These Tweets Capture Everything That Scares Me as the Mom of a Boy

sad little boy hugging woman

When most people find out they're expecting a baby, the first thing their loved ones want to know is: Is it a boy or a girl? Once you've announced the sex, people start sending you frilly newborn dresses for a girl or tiny infant-sized Air Jordans for a boy -- we ascribe gender stereotypes to our kids before they're even born. I'm lucky enough to be the mom of both a girl and a boy, and I've given tons of thought to how to protect my daughter from messages that she's limited because she's a girl. But a recent viral hashtag started by writer James Michael Nichols proves parents of boys need to work just as hard to protect our sons from outdated ideas about what it means to be a man.


Earlier this week, Nichols tweeted what he describes as a "joke about a memory I had of a time that I failed masculinity as a child."

James Michael Nichols Twitter

Based on the stories others shared and the heartfelt responses he got, Nichols proposed a hashtag, #FailingMasculinity.

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After that, hundreds of heartbreaking and emotional responses poured in, each one detailing a time when someone was made to feel less-than for not conforming to society's idea of how a boy or man should act.




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As a mom, I find that these tweets break my heart. I try to adhere to a more gender-neutral style of parenting. I don't set rigid rules about the kinds of clothes my kids can wear or which toys they're allowed to play with. But, even as I try to foster my kids' individual identities and create an environment of love and acceptance within my own household, I worry about the kinds of messages they recieve when they walk out our front door.

My son is a sensitive soul who loves nothing more than playing with his older sister's toys and trying on her clothes. I fear the inevitable child at school who will tease him for his interest in Disney princesses, or the first soccer coach who will tell him to "man up" when he shows his emotions. I worry about the million tiny ways he'll be told to change the way he dresses, speaks, and acts in order to conform to some stranger's idea of who he should be just because he happened to be born with male anatomy.

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It's so easy to make harmful gender mistakes with kids. For so many of us, societal ideas about gender are deeply ingrained and they're hard to overcome. I still find myself instinctively offering my son race car stickers instead of the ones with butterflies, or assuming he'll be more interested in Paw Patrol than Sofia the First. And, I have to make a conscious effort to check myself every time it happens.

Old habits die hard, but these tweets are an important reminder to each of us that we have to do everything we can to buck the stereotypes, because the painful messages kids get in childhood affect the people they become as adults. Those feelings of rejection and shame about how they express themselves don't just disappear, and there's no reason why those feelings should even exist. Kids shouldn't feel pressured to be "manly" or "feminine" -- they just should feel loved and utterly adored for exactly who they are.

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