What Will Society Do To My Sweet And Sensitive Son?

I already see what it’s doing to my fierce and prickly daughter.

Mother with her sweet son Jacob Lund | Canva

About halfway through the movie, my son put his arm around his friend’s shoulder. His friend did the same. They sat there like that for a good 15 minutes, their arms loosely draped around one another’s shoulders, their legs dangling, their feet not quite touching the floor.

I glanced at his friend’s mother, and we both instinctively placed our hands on our hearts. Partly because it was so adorable — two boys expressing human affection for one another, understanding that it feels nice when someone has an arm around their shoulder, and not yet caring what gender that person is or if they will get teased.


My heart felt full, but it also hurt. My son has always been cuddly. He still likes to sit on my lap, even though it’s becoming increasingly hard for him to comfortably arrange his lanky eight-year-old body in it.

His disposition is naturally gentle and sweet. He’s a formidable opponent on the basketball court or soccer field, but his aggression is playful, not mean. He loves to giggle, begs to be tickled, and doesn’t mind spilling some tears if he gets hurt or things don’t go his way.

Young boys hugging PeopleImages.com - Yuri A / Shutterstock


Our society is brimming with sweet and sensitive boys like my son. They smell warm and slightly yeasty, like rising bread dough. Their eyes are bright, their laughter bubbly.

I often find myself thinking, “Where do they all go?”

Sure, there are physical changes that await boys during puberty. They start to smell. Their laughter deepens, and their voices crack. And as they become more conscious of self, they also become more self-conscious. There are things they are no longer “supposed” to do, even if they want to: Cry, for one. Hug their mothers. Put their arm around another boy’s shoulder at the movie theater.

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Society is also full of fierce and prickly girls like my daughter. I’ve written extensively about her journey into adolescence — the startling loss of confidence, and the all-consuming desire to be perceived as beautiful.

I’ve had to be intentional about rekindling her ferocity, which these days seems to be mostly directed at me when I make absurd suggestions, like that she hang up her towel before it mildews. But she’s no longer fierce amongst kids her age. She hangs back and stays on the sidelines. She’s desperately afraid of embarrassing herself — or, what’s more likely, of me embarrassing her. The list of things I do to embarrass her includes: walking next to her in public, talking to her in public, and pretty much walking or talking in public, period.

Last year, I signed her up for basketball (forced her to do basketball, in her words) in a desperate attempt to salvage that fierce, F-it-all spirit that I saw the moment she first opened her bottomless black eyes. When she decides to put her heart into it, she shines on the basketball court — as I knew she would.

Anyone who wants to make the boneheaded argument that girls are “naturally” caring and boys are “naturally” aggressive should watch a 6th-grade girls’ basketball game. Watch a girl try to wrest the ball from an opposing girl’s arms, look at her face as she yanks, wrenches, and tugs.


There is raw hunger there. White hot intensity. Her face says, “This ball is MINE. I’m going after it with everything I have.”

I used to see that face all the time. I saw it when my daughter lunged for my nipple. I saw it when she made various runs as a toddler toward busy streets and open gates. I saw it when she insisted on wearing four skirts to preschool — two around her waist, one draped over her shoulders, and one on her head. I saw it when she raced unsuspecting neighbors up the sidewalk in her early grade-school years — and routinely won, whether the neighbor was eight, 18, or 38 years old. Now I only see it on the basketball court.

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What will society do to my sweet and sensitive son? What will society do to my fierce and prickly daughter?


I already see what it’s doing to her — it’s pushing her to the sidelines. Instructing her to stay in her lane. Ferocity? Maybe that’s okay on the basketball court, society says, but otherwise, hang back. Look in the mirror a lot. Pinch your waist and thighs. Frown.

I’ve also already gotten a taste of what it will do to my son. Once upon a time, my stepson, now 24, was also sensitive and sweet. He rested his head in the crook of my shoulder when I read to him before bed. He sat quietly in the backseat during road trips, lost in thought, occasionally piping up with insightful questions we could rarely answer. He never asked, “When are we going to get there?” but instead, “Why do rocks sink and boats float?”

He took long walks without complaint, and he cried when his grandfather burned down his house in a game of dominoes because he hadn’t done his math right. His grandfather told him to suck it up, stop crying.


Suck it up. Stop crying. These were the same messages he got from the rest of society, too, particularly from his stepfather and both grandfathers. Over the years, the anger seeped in and hardened him at the edges. He lost his bright-eyed inquisitiveness, started fights, built walls, and shut people out.

My son never met his paternal grandfather before he passed, and he is thankfully getting a kinder and gentler message from his father and maternal grandfather. But I know society will still get him — one way or another — in the end. Maybe the metamorphosis will be less extreme, but it will happen all the same.

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Both my children hover at different points on the so-called masculine/feminine spectrum — it could even be argued that my daughter was born with more qualities we’d consider “masculine,” and my son with more qualities we’d classify as “feminine.”


Their birth stories are a perfect case in point. My daughter was two weeks early, breech, rearing to go. She came out her way, on her terms, ready to conquer the world. She had no time for nonsense, like cuddling or taking naps.

My son, by contrast, was two weeks late, and even after the contractions started, he took his sweet time moseying down the birth canal. He was content to rest his head in the crook of my arm and watch the world go by.

Those qualities have stayed with them through childhood, but society is now nudging my daughter toward the “feminine” side of the spectrum, just as it will nudge my son away from it.


At night, when I hug my son before bed, I nuzzle my nose into his still-soft cheeks. I inhale the “fresh child” smell that I know will soon turn sour at the edges. "Good night, mama," he says. "I love you."

I know I won’t be mama forever. The process of growing older is inevitable, but the process of growing colder doesn’t have to be. If only we let our sweet and sensitive boys grow up into sweet and sensitive men.

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Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.