Dear son, I hope you stay soft

by renegademama

Hey son.

What I want for you is to stay soft.

It’s really un-American of me. It’s really against what “men” stand for, you know. All that machismo badass shit.

The world will eat a soft man alive. For breakfast. Fucking pathetic weakling.

That’s what they’ll say, but I don’t care. I will not harden you. I will not break you. I hold between my mama hands your giant gaping sensitive heart. I refuse to abuse it.

The softness in you. It will remain, intact. As much as it can, anyway.

Rocket

Not because I made you that way, or even envisioned you that way, but because you came that way. Really it’s none of my fucking business.

My job is to not destroy what you are.

You arrived in a birth that felt like the sunrise, and stayed with a light in your gut or behind your eyes, of pain and love and humanity and some weird empathy or clarity that manifests when I want to beat the shit out of people and you say something loving, pierce to the heart of compassion so fast and sure I see my own hardness like a flash across a shocked brain: He is soft. You aren’t. Don’t fuck this up.

You barely spoke until you were 3.

You almost never cried.

You played and watched and loved and watched more and curled in close, to me, daddy, your grandma and grandfather.

You were always soft. When I say it, it sounds like an insult, in a culture like ours. “The boy is soft.”

But they don’t see you.  

rocket and mac

They don’t see you in your scarf, the one you picked out in the women’s section of Old Navy, the one you didn’t wear to school yesterday because you know the kids will make fun of you. They don’t see your locks of curls hanging across eyes that hold mine in another time and space. They don’t see the boy sleeping on our floor and curled against his dad, still, always, forever until you don’t need it anymore, because your dad is soft like you, but was maybe almost hardened somehow, by life, and knows it, and wants differently for you. 

We will not break you.

We will not make you leave.

At the playground, you said, there was a boy with a “really weird face” and he was alone, so you sat by him. I asked if you talked or played with him. You said no, I just sat there by him, because he was alone.

And when I asked you what the hell was wrong with that one kid who was so obnoxious in your class, and I thought the little bastard was exactly that, a little bastard, without blinking you said “His parents divorced and he doesn’t get to see his dad anymore. I think he wants people to think he’s tough.”

164446_10200638158419434_324524180_nYou’re soft, kid, and I’m hard.

Sometimes I want you to be hard, because I worry for you, or you bring pain in me, when you fold into yourself almost paralyzed when I raise my voice, or you come home telling me about the girl at P.E. who said “Don’t sit by me” and I get mad, really mad but then you say “She always misses play time on Friday because her little brother needs her to go to his classroom. I think that must be hard for her.”

You feel empathy. I feel rage. I feel a bit of rage at your empathy. I’m silenced and I learn from your heart.

Sometimes I wonder where you come from. Sometimes you really piss me off, the way you match your sister’s fiery screaming temper with a gentle voice, or a quick tear. Sometimes you yell back, but not without trying a lot and a lot of gentle, first.

Gentle. You. Rocket.

And when you cry because daddy’s been working too much and I’ve been fighting all day with kids and mess and work and my brain and stress and then your tears, your tears falling on freckled cheeks, for a moment I want to yell Damnit kid just toughen up! THIS IS LIFE! I don’t have time for this shit.

You are the kid who was made fun of by their dad and maybe mom. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t be a crybaby.TOUGHEN UP.Don’t be a sissy.BE A MAN.Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.

And one day, you were the boy who stopped crying.

 

I will not be the force slapping the last tear from your eye.

But I will never baby you. I will never cater to you or stroke your ego or let you whine and snivel to get your way. I will make you work. I will make you face your fears and suffer and keep on going. The sensitive ones have to fight too, kid.

But I will never crush or fault or smash you for the gentleness that takes my breath away, that feels pretty foreign sometimes, the way you’re all heart pretty much all the time. The way you walk up to me with those dimples and say “Mama, can we cuddle” and you bury your face in my chest. Still. In the morning when you wake up you roll onto my side of the bed, without a word, and I roll onto my back and you put your head on my shoulder. I kiss your curls. Just as I’ve always done. 

photo (6)

You’re 8 years old now.

I won’t turn you away. I won’t toughen you up. Ever.

You are the kid who takes a stuffed white seal to class and gets teased.

You are the kid who doesn’t fit.

You are the dyslexic kid, the only one who can’t read yet. But when a girl asks you about it, “Why don’t you read?” You snap “None of your business.”

You know who you are. You are not weak. You are so strong you sword fight and wrestle and wear embroidered flower purses and beg for ballet lessons, maybe simultaneously.

You are so strong YOU WORE YOUR SCARF TO SCHOOL TODAY, told me “I don’t care what they say.”

I watched you walk away and wished for a second you would fight. At 2:30 I’ll pick you up and ask “How did it go, son?” and I already feel fear.

They’ll tell you it’s weak, to love and feel and cry. To live open and exposed. To see more than the rest and act on it, feel it.

They’ll tell you you aren’t a real man. That you’re something else. They won’t say it directly. They’ll say it in advertisements and characters in movies and “the American way” and the hot men that always get the hot women.

But the bravest thing you can do, kid, is to keep that softness intact, to let that heart stay open for all the pain it will entail. The love, the desperation, the agony. That’s some crazy badass shit right there. To fight and work and serve with a sensitivity that could leave you wrecked at any moment, real and in love and raw.

1044622_10201500524058036_1688682285_n

Most of us are too afraid to do anything of the sort. One day we look around at the pain of this world and the black inside and we snap shut, Boom. Done. You’re out. I’m in. Nothing’s getting through. I did it. I was 8 or 9 and standing in my unicorn bedroom looking into my white mirror over my dresser and I said out loud, quietly, but aloud: “This will not break you, Janelle. Nothing will EVER break you.”

I made a decision that day, in response to a pain I won’t explain now. That moment. That day. I would never need another soul. I was in control. Nothing would ever hurt me again. I was wrong, of course, but I was hard. I would die hard, like the movie. Ha. See what I mean?

My wish for you, son, is that you stay soft.

I pick up your face and see the face of a boy who knows something, beyond hard and soft or good or bad and it’s not my job to shove you into the mold of the world.

My job is to loosen my grip on myself, my hard edges and old ideas, to fit beside you, and hold the softness I almost can’t find in me.

So yeah, America, I’m raising a soft one. I’ll leave it up to you to raise the tough guys.

And when you meet my boy, I hope you love his scarf.

photo (7)

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more stuff I shouldn't have said out loud:

  • Angie Gutierrez

    I love your last line…and that is fabulous! Hope he loved wearing his scarf. I too wouldn’t mind my son to stay a little soft. He won’t play soccer, and he is really, really good at it. So we go and sit on the sidelines at his games and watch his team, and I won’t shame him or make fun of him or try to guilt him into playing, he can do it, on HIS own timeline, not mine. It is supposed to be for fun. Good for you, good for Rocket!

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  • Sabrina

    I recently came across your articles and I read them faithfully now – most of the time with tears streaming down my face because you bring out raw emotion that I so appreciate. I have two nephews who are “soft” and their momma embraces them, too, letting them dye their hair pink or blue, where mismatched pink/purple socks, and just embrace themselves as “unconventional”. Thanks for having the courage to voice all the things that you do – you are an inspiration and I look forward to reading more!

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  • Heather

    Oh Wow!! This made me fall madly and deeply in LOVE with your sweet boy. I look at my kids and see that they are all so different, and yet they all contain some part of me. I can see it. You are my hero!!! I LOVE the way you Love your babies, and how you accept them exactly as they are. What you are giving them is far greater than anything money can buy. You are giving them self esteem, and a Knowing that they are PERFECT just as they are, even if we do not yet live in a world that sees it that way. Your kids will always know that when they come home to you….it IS that way! <3 <3 <3

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  • Diana Ann Bisares

    Oh gosh, Janelle, you made me cry again. I want that for my little son as well–to stay soft as long as it takes for him to be soft. I won’t force him to be hard. I will let him experience his own life, leave him to feel all the emotions life can bring because it’s his right to live it all. I love him so much, I will never force him to toughen up. I will let life do that for him.

    You write so amazingly!

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  • Amanda

    I saw this campaign (already funded — not a pitch) a month or so ago and it really made me think about raising my son — it applies to your wonderful little man, as well. It’s just as important to have “caring” men as it is to have “strong” women in this world, as much as those terms depress me, since they assume that such things are not the norm ….

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  • Sarah

    Beautiful

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  • Roxanna Smith

    love the scarf :) Love the soft boy and the fierce mama too…I have tears in my eyes because I was a hard case and perfected the protected shell. I had my reasons. My daughter is similar – tough exterior – pushing people away. Makes me sad. My son is a beautiful soul, giant lion hearted boy. Too soft to play football, he cried when he had to tackle someone and felt sorry for the boy because he was overweight. Negotiating puberty and middle school now and I see him trying on “tough” – not a great look. I pray to support his sweet heart and let him know it’s ok to BE himself. Thanks for the reminder…

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  • Jen @ Real Life Parenting

    I also have a soft son. I love that about him and think that he’ll be a wonderful friend and husband someday. I’ve had to push back on family members who feel like a 14 yr old boy shouldn’t want to cuddle his mom and snuggle up to watch tv. I disagree. Why would I ever discourage him from being affectionate and showing his feelings? Oh, yeah. Because they want him to fit into a tougher, more accepted mold. But that’s just not him. And I’m totally cool with that.

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  • Renee'

    I wish I would have had your insight when I was raising my kids. You are wise beyond your years Janelle!

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  • C Smith

    I bet I would love your boy, because I have one of those. He’s kind, and empathetic, and sweet, modest, and fair, and confident, and so very wise. He’s a good person, better than me, and Oh, God, how I love him. My sincerest hope is that the world will not harden him. I want him to stay exactly who he is, and who he was meant to be. I truly believe that the best way to love someone is to let them be who they are.

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  • Sherry

    I have a “soft” one and I feel the same way. The pink Power Ranger was his favorite as a child and he dressed up like her from the age of two until 6, when he decided ninja’s were better. At 18, his favorite color is still pink. His heart is open. He feels and understands more than his peers – his empathy is deep. But that means he hurts deeper as well.

    Fortunately his father and I are like you – we nurtured the soft, let him grow up to be what he is, not what society wishes he was. He struggles but overall, he is a wonderful, loving, compassionate, intelligent, caring man. He’s pretty cute too.

    Your boy will be that way also, because you’ll let him. And yes, he’s softened my soft edges that were sharpened on experiences I’m guessing were just like yours. He’s the one I hurt the most with my drinking and for that, I will always be sorry.

    He’s also the one that rejoices in my sobriety and for that, I will always be grateful.

    Parent on girl! You are rocking the house.

    Sherry

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    • Sherry

      *hard edges

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  • jaana

    he sounds wonderful. plain and simple.
    http://www.thismomsgonnasnap.com

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  • DianaWR

    I hope he stays soft, too. Thanks for your words.

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  • Tanya

    God. I can’t believe I’m reading this. I can’t even tell you how much it describes my reality. My boy is like this too. That’s why I named my blog “Invisible to the eye” because there is just so much underneath the surface that is not readily noticeable. And I also need to loosen my grip on myself. “My job is not to destroy what you are.” Thank you so much for this.

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  • jill (mrs chaos)

    I love that kid so much. And damn, do I love his scarf.

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  • Sassy Kas

    good one today. Helps me remember the soft in my own son, which he has “grown up” to. He hides it but carries it in him always and it shows these days in his disgust at how our American culture kinda sucks at everything and how kind he is to everyone her meets. And if I met your boy? I’m afraid I would probably hurt myself trying not to cover him in hugs and butterfly kisses.

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  • Lesley

    This was lovely. I hope that he isn’t getting teased or made fun of. If he is, I hope he feels he can tell me. He’s such a great kiddo.

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  • Virginia

    Love this post. I have two young boys and whole heartedly resonate with your words!

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  • Ansley

    “To fight and work and serve with a sensitivity that could leave you wrecked at any moment, real and in love and raw.”

    Good grief….this was so beautiful and so achingly full of love and pride…goosebumps…

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  • Kal

    As a mom to two of these sweet souls, I appreciate this. As a fan of beautiful writing, I loved this post.

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  • Megan

    I’ve read this twice, and both times I cried my eyes out! So beautiful. And what a fucking treasure that boy of yours is. I love him. And I would love his scarf. My son is very young, but I think he will also be soft. I think that’s why this just split my heart wide open.

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  • Tina

    He is beautiful, inside and out. And so brave to stay true to himself and not care about what others might think. We should all try to be a little more rocket.
    My son loves wearing nail polish. Pink, purple, green, whatever. You wouldn’t believe how many people give us weird looks about that. He’s not even 4, for fucks sake!

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  • REDdog

    “…because your Dad is soft like you, but was maybe almost hardened somehow, by life, and knows it, and wants differently for you.” Those last five words hit me like a fucking roadtrain…that was me, I was your son, I was soft but born into a family where you toughened up or weren’t likely to make it past double digits. Of course, now I’m the opposite of soft, on the outside at least…although I did shed a few quiet tears at the your husband’s desire for his boy…perhaps there’s hope for me. I have 3 boys now in their teens…I must go and attempt some kind of uncrushing miracle…thank you Janelle…bitch!

    btw I love your shit, and I meant “bitch” in the nicest possible way, of course. REDdog

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  • Becki

    Made me sob. I just spent the early hours in hospital with my 19 month old son who had a croup attack and the nurses commented on how calm he was with me. How close we are… I see the softness in him already when he clings to me and calls ‘mummeeeeeee’ and how he hugs and kisses his sister. I hope he still snuggles me when he is Rocket’s age. We need more in this world.

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  • MomtoThree

    I loved this too. And for all the time I’ve been following your blog, I feel like I know Rocket. He’s like my eldest boy. Some come that way. He cried at breakfast cause there was a story on the radio about a boy who got crushed alive in a dustbin. He too sees the injustice and the pain in the world. My youngest, who’s the same age as Rocket, has a shell already. Plays at being the tough guy, and tries to talk bad like some rap-artist drug-dealer. Makes those gestures with his hands, like Yo Bro. I find myself looking at him, freckles and all, and wondering why he needs to act this way. What did I do differently?
    Then I tuck him in at night, and he looks like a sleeping angel, blonde curls on the pillow.
    Why does the world have to be so hard, that even at 8 years old they are building a defense?
    Your words rock my world, J. They open my eyes, and make me look into my own heart.

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  • Dani

    Your post just really touched me. I read it yesterday and was still thinking about it this morning and had to comment. You are able to so eloquently put into words, what I never could about my boys. I love how raw you are with your writing. Your blog is fantastic!

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  • skyscraper

    Delurking to tell you I have a son who was the same as a child. Even down to a learning disability. He’s now a giant size man (6’3″, 250 lbs, all muscle) with the same heart. Not going to say they weren’t some rough years in middle school, but overall so worth it. We live in a small town and people tell me stories all the time of how he helped them, was nice to them, took an interest in them, etc.

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  • Jodi

    I’ve had a big soft spot for your “soft” boy since I started reading your blog about a year ago. I hope he has the strength to stay true to himself, even when the world tells him to be something else. He’s got a great family supporting him and I’m sure he’ll do just fine.
    (I married one of those “soft” guys, they harden a bit over the years, but they’re one in a million!)

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  • JB Green

    This hard-ass dad thinks this is as cool as it gets. I could talk about it for paragraphs, but basically, “Good job and you go, Mama-Janelle.”

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  • Adriane

    I am jealous. I always envisioned my son to be this way and though I think he was at first, somewhere along the way in his 4.5 years, he’s become….. RAMBUNCTIOUS. I think you’re post is wonderful and so is your son. Thanks for this post.

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  • lisaeggs

    Janelle! You made me love your Rocket even more with this post. Who couldn’t love that boy? His sweet spirit always comes through in his photos too. I always thought he seemed like such a gentle, special little dude. This piece just makes me know it even more. Really beautiful, Janelle.

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  • FashPackSocialClub

    The world is changing all the time, lets make room for the soft boys, the hard girls and everything in between! I have a little guy who loves his leopard tights and golden shoes, mostly it is the adult prejudice he faces. The small people who mirrors their parents. So you do a very wise choice to not hardening your little man, the world will love you for this <3 Sophie

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  • Liz Horton

    I am raising a soft one too- just like his daddy. This world would be a much better place if the men around us were raised in love and celebrated for who they are inside.

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  • Kateri Von Steal

    I needed this today.
    Your words spoke to me…
    And made last nights awful parent/child moment okay…

    I could write books on what happened last night.
    But I won’t.
    Not here… that be wrong…

    Just know, you wrote something that has profoundly impacted me, and has lifted my spirit up… from the dark place it was in when I awoke this morning and thought, “Yeah, that happened.”

    Thank you friend.

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  • Jessica

    This is beautiful! I have a one year old son and often worry about how I will fight the world and not let it harden him and tell him how he has to be a “man” by today’s conventions. You are doing an awesome job!

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  • Melinda

    Janelle, I have followed your blog for some time. I adore it and just wanted to share my own special soft boy moment. Yesterday my almost 7 year old told me that his friend didn’t run with him the previous day. He had asked his friend to hold his hand and run with him. His friend said no. Yet, with a huge smile on his face he said, “But today he did run with me. and you know what? We didn’t hold hands but we ran side by side.” His grin told me everything I needed to know about how special he thought that was. My heart breaks for my soft boy knowing what his future holds, but like you I will not be the one to break him. I will be the one catching his tears as they fall encouraging him to remain soft for as long as I can.

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  • Laura

    Amazing. Thank you.

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  • sielukettu

    I love this <3 your son is next generation, who live from the heart and soul and change everything. He´s precious :)

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  • Cath

    I almost didn’t let my boy buy a ‘My Little Pony’ book from the school bookclub. It’s not like me to do that, when he chose the rainbow patch over the truck for his bag I was so proud, but nearly began pushing him into trying to fit in rather than be himself over a book. I stopped myself thankfully, and reading this reaffirms my decision. Thank you.

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  • derp

    Take it from me, or any one of *thousands* of men who were turned into pussies by their mothers. One day your son will be a man who is ill equipped to make it in our society be it in career, accomplishments, self-confidence, or with women. He will rightfully hate you for it.

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  • Z

    Look, I know that you’d like your son to always be your little boy but the fact is that he has to grow up to be a “machismo” man for his own sake, not yours. You might coddle him and protect him for so long but the reality is that eventually, he’s going to have to eventually enter the real world, and the real world is an unmerciful oven where the soft are turned into pancakes while the molded boys are hardened into men. A scarf isn’t going to make your son “soft” but he has to begin becoming a man or else he’ll end up like every other 30 year old virgin who cries at night because women don’t like him. You have to realize that he’s not going to grow up like you did, there is a difference between how boys and girls grow as people and thinking that you’ll change that will do nothing but “martyr” your son for a cause that’s doomed from the start. The path you are pushing on him as a mother will result in your son being scorned by all as he grows up, women, men, employers, etc. It’s a hard pill to take but this is just setting him up for a disappointing future and an unfulfilling life.

    Sincerely,
    ~Just another son of a single mother that had to learn the hard way

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  • Jesse

    Aside from condoning the pussification of men, this shit just reads like terrible poetry.

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  • Darren

    So beautiful. Your son is a gem just the way he is.

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  • mom

    Love this! Not easy to let people be who they are when their personality is so different from ours.

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  • Mary Keynko

    What a wonderful post, and what a wonderful son you have! Maybe if there were more people in the world like him it would be a better place to live. I hope he maintains his sense of empathy and understanding of others, you must be so proud of him!

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  • Laura

    Derp, my heart is breaking for you. Truly. Janelle, you’re still the best thing that’s happened to mothering in a long time.

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  • Russ Rogers

    It’s a cool scarf. It goes with his shirt. Men used to wear scarves all the time. Kevin Jonas wears a cravat. It’s like his signature thing.

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  • Chantal Corcoran

    Dear Janelle, I hear you. I really, really hear you. But, he’s still only eight, and I suspect when the hard kids grow harder still…. Well, it’s a little like a physics, right? What happens when you press something hard up against something soft? What happens to that something soft? It loses its shape, and then it is no longer what it was anymore. It’s a different shape. Bent in the middle. Or dented at the top. Or wherever it was pushed. So, no, do not be the one to harden him, certainly not, but be prepared because–my broken heart knows this, my soft boy’s heart knows it, too–it gets more complicated still. Stay strong and keep is back. When you can. Remind him always that the problem is theirs, not his.

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  • tawnya

    I have read and reread this over the past several days. I love it more every time. I had my husband read it last night. And, while we don’t need validation that we are raising our son correctly, it sure is nice when it comes along anyway.

    Thank you.

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  • midlife mama

    a response to the ugly posts : yes, life will be difficult for him at times,how,exactly is that different from anyone else on Earth ??
    your son may be ‘soft’ but the truth is, he is Strong :) and when he takes a stand,no ones moves him i’d bet!! bless him

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  • Lorry

    What a wonderful post. I, too, am blessed with a “soft” boy and I hope that I can encourage him to stay that way. I always tell people that I am NOT raising an asshole but a boy who will grown into the most amazing husband and father….I also say you can teach a boy to be an asshole but you cannot teach them to be sensitive and loving like my little man is. Thank you for putting so many of my feelings into words. I LOVE you little man’s scarf and I hope he continues to wear it with pride.

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  • Kristafied

    Beautiful and very very true.

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  • Kate

    I found your blog the other day, and because I’m a first time mom, and nursing my 10 month old son, I’ve been able to read up to here on your posts already.
    First of all, I decided that if we both lived in the same part of California, we would be best friends. Your words are hilarious and resonating.

    This post really struck a chord with me. Also, because I’m like a shit-ton more emotional since having a baby, I also cried a little.

    Thanks :)

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  • Nikki_momma

    Your posts about the immense love of your children while struggling with the pains of independence and a desire for a moments peace to pee alone ring so true. I’m raising a single son, and he is a softie… He is fierce and Independant and yet intuitively feels others pain. The empathy he has for others and the hurt he feels when friends or I invariable hurt him along he way breaks my heart at times. But I’m a nurse, and if you ain’t bleeding its likely your fine so keep on moving is generally my motto. I’m bullheaded and stubborn…and so is my son. We fight, we yell, we hurt one another’s feelings sometimes. When my son thru tearful eyes says I hurt his feelings and dipped his bucket– sometimes the pain I feel is visceral and I know he is right. Nothing like a kid to remind you of what a complete crazy bitch I sometimes act like. The world can be a cruel place, and you want to make them strong enough to stand in it but gawd if we did that then We would be denied the pleasure and frustration of raising such a fascinating being. My son likes to paint his nails ( toes and fingers sometimes), and even has his own polish that I’m under stict orders not to use. Wears it to school; he knows others will say comments but he says ” I like it, so who cares”. And he is right…. Who are they to say it is wrong, or a girl thing. If it makes home happy, then so be it. Sorry, a bit long winded, but it love your posts and they always arrive just when I need some laughs and tears with a whole lot of f bombs thrown in. Godspeed.

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  • Stephanie

    Great post!! This is my son to a “T”! Love it!!!

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  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from The Stereotypes We Subconsciously Teach | Mindful Teachers
    Saturday, 12 October, 2013

    […] adore this post from Renegade Mothering, entitled “Dear son, I hope you stay soft”.  Not only is it a call to parents, but it’s also a reminder for educators. Take a […]

       1 likes

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