09/10/2015 11:10 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Raising Tender Boys In A Tough World

Four friends sharing a joke and laughing whilst out in nature
Peter Beavis via Getty Images
Four friends sharing a joke and laughing whilst out in nature

As a female, I love the idea that girls and women are as strong, vibrant and powerful as any male. Yet as the mother of three young boys, the Girl Power push that has been around for quite a while allows me to ponder the role of gender and our perceptions of strength and beauty. What if boys were seen as being less than manly? Do people applaud boys being soft and gentle in the same way they applaud girls being strong, confident, boisterous and full of life?

If you peek past the sports, the wrestling and the wild testosterone, my boys are not your average little men. They do not always behave how society expects them to behave. Both of my 13-year-old twins love to sit quietly on the lawn and read, play in a cubby house built for toddlers, delight on spending time baking cakes (not only licking the spoon!) and they actually enjoy shopping.

When mothers of girls make the inevitable annoying comment, "Poor you. You miss out on having a daughter to go shopping with," I always reply, "My boys love to shop!" Not typical teenage-boy stuff. (I also point out that shopping is a small part of our lives and there are plenty of other bonding moments to be had with sons.)

We manage a healthy balance of free expression in our home, but society has some catching up to do. While girls are often praised for being 'as good as any boy' and showered with 'Girl Power' cheers, boys are steered well clear of their gentler sides. I've heard boys told to 'man-up' many times. Ever hear a weeping girl told to 'woman-up'? When my boys want to cry and act 'girly' I do not stop them.

For them, and for me as a parent, it's not about celebrating a masculine side or a feminine side. It's just about celebrating who we are. Sometimes that means skinned knees and freshly dug worms, and sometimes it means snuggling up against a baby bunny, posing in a headband made from seaweed, rolling up a t-shirt so it looks like a bikini top and striking a model-like pose.

Sometimes it means sitting in a café sipping milkshakes or reclining on a trampoline to look at the clouds. Or, hanging out in bookstores, softly and quiet as mice. (Unavoidable with a mother who's an author). Sometimes it means tying a floral apron around your jeans. The simple act of cracking an egg can bring simple joy. Sometimes it means crying because you hated school today and you needed your mother's loving arms. Sometimes it means crying, just because you feel like it.

So my message to all the boy mums in the world is, while girls are given the freedom these days to be strong, think about giving your boys the freedom to be tender and soft. They might surprise you.