I'm Raising My Son To Be Tough, But Not In The Way You Think

Emotional strength gets you through the tough stuff in life.

The other day, I saw an article post featuring a Cat & Jack kid’s shirt from Target with the phrase “Strong Like Mom” across the front. Since I go to Target pretty much constantly, it was a no-brainer that I would pick it up for my one-year-old son. Even though I had to buy it in a slightly-too-big size, I immediately put it on him when we got home. Does he know what those words mean yet? Of course not, but I want to start him young. I want him to learn to be tough like mom and dad. But, not in the way you think.

You can find a million and one boys’ shirts with phrases like, “tough like dad,” “I get my muscles from dad,” and other strong and “manly” sayings. Do I want my son to be strong? Sure, physical strength is nice, but I truly couldn’t care less how many pounds he can lift (when he’s old enough) beyond when I will eventually need help moving or lifting something heavy. And I’d call on the help from a son or a daughter for that. It doesn’t have to just be my son. Physical strength in the form of health is important to me. That he’s healthy and strong enough to be active to carry him through a long life. That’s the kind of physical strength I hope he strives to have. And that’s a learned behavior by making healthy lifestyle choices, which may or may not result in muscular strength. Something we already try to model to him.

But the true strength I care about? His strength of character. That’s why it was important to me to buy that shirt. I’m teaching him now and every day forward that being strong goes far beyond physical. Emotional strength gets you through the tough stuff in life. It teaches you to pick yourself back up when you fail. It gives you courage to be brave in times of uncertainty. It gives you the confidence to voice your opinions loud and proud, even when it may not be the popular opinion. That’s what I’m teaching him to value in words like “tough” and “strong.” I want him to associate those words with an unbreakable spirit. The tenacity to keep going in the face of adversity. To embrace the unknown for the sake of learning and new opportunities, rather than fear different.

It’s important that my son and any subsequent children (boy or girl) see that both mom and dad are models of strength. In some ways the same, some different. Though when I think back to my long, hard labor, I feel pretty darn physically strong, too. It was that physical strength to fight through sheer exhaustion to bring him into this world. But it was also my emotional strength, saying “I can do this,” that truly carried me to the finish. And that’s what I hope he can learn in life ― physical strength can take you places, but your mindset is what truly makes all the difference. It’s what leads you down the path to success and helps you make your dreams attainable. I hope it’ll teach him that even if life is hard, it’s worth it in the end. That our mental toughness is tied to our successes and our failures and how we can grow and learn from both.

So yes, I’m raising my son to be tough and strong. Like mommy AND daddy equally. But, when he’s old enough I hope he understands that the “manliest” man he can be is the one who keeps fighting for the right things in life. Who faces his problems and doesn’t give up. Who has the tough mind to say, “you can’t break me,” even in life’s ugliest and hardest moments. If he can do that, I know I’ve raised a truly strong kid. And that counts for so much more than muscles ever could.