I’ve learned how fragile and sensitive to criticism my husband’s and our son’s tough exteriors can be. After years of living with my husband, I came to realize that if he said, “I don’t know. I don’t care. Whatever you want,” it was a front. What he actually meant was that he cared a whole lot. Moreover, he figured I didn’t care enough about him to honor his opinion. Even saying that the soup he made had too much salt in it came across as a personal attack. He couldn’t see how I meant it, as an opinion, an expression of my feelings about something.
My son is sensitive, just like my husband. He doesn’t respond well to discipline or yelling. He needs ‘quiet time’, conversation, and understanding so that he can come around to admitting that he’s done something wrong. These things help him understand that he’s still an amazing human, even though we didn’t like what he just did. If I correct my son with a quick, angry response, he either responds in kind or bursts into tears.
A lot of the anger coming from men in our society really stems from childhood tears that they’ve been pushing down. When my husband tells our son, “Yeah, but don’t cry about it,” I jump in with empathy and let my son know that it’s okay to cry when he’s upset. “Yes, getting yelled at is scary, but, you still shouldn’t have leaped off of that tall stool. You could’ve gotten hurt. I love you and I’m sorry for yelling, but I was scared.” (That last bit gets throw in sometimes because I’m usually the one yelling. My husband is pretty chill.)
I feel terrible that so many men grew up feeling that they had to put up this ‘front’ of toughness. But, what do we do about it? It’s as much a mom’s responsibility, as a dad’s, to stop this pattern from continuing in our children.
As the mom in our family, I watch for when my husband is acting tough to cover up his own sadness and fears. If I can keep from taking his anger personally and remember that he’s been conditioned to put up a tough exterior, I can just let it go instead of breaking into a fight every time he gets defensive about salty soup. I could even chuckle about it and give my husband a little hug, telling him I love him. I’ve found that a genuine chuckle at a ridiculous situation can wake my husband up out of that pattern. His mom and dad would have just kept bickering about salty soup until one of them stormed out.
My husband has taught me how to be kinder, calmer, and more understanding. That’s how he treats our son and, as I practice being that way with our son, I’ve also been able to see that my husband needs the same gentle, loving care. Sometimes I have to swallow my ego to make it happen. For instance, I don’t keep quiet when he’s being unreasonable, but I also don’t take it personally when he thinks I’m criticizing him, even when I’m not.
If we want to raise sons, who are empathetic and able to be vulnerable with their feelings, then we need to stop treating our husbands like they should just ‘man up’ and not feel hurt when we say they put too much salt in the soup. We, as moms, need to recognize when our husbands’ anger acts as a cover-up for the tears that have long gon unshed. Then, we need to give them that emotional space to feel their sadness, now.
Photo credit: By YAKOBCHUK [email protected]