The boys in my world these days—not just the ones I raise, but the ones who spend time with my sons—are tender. They are ages three and four and five and nine and ten. They bring stuffed pigs to sleepovers and hold them close. They cry when they learn that their old dog may only have a few months left to live. When they find a fallen baby bird, they suggest we bury it.

The boys in my world still want company as they fall asleep at night. They want a warm body next to them, breathing in the dark.

The boys in my world these days are wild. They rip off their shirts and twirl them in circles before tossing them in the air and running through the yard. They will pee anywhere: off the front porch, in the grass, on the driveway. They also linger in a warm shower, and enjoy pajamas fresh from the dryer.

The boys in my world these days play well with the girls in their world, though they sometimes have trouble admitting this. Already the outside world has taught them to see each other as separate. But this doesn’t stop them from playing dead man on the trampoline, or climbing trees together, or riding skateboards down the driveway. They may pretend not to understand each other, but they do.

The boys in my world have barely any inkling about romantic love or sex, even though it seems our culture often treats them like they should. At the fair last week, one of the children’s rides featured a mural with ridiculously buxom women bursting out of their corsets. When I pointed this out to my nine-year-old, he looked at me quizzically and shrugged. He hadn’t noticed or cared.

The boys in my world are rough with each other. Sometimes they wrestle for fun. Sometimes they hug so hard it hurts. Sometimes, in passing, they punch each other to make a point. Sometimes they battle and scream, and as consequence I separate them. They don’t want to be apart.

The boys in my world are emotional. One doesn’t like to say goodbye in the morning when it’s time for school. Another still remembers friends who he only knew for half a year in kindergarten. He wonders where they are now, and if he’ll ever see him again.

The boys in my world don’t know how lucky they are. They are fed and sheltered and loved without interruption. Their realm of worry is limited to things like monsters and earthquakes and attack dogs, and also things like too much homework and who’s best friends with whom. I want them to understand their luck, to care about the world and the many many ways it’s broken, but when I try to explain its brokenness, they can barely comprehend. That a family would flee a war, that a child would be torn from his parents and sleep every night alone—these are things that sound more imaginary than monsters, more remote than earthquakes. They look at me as if I’m recounting the plot of a very terrible story.

The boys in my world are tender and need tenderness. They drink it like plants drink water.



  1. Hi Jenn, Your post is lovely, refreshing, and beautiful. What a gift to have moms who help them with their tenderness!

    I’m about two weeks away from my one month residency in WY. I’m excited and scared. Last night I dreamt that Kellie told me she loved me. This seemed a little odd, and from a literal standpoint I was concerned about her loving you and me at the same time, but since I love Kellie (platonically speaking, although I just looked up that word to see if I was using it correctly and Webster says: designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual, or intellectual and without sexual activity. ß so I am apparently not able to use this word regarding Kelly since we are the same sex. Which I’m assuming means that Webster is just one more part of the patriarchal clan, very likely homophobic and that the dictionary is completely outdated with regard to gender.), and every character supposedly represents our self, then the interpretation I’m going with is that I am learning how to love myself better, and tell myself this, thanks to Kellie’s appearance in my dream. Loving myself is hard for me and understandable with my family upbringing.

    So again, how wonderful to read this entry and to think of their future with tenderness as an integral part of their lives.

    Hugs to everybody, Kathy

    P.S. Kellie, your bee gloves are on our back porch. We will give you a cold beer if we are here when you stop by to get them.

  2. What a heartwarming piece especially now as we live in the shadow of manboys who were not raised with tenderness at the center of their world. I have a brand new great-granddaughter and while we can’t know if your boys will marry or if their interest in women will blossom, I’d like to begin negotiations now for an arranged marriage.

  3. What a beautiful blog.
    I think it’s lovely that boys growing up can show their emotions.
    Too often in life grown men see it as a sign of weakness to show their emotions which I think is so
    Let boys grow up to be wild and at the same time sensitive and not afraid of showing emotions.

  4. Aww that’s beautiful. The tender -tough combination is so beautifully put. Tenderness is what they need. And since that’s not what is associated to boys these days (God knows why..) , this is s beautiful reminder to bring it back and make it the center of upbringing boys.

  5. Warm, insightful, and beautiful post, Jennifer. I have three boys of my own, and I was raised by a non-tender man. But it is so important to bring tenderness into the world, and show boys that it’s okay to be real, genuine, and tender. Live the full human experience, and not just the ‘we don’t talk about stuff’ side of things.

  6. Those little boys you describe are that way because of the way they’re taught through gentleness and kindness and loving. They’ve learned to be genuine, and they’ll grow up to become gentlemen — real men with true values. Thank you!

  7. what a great perspective on boys today. they are so multifaceted that we need to see them for their whole and not just the pieces of them. We can only hope that they are able to keep a bit of each of these pieces as they grow from boys into men.

  8. My son is exactly that. He’s changing, though, as he grows older like everyone, but when he remembers who he really is he settles right back into the most kind being I’ve ever known.

  9. The boys in my world are inquisitive and mindful. The boys in my world do not see gender as two opposites. The boys in my world have empathy. The boys in my world are strong of character and seek the truth. The boys in my world are also tender, they think before they do; they care about others before caring for themselves and they love everyone ‘first’ before seeing faults. The boys in my world are like the soil; enriched with nutrients to help others feed from them and encourage all others to develop in their own ways.

  10. Hi Jenn,

    AS a man…I was “tender” as a boy…as most every man will say, if truly honest with themselves. I am 54; that “tender boy is STILL inside of us…wishing, in our ‘dark’ moments, that we could just put our heads in our Mother’s lap. In fact, I admitted the same, to my 83- year- old mother just in the last year or two!
    We start out…and may not grow up acting so, but that tenderness never truly leaves us…Thank my God!

  11. I was so glad to read this post as it is something that has been on my mind recently. I read a poem by Nayyira Waheed which said something which struck with me: “ I have seen a man wanting to weep so many times but instead he beat his heart senseless”. Boys are sadly conditioned just as much as us girls by the expectations of society and it is our job to help them over come this. I loved reading this because it was comforting yet also challenged the notion of what we expect of children.

  12. Wow i just saw my son and his two nephews so sweet so tender but lacking the tunderness they desreve so eye opening thank you so much for reminding me of the tenderness our boys NEED

  13. Such a great picture of the young boy of today in a relatively happy home. My grandson was one of these but now that he is over 21 life has taught him some hard lessons and I hope he can eventually assimilate that early child into the man he will become. Thanks for showing us a beautiful blue print.

  14. Once upon a time my sweet boy, age four, used to leave 500 kisses on my bed pillow so I would receive them when I lay down to sleep. Now, my son is an angry nineteen-year-old who no longer speaks to me. I miss my sweet boy. Mothers: cherish your young boys. I continue to hope mine will return to me someday.

  15. Good job on raising your boys knowing tenderness. Trying my best to do the same with my boy. Tenderness is the key as it needs love and kindness and ability to reach to your heart and read its feeling to be able to act with tenderness. ❤ Love !

  16. Hey. Completely loved your post. In a world where we are dealing with the wrong image of being manly and ideal, your blog reminded us of the tenderness we must never shed. Frankly speaking, it made my day! ❤️

  17. Such a heart warming post. Loved to read it till the end. I have a daughter and not a son. But I would be really happy if I have a son to mother some day and experience what you so beautifully expressed through your magical usage of words.

  18. Wow. I feel like you were talking right at me when I was a kid, having the Voltron and G.I Joe battle of the ages. I was cracking up with the part about ‘swinging around tee-shirts’. That’s so awesome! I’m still laughing. Great post. You just too me back to the 80’s and early 90’s, where the only things that mattered, were Saturday morning cartoons, cereal, and my favorite P.J.’s. I love it!

  19. The boys in my world are the same. The son I am priveleged to be farther to. The men I respect. The men I am truly friends with. Beautiful post.

  20. I absolutely love this. My boys are 5 and 4. I feel they are so different, yet exactly the same. They are tender. They need me to be their person. They are kind, gentle, rough, and rowdy. They think of others, yet think only of themselves. They are so little, yet so big. What an age… what a world… how blessed we are! They are tender…

  21. I love this post. I don’t have a son but feel that it’s so critically important to raise boys who are able to feel their feelings openly. Keep up the good work! The part of your post that I related to the most (unfortunately) is struggling to explain how broken the world is to my child. I have no idea how I’m going to do this when the time comes.

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