cry when they’re hurt, positioning them to lash out violently when they rage they'll inevitably feel becomes unmanageable. We tell boys that hurting the people they like is “normal”, because you “shouldn’t let the girl know you like her” and “lose all the power” in any possible relationship.
We tell our sons that they should be men before they should be kind, and that if kindness gets in the way of manliness, then kindness should be the first to go.
We allow gender stereotypes to force the natural sweetness from our children, just so they can say they fit in.
But I won’t do that to my child. I won’t kill the sweetness that bubbles out of him every day, because I’m afraid a stranger will think him “weak” or “girly” or whatever other fictitious stereotype society has sadly and successfully fed that stranger.
I will encourage my son to be kind to everyone, even and especially the girls (or boys) he one day has crushes on, because being vulnerable is part of being in a healthy relationship.
I will clap when my son kisses the girl picture and the boy picture in his First Words book, because he is just a toddler and he loves everyone and wow, what a wonderful quality. To love everyone, regardless of race or gender or religion.
I will sigh when my son kisses his father on the lips and hugs him for a solid five minutes, thankful that I picked a partner that believes in innate compassion and all-encompassing love and palpable bonding, instead of forced masculinity and "cool" detachment.
I will put his hair up in a “baby manbun” because we can’t get him to sit still long enough to cut his hair and we don’t want his hair in his eyes. I won’t let sexist whispers and gender stereotypes keep my child from seeing the world.
In more ways than one.
But most importantly, I will keep the negative things that I have learned, from my son. I will not poison him with the lessons I was taught. The lessons that said “If a boy pushes you on the playground, he likes you” and “boys don’t cry” and “being nice is for sissies”. The lessons that teach our children that it is better to save face and be mean than it is to be kind and vulnerable.
Because my son is running to me right now, hands out in front of him and mouth slightly open, letting me know he wants a big, sloppy kiss and a long, comforting hug. And that is something that should never die inside of him.