Talking About Not Talking

Talking About Not Talking

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I just delivered to my publisher a book about raising boys through puberty (coming to bookstores this winter – hoorah!) and here’s the crux of where I have landed on the topic: When boys enter puberty they get quiet, at least quieter than they used to be, and we as parents accept it, even respect it, and we tend to get quiet in return. So, when they shut their doors we say: That’s just what boys do during puberty and we disconnect ourselves from them, sometimes ever so slightly, other times profoundly. But we would never do that with our girls. When they enter puberty, today’s girls feel empowered to talk and talk and talk. And if they slam the door in our faces, we are so accustomed to talking to them that we say: No way, we are talking this through. We don’t tolerate boy quiet from our girls.

Why does any of this matter? Because girls get lots of talking practice, so much that they can articulate how they feel or what went wrong or how they were harmed. It’s not that talking entirely protects girls from unfortunate events, but it helps them to process those events and to move beyond. Boys are not reinforced for those skills in the same way, largely because of our reaction to their pubertal quiet.

And what does any of this have to do with Emily Oster’s Atlantic piece about hiding pregnancies and downplaying early parenthood? As I read this piece, I couldn’t help but wonder if a downstream consequence of talking more to our pubescent boys might mean less (future) shame around disclosing parenting. Oster writes that one solution to “hiding your kids at work” involves men acknowledging their childcare responsibilities and pleasures, too. Wouldn’t it be amazing if talking more to our monosyllabic, grunty tween and teenaged boys resulted in more conversation now and more open conversation about parenthood decades from now when it’s their turn?