This originally appeared on JaysonGaddis.com. Republished here with permission.
Over a year ago, my 4-year-old son (3 at the time), told me he wanted to be in a boys group.
It was a mind-stopper. I sat for a moment. Then my heart said, “OK, let’s do it.”
A year later, it has begun. I almost started the group many times, but the timing was off. It took some time to have it feel just right.
Why did he ask for this?
It could be the fact that every week, for over a year, I run men’s groups at my house. Right before bedtime while in his pajamas, he is eager to say hello to “the guys” as we start our circle. He loves it and wants to sit with us. He knows something special is going on in that room.
Concurrently, I had been thinking about doing a boys circle for the remainder of his youth and inviting other parents along for the ride. So our timing was perfect.
I really had no idea how to run a boys group. I do well with grown men, adults, and even teenage boys, but 4-year-olds? I had just a vague idea of what I wanted to explore and help facilitate. It’s still not clear, but I’m trusting his call, my call, and proceeding anyway.
My wife and I are raising a boy who will be big and powerful one day. He already is quite a force, so we want to support him flourishing as his authentic self in whatever ways we can. This already requires a lot of commitment and presence on our part.
If my boy is gay, straight, feminine, or masculine, I don’t care. I want my son to be himself.
So, this group is directed at raising a different kind of boy—a heart-centered boy who fosters the ability to be true to himself, regardless of the pressures he experiences to be otherwise.
Why do I want to do this?
1) The Boy Code
Our culture disempowers young boys to adhere to the boy code—a gender straightjacket that stifles the creative life force of a young boy. Programs such as religion, pop culture, sports, and yes, even the boy scouts, all perpetuate the boy code for young boys. The boy code uses shame, fear, humiliation, and other gender conditioning to stifle a boy’s essence.
So, part of my motivation to do a boys group comes from the tragic tale of boys in this culture. The “boy crisis” is real. Everyone has their opinions and perspectives on why boys are struggling so much. Mine is simple: We have trained boys, through outdated gender conditioning, to not be themselves. And, I work with adult men and women who’s lives have been exceedingly painful, hurtful, and challenging due to the gender conditioning men received as boys. The boy-code (eventually the man-code) is part of what keeps men from seeking therapy and other support later in life.
By running a boys group, I get to facilitate healthy connection, intimacy, play, and communication between boys while fostering whatever natural flavor of being a boy they bring to the table.
2) Gender Balance
While we’ve come a long way and are much closer to gender equality, we still have mountains to move. Check out mainstream families. Most dads are still in the traditional role of worker/provider, while most moms are still raising the kids. The biggest difference is that more moms are working and raising the kids, while there’s been a slight increase in stay-at-home, involved dads (read more on that here). What matters to me is that men are being true to themselves, regardless of their “role” in the family unit.
I still think many of us would agree that dads are still not as engaged as they could be and a great many fathers are completely absent altogether. And yes, some dads are stay-at-home, some are part-time work/at-home dads and are doing amazing things raising their sons. But look around at your own social network and my guess is the vast majority are still in the traditional male role. So, bottom line? A boys group is one way to get more conscious men in a boy’s life.
3) Gender Balance (part 2)
Formal education and schooling for boys is largely taught by women (in classroom settings) that largely support the learning styles of the female brain (read more on Michael Gurian’s work here). Since there are very few male teachers in schools, it leaves it up to women, moms, and single moms to teach boys in the classroom.
The same is true for therapy for boys. The large majority of play therapists are women. So, if a family does eventually want to send their pre-teen son to therapy after a bullying incident or traumatic experience, or for resourcing, tools, and support, the boy will likely see a female therapist.
Outside the classroom is another story. In this environment boys learn mostly from coaches, big brothers, dads, and other boys. Even sensitive empathic boys will abandon their true essence in exchange for approval and belonging in the male peer group. And, to be accepted by girls, they tend to join what they think girls want, which is boy-coded boys. Moreover, it is disconnected, dissociated men, video games, movies, music, and other pop culture that also has a huge influence on raising our boys. For example, when most boys and young men eventually find themselves in an intimate relationship with a woman, they have no idea how to act or be. As a result, they resort to what they think they “should” do or be (based on lame information from male peers), rather than being themselves. Then, many girls and women end up feeling insecure, unmet, and very angry and frustrated, spending vast amounts of energy making themselves wrong, or trying to change their man.
In my experience working with adult couples, men who have issues with women are men who grew up feeling violated, betrayed, hurt, rejected, or abandoned by mom, despite her best attempts. Likewise, men who have issues with older men or male authority figures are men who have felt betrayed, abandoned, or slighted by their dads and other men when they were boys. Even if one or both parents do a rock solid parenting job, most kids will be hurt in some way by one gender and then bring that into their adult relationships, especially if they never work on it.
In other words, my kids need both genders if they are to have gender balance in themselves. I’m going for inner masculine/feminine balance, understanding that each boy might have a natural place on the spectrum where they reside. It’s good practice to develop both sides of ourselves, and everything in between.
4) Beyond Gender
Am I perpetuating the gender binary? Possibly. I get the limitations of “boy” and “girl” (even masculine/feminine) and how that could exclude my son, or contribute to him feeling wrong, if he turns out to be gender-queer or transgendered. And, I live largely in the binary so, for now, I’m creating this group for his essence rather than his gender. And it’s my aspiration to expose my son to all walks of life so that if he no longer wants to be seen as “he” that is OK and just right.
5) Conscious Sexuality
While my 4-year-old is still a bit young for sex education, as he grows, I want him and his friends to be super informed about the truth around our sexual bodies and sexual nature. As he becomes sexually active in his teenage years, I want him completely informed and conscious about his body, what it does, where his penis goes, as well as very accurate information on the female body, her parts, how to give and receive pleasure, etc. Sex, penises, vaginas, will all be open, normal, engaging conversations in our home. We are a sex-positive family.
Rather than try to make a boy into a man (which a lot of people believe is necessary), I’m inspired to help boys be their authentic-most self, while making the transition from boy to adult. While this might sound simple, look around; most folks in this culture are very disconnected from their true nature and society supports this disconnection. In my judgment most adults are quite young developmentally and emotionally. The journey of being a connected human being, and becoming oneself, is a true hero’s journey.
Boys learn about masculinity by watching other boys and grown men. So, I am living what I want him to be and how I want him to be. In other words, my presence is the teacher, more than anything I say or do. Parenting is a transmission, folks.
Initially, this is simply a boys play-group. We have started with three boys total. I may add one or two, we’ll see. Our first group met in late July, and I did a lot of observing while setting up some play experiments. The boys found their own natural rhythm, and I made a few course corrections when necessary.
We’ve met twice now and a lot is happening already. It’s fascinating, so stay tuned.
Jayson Gaddis is a yerba mate addict and a householder. He’s a relationship healer, psychotherapist, and guide devoted to helping people awaken through relationships, intimacy, and parenting. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two kids.