I remember some years ago stumbling across a pair of books by a fabulous author John Eldredge, titled ‘Wild at Heart’ and ‘Captivating’. The books are a complimentary pair that explore masculinity and femininity- how our identities develop and all the little nuances that form the spirit of a man or woman.
There is one section in those books that I’ve never forgotten. Eldredge puts forward the notion that each sex is born with an identity question that they spend all their lives trying to answer:
FEMALE: Am I special?
MALES: Am I enough?
When I thought about it, it seemed to make perfect sense. Little girls go from twirling their princess dresses in front of their daddies, to twirling their hair in front of the high-school jock in search of answers to that question. A strong woman grows up and realises that the only one who needs to be sure she is special, is herself.
Boys are equally obsessed by the quest to figure out if ‘they are enough’.
I was sitting this week at my desk watching my sons play on the tree outside. The entire game had no purpose other than to see who could hang on the longest whilst the rest of the boys shook the branch. Splendid way to spend the afternoon. Likely way to break some bones.
‘Watch me, mum! Did you see how long I stayed on that time…?’ Their shouts reminded me of the books and how true it is that little boys spend a lot of time measuring themselves (no, I’m not talking about that).
They want to know if they can run further, hit harder, win more points… and the pursuit of significance is one that continues throughout their lives. They drive cars recklessly, they climb the corporate ladder in search of the biggest office. They take on massive mortgages in order to buy their families a bigger home.
I know this drive is not exclusive to the male species; but it certainly is more common and it is almost always linked closely with self esteem and the healthy development of the masculine ego.
Remembering this, I decided to put a quote on the boy’s bathroom mirror to remind them daily of their worth. I went to my good friend Google and typed in ‘quotes about self esteem for boys’ and was surprised to find that the search engine predicted quotes ‘for girls’, but there was no predictive search tab ‘for boys’. I’m not sure why but I found that pretty sad.
I’m all for teaching our daughters confidence in what some still see largely as a ‘man’s world’. But our boys do not have an easier ride. The perception that they may have more opportunities and choices, only puts our young men under more pressure. With the risk of suicide being up to 4 times higher amongst men versus women, there are clearly a large portion of our sons growing up without feeling that ‘they are enough’.
So I thought- stuff the motivational quote. Until they leave this nest, I will be the quote. I will take every opportunity to celebrate their victories, to make sure they feel heard, encouraged, valued and counted. I will tuck them in at night with the words I’ve now been whispering to them for years:
I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming.
And then maybe when he wakes up all grown up one day, he won’t live his life asking the question, but step into the world like he knows the answer.