I’ve been reading an awesome book lately - and it's not a Christian one. Well, at least any book which calls itself 'Raising Cain' and has reference to the story of Cain and Abel, must surely have authors who have some kind of knowledge, but technically the book is written by two psychologists who work particularly with boys and sometimes men who need a little help, and sometimes a lot of help.
The authors are Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson and they describe themselves as ‘two male psychologists who have specialized in treating boys for more than thirty-five years of our combined practice. From the earliest days in our training, we have been sent the angry boys, the boys who kick things, and especially the boys who don’t talk.’
Kindlon and Thompson are attempting to stem the flood of those boys who grow into men and never really get taught to know and love who they are, and so cannot learn what it is to know and understand the emotions and inner life of others around them. It is one of the only books which I have encountered so far which neither majors on the 'essential difference' between the genders, nor denies that there is one. There is a certain amount of reticence about the supposed biological differences (which appeals to me), a matter of factness about nature and nurture being pretty much a 50-50 split when it comes to our identity, and a bowing to the seemingly irrefutable evidence that the top 'difference' between boys and girls in our childhood development is that boys are so much more active and girls tend to be able to articulate themselves better.
They also admit that there are always exceptions to the rule, but that that doesn't negate the need to deal with the way we respond to our children when this is the way they act - in general.
For any of you who have boys, as I do, I wonder if this resonates with you - it certainly did with me: high levels of activity are seen and understood negatively. What is, the authors argue, a normal 'boyness', is received by others around them as 'badness'.
A small example in my own family is the fidgetiness of my boy at the table. So we sit down to eat and he can barely contain himself! Fidget fidget, sometimes he just stands by his chair, or starts to sit on my knee, or stands on his chair. It’s irritating, and I find myself saying 'sit down' 'stop fidgeting'. But he's not doing anything wrong. I remember my dad saying that when he was a boy if they could have put all the food you needed into a pill to take, then that would have been fine with him - having to stop to eat was just such a bore.
The book continues to talk about how boys are militated against in schools because of this high activity level and that there are so many more boys labelled with ADD/ADHD, now that there is a label. They even talk about the probability in their opinion that some are simply medicating against 'boyness' rather than illness.
It broke my heart actually, reading some of the case studies and watching my own boy. I love my boy (love my girl too, but for now this is about boys), he's got such an inner life, I’d hate him to lose that. He reminds me of me a lot, which is where the gender thing confuses me a little - my children seem to fit more readily into the 'sibling position' thing than the gender thing. My boy is a classic 'baby', as am I, and my daughter reminds me so much of my older sister it ain't funny. But he is definitely a boy - his energy levels are off the roof - and I’m not sure that boys are treated so well in our culture. Their propensity as a human being for emotional connection with themselves and therefore others, is mitigated by the social pressure to 'be a man'. And I can try my best to model otherwise, but I’m not a man. My boy needs his dad and other men to model emotional literacy to him because 'he must see and believe that emotions belong in the life of a man.'
The book has many treasures, but for now I’m going to leave you with a secular book's exegesis of a biblical passage - a hope for a different ending for the 'Cains' who now walk our world:
Cain's story describes every boy's desire to please - especially to please his father - and the sequence of ill-managed emotional reactions that lead to a tragic ending. we see a reflection of boys today in Cain's disappointment and shame at his heavenly father's rejection, his anger at feeling disrespected, his silenced voice in the turmoil of feeling, the absence of empathy or emotional reflection, and his impulsive act of anger.
For us, Cain’s story resonates in the lives of boys today when we see them distanced from their own feelings and insensitive to the feelings of others, so clearly suffering the consequences of an impoverished emotional life.
Before Cain kills his brother, God reminds him: 'sin crouches at the door, its urge is toward you. yet you can be its master.' how different Cain’s story might have been had he been able to draw upon inner resources, emotional awareness, empathy, and moral courage, for instance, to master the moment. but this emotional education was missing for Cain, and it continues to be the missing piece in the lives of most boys today.
Jody Stowell is an ordinand at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. She blogs at www.radical-evangelical.blogspot.com where this review first appeared and is on the leadership team of Fulcrum.