The other day I was travelling on the LRT in Kuala Lumpur when I saw a teenage boy sitting beside an older but young woman, his mother I presume, visibly crying. It was not a very crowded train and I was seated not too far away from them. It is not often that you see a teenage boy crying in public, well, most of them at that age consider may consider it weak or unmanly. Being a teacher myself who have spent so many years teaching teenagers in schools, I know this very well. It is a social construct that we probably never gave a second thought to.
But there she was, sitting patiently beside him, uttering soft words and giving soft pats on the poor boy’s back. As a mother myself, this is nothing unusual for me. I know I would run to my girls in a heartbeat the moment they are hurt. But what caught my attention was that, the woman was in her own way, allowing the boy to have his moment of vulnerability, and breaking conventions at the same time! I can easily imagine a parallel situation where the same boy being asked to shut up and stop creating a public scene. And that was when I realized how far we had come from toxic traditional ways of parenting.
I know many would say that ‘well, not all parents.’. But that is the point! Some parents like the young woman on the train are setting precedence to a newer generation of parents who are breaking out of their strict and authoritarian roles to be more sensitive and kinder to their children. I personally have seen many young boys forced to hide away sorrows and angst, young girls called attention seekers for showing the same emotions. I used to feel extremely disturbed thinking about the kind of adults they would grow up to be, without proper guidance about feelings management from their loved ones. The alarming statistics for depression and other mental disorders among young people in the country is just a Google search away. Help yourself with it.
This is precisely why I feel that the young generation of this era needs a lot of empathy from us. I would love to encourage more parents to allow their children to express vulnerability so that they learn feelings management from a young age. Children should be taught that being gentle, vulnerable and kinder to themselves is the cheat sheet to living a strong, confident and independent life. Softness is not gender exclusive; boys and girls alike should be made to understand that they need to cry when they need to cry. There is no way around it.
And the best way to teach them this, is by showing vulnerability ourselves. New parents need to destroy the social construct that repressing feelings is a sign of strength. And since no one could have said better than this, I would like to quote Brittin Oakman,
“Your vulnerability can be a gift to others. How badass is that?”
Dr. Sarala Thulasi Palpanadan
Center for Language Studies
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)