A few weeks ago at a soccer game I was coaching, my team got trounced. They are 7 and they are not used to losing. As soon as I called the game and they realized what had just happened, two of the boys burst out crying.
The first one cried loudly, and desperately. He was upset because he hadn't run hard enough or passed enough or scored enough goals. It was the cry of a battle commander who had let his troops down, and his father hugged him proudly. The second boy cried because of a minor injury and a general sense of exhaustion. His mom gave him a stern face and whisked him away to the car.
Do we care if our sons cry? When I asked that question on Twitter, a handful of moms immediately wrote me back to say: Of course! I want my son to cry! But I suspect that only applies to the kind of parents who follow me on Twitter, and even less so for the dads. The most fulsome and possibly honest answer I received (from a dad) was: "I don't mind at all when my 11-year-old cries when he is overcome with emotion. I do mind when he cries over small injuries."
My conclusion: I think we care a lot less about boys crying than we used to, but more than we will admit. Or to put it another way: boys can cry, if they do it in just the right way.
The academic research about boys and crying – or more accurately, vulnerability – shows that society is right now in a precarious place. One body of research shows that boys will fall further behind in school and in an increasingly complex society if we do not teach them how to be emotionally open and honest, able to recognize and navigate their feelings rather than stuffing them down. But another body of research shows that teaching boys to accept their own vulnerability is harder than we think. Despite our best intentions, our progressive instincts, and an increasingly gender-fluid society — the mama's boy stigma dies hard.