As a single dad with daughters, one of the biggest challenges I face is teaching my daughters how to be strong, confident and capable. We live in an era of #MeToo and Boss Bitches, where girls aren’t afraid to run the world and female role models are on the rise. I’m thankful every day. I can be a positive role model for them, and they have more and more influential females in society who lead by example.

I was chatting about this with a friend of mine over coffee recently and she gave me a very interesting counter perspective. She has two boys. Her big challenge as a single mom? Getting ahead of toxic masculinity.

What is toxic masculinity?

You may have heard it used before or the term may be new to you, but the fact is, the concept of toxic masculinity is a real concern for many young boys. It’s this idea that men are always macho and strong, that they can’t be emotional and that it’s okay for men to be angry or violent. The concept stems from masculine stereotypes and antiquated ideals.

Toxic masculinity is dangerous—especially for boys of single mothers. Young boys start to form a concept of a man that’s unfeeling and hard based on what they see in traditional media, and the result is that they have trouble developing emotional maturity. In severe situations, they might develop other negative personality traits, such as lack of empathy or misogynistic views.

Combatting toxic masculinity as a single mom

My friend told me that as a single mom, it’s both easier and more difficult to combat toxic masculinity traits. For example, she teaches her boys how it’s important to treat men and women equally—and because it’s coming from her, a woman, she feels like her boys are more sensitive to how they respect women. On the flip side, she worries that the “boys don’t cry” stereotype might catch up with them because their dad isn’t there to teach them it’s okay to show emotion.

I asked how she planned to combat toxic masculinity. Her answer was very poignant: “teach them that emotions are okay.”

Toxic masculinity really stems from the inability or unwillingness of men to express emotions, due to fear of vulnerability. Single moms who teach their boys it’s okay to be emotional are helping them realize from an early age just how toxic toxic masculinity can be. If they grow up learning self-expression and understand it’s okay to be vulnerable, they’re less likely to close themselves off and develop emotional gaps.

The real eye-opening part of my conversation with my friend is that her boys are 8 and 5. She was widowed five years ago, so the boys have never really had a male role model in their lives. Already she’s worried about toxic masculinity, and her kids are still in the middle of their childhood years! I asked why and got some sage wisdom from her: “they’re only getting older and life is only getting more complex for them. They need to learn early that being macho doesn’t get you anywhere and bottling up your anger or sadness only hurts more.”