Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Raising Boys: 10 Loving Lessons Just For Moms

After receiving a number of e-mails from new readers asking questions on the topic of raising boys, I thought I would reach out to them by re-posting the following article that I wrote last spring. 
                          *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      

If someone would have told me 13 years ago that I would someday be the mother of 5 boys, I'm not sure if I would have laughed or ran screaming in the opposite direction!!  Raising our sons has offered me greater challenges and deeper joys than I could have ever imagined.  And, while, I would dearly love to have a daughter, I wouldn't change a chapter of this story for anything!

When our first son, Ben, was born, I had read so many books on motherhood that I thought for sure I had it all down, and that it would be just that - textbook, predictable, planned.  Go ahead and laugh, because I am!! Good golly, I even tried to apply the "textbook" method to Ben's labor and delivery, and (of course) it went NOTHING like I imagined it was supposed to. Life has a terrific way of humbling us, doesn't it??

Nearly 13 years and 5 sons later, I have learned a great deal from many incredible parents, grandparents and numerous experts a wealth of essential tips and truths on raising healthy, happy boys.  Without any girls to identify with, I'll readily admit that, at times, I have felt overwhelmed and confused, to say the least. Some of the lessons have been difficult, and yet others have come surprisingly natural to me (I account those to grace alone.).  And, I'm still learning - every day, I'm learning.  Thankfully, I have an amazing husband by my side to help me understand the (sometimes) maddening mysteries of manhood! 

I often hear parents say, "We raise all of our children the same, none are ever treated differently....it's only fair, really."  Pardon me, while I respectfully disagree with that for a moment.  While I applaud any parents' aspirations to be fair and just, what we must realize is that fair doesn't always mean "same" or "exactly alike." Every child deserves to be raised as an individual, as they each have different needs, different personalities, and different gifts.  And, I know this is going to be a shocker, but boys and girls should not be raised the same.  Loved equally, yes, absolutely.  Raised identically, no. I hope that as you read on, you will find sincerity as well as objectivity in my explanations. 
Are you still here?? Great!! I'd love to share with you some of the lessons that I have learned about raising, nurturing and understanding the heart of a boy, lessons that may seem obvious to a dad, but ones that perhaps a mom might appreciate hearing from the heart of another mom.  In the end, I hope you come away from this post feeling encouraged and supported in your very important, irreplaceable role as a mother.

1.  This may be an obvious one, but boys need to have the freedom to wrestle and climb, to roar and grunt and karate chop your house plants. They do not have ADD, they have energy, and they need an generous amount of time and space to run free.  Don't freak out when they act a little wild, a little fearless. Don't take them to the doctor, don't Google symptoms of hyperactivity, and don't suffocate them by constantly telling them to calm down, sit down and be quiet.  No, I don't mean let them behave destructively or disrespectfully (more about that in #2), but do not stifle their enthusiasm.  If you do, they will rebel and probably find a way to channel their energy into something else, something unhealthy.  I see many young boys engaging in video games, because they truly feel as though they have nothing else to do. This is a travesty. Trust me, it is very, very difficult to mend a boy's broken spirit.  Let them play!  You will have to repaint your walls, reinforce their bunk beds with scrap iron, and patch holes in their jeans.  Accept that, and then let them be off on their next adventure.

2.  As a natural response to #1, please know that I am speaking in terms of balance, not extremes.  That being said, boys do need to be taught self-control, prudence, the value of being polite, having manners and demonstrating proper etiquette.   Don't make excuses for them when they are thoughtless, rude or sloppy, by saying, "Oh, he's just being a boy!"  If you patiently teach them that times and situations call for a particular type of behavior and attitude, they will not only become natural leaders, but they will also gain self-confidence as well as the respect of others. Moms, it is proper for us to expect good manners at the supper table, "please" and "thank you" in daily interactions and please, never, ever allow your son(s) to speak disrespectfully to you (your husband should always be at your side in these situations). Knights were once required to learn proper etiquette/manners before they could wield a sword. It was the beginning stage of proving their worth as knights. Why? Self-control and discipline in the small things opens the door to strength and wisdom in the bigger battles of life.

3.  This lesson was inspired by Dr. Dobson's Bringing Up Boys, and I'm sharing it with you, because we've heeded it with every single one of our boys, and hold fast to it's importance. As moms we hold our baby boys close with all of our motherly love and attentiveness, as we should, but when our sons turn 2, it is very important for us to use those arms to toss them towards daddy! Step back a bit.  Allow more father-son time to take place, one-on-one.  This will help foster the natural masculinity of your son, because he will be able to identify more assuredly with his father.  You don't need to be gone for long periods of time, just an hour or two each week.  Consider going for an evening walk a couple of times a week, meeting up with friends, shopping for groceries or encouraging your "men" to go outside and play together or work on a project while you make supper.  Your son won't love you less - in fact, he will love and appreciate you even more! Let him go out and be a "big boy" with his papa.  He needs this from you.   In addition, I have seen many moms over the years who have an excessive (controlling) closeness with their sons, sons who are young men or even adults.  Cut. The. Cord.  Your main man should be your husband, he is first in priority of your love and attentiveness, not your son.  Your son should know his place in the family, without question.....and so should you.

4.  You didn't think I would forget to add how horribly and horrifyingly gross boys can be to this list did you?? If your boys should ever get lost in a forest and are near starvation, they will not hunt for berries or edible plants.  They will eat their boogers and then yell, "MOM!!!" until they loose their voices.  The whole booger issue totally mystifies me, and I find them everywhere, I mean everywhere!!  And, then there's the poop saga.  I have literally gone into my sons' bathroom 3 days in a row and seen no toilet paper on the ring.  Seriously??  Then, I get to the laundry and I see the damage that 3 days of no toilet paper can do. Uuuggghhhh!!! (I KNOW you can relate!!)  "Stop picking, please wipe, don't forget to flush and, for the love of Pete, wash your hands!!" will be on repeat for all of us moms until our boys flee the nest.  The only real way to deal with this unfortunate circumstance is with wine.  Lots and lots of wine.

5.  Cook for your sons.  They will never forget how beautifully you loved them in this sacrificial way. I know it seems small or old-fashioned, but some of our best family conversations have taken place around the supper table. And, I get the BEST hugs after a killer meal!  Food can also be used to achieve particular goals.  Are you followin' me here??  If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, so too be a boys!  Hold a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies above their heads and their rooms will be cleaned faster than you can say dust bunnies.

6.   Chill out a bit with the toy weapons.  I once had a neighbor who would not let her child play with my boys, because we allowed them to have wooden rifles.  However, she thought that swords were just fine - you know, a more civilized way of engaging in warfare.  Oh, I get it!! No, I don't, I'm lying right now. {Sigh.} Like it or not, here's the facts: If you keep every plastic pistol or pirate sword out of a boy's grip, they will find a way to fashion some type of weapon out of tree branches, tinker-toys or chop-sticks.  Your boys are not violent, they are not killers or haters, and letting them play with toy weapons isn't going to turn them into monsters.  Boys are born to be protectors, and if their instincts are nurtured in the proper way, someday they will protect your freshly sprouting garden from pests and more importantly, they will protect a lady from a predator - without hesitation.  Your sons are in more serious danger of developing a violent nature when they engage in violent video games, television and movies than they are if allowed to participate in innocent, imaginative play with friends. Just ask your father or grandfather - those "great" generations - about this.

7.  The world is pretty good at telling boys that they aren't as good as girls or really any different than girls, so they shouldn't act different or be different.  This is a terrible lie.  Don't buy into it.  Boys absolutely need to be boys and feel no shame or make no apologies for that. Praise and admire their masculine strengths!  Our sons natural talents should not be minimized because they are faster or stronger than their female peers, and they shouldn't be punished for it either.  As men and women, we're made to be complimentary not competitive, unique, not uniform.  It is our very complimentarity that brings beauty, strength and individuality to the world.  When you embrace your authentic femininity as a mother, you actually help your son grow to become an authentic man. 

8.  If you were ever a cheerleader back in the day, now is the time to practice those chants.  Boys don't need us to tell them how to throw the ball or tackle the opponent (even though many of us are awesome at sports and could easily coach our sons!), they need us to cheer for them, to encourage them, and then to let them know that we'll be their most loyal supporter, win or lose, whether it be on the football field or in the classroom.  Don't be a boss.  I've been to countless athletic events where the mom is  screaming red-faced at her son while the dad stands by texting on his phone. Those aren't tough-love moms, they're misguided moms.  And Dads, oh, dads, (slap-slap) wake up.  As parents we are here to guide, not take over the coach's job, and not make our sons feel as though their very lives depend on a touch-down pass.  Rah-rah, that's your job.  Now do it.  Do it proudly, moms!

9.  This one is closely related to #8.  A boy's (and a man's) biggest fear is failure.  So many mom's out there want to raise "good" boys who are virtuous and successful in life.  But, I know from experience, that when I'm on them all of the time with everything (school work, chores, fighting with siblings etc.) they can easily lose confidence in themselves.  They are already putting enough pressure on themselves in every aspect of life, they don't really need us to drop a few hundred extra pounds on their shoulders.  There are times when I've gone to bed at night and felt contrite for being too nit-picky with my young boys, for being too hard on them, for taking discipline too far, for lecturing too long. Let things go once in a while....it's okay.  Sometimes they need a hug and a pass more than they need a lecture or a punishment. (Isn't that true for us as well??)

10.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I must confess that one of the most difficult aspects of living in a house full of boys is dealing with my own sensitive nature.  As women, we are more easily hurt, offended and slighted than men are.  It doesn't mean that boys are insensitive or cold, they just aren't wired the same way that we are, and as moms, we need to show them how to be more tender without belittling their personhood or being overly dramatic.  One thing that has helped me when I'm tempted to fall into loneliness or self-pity after being slighted by a son is this: Whenever one of my sons draws me a picture or writes me a note of any kind, I save it in a special place.  And, when one has hurt my feelings or is struggling with a particular discipline issue that is difficult for me to handle, I go back to the pictures/notes and remember the love that my boys have for me, and the love that I have for them.  It truly does mend a broken heart.

A boy is Truth with dirt on its face,
Beauty with a cut on its finger,
Wisdom with bubble gum in its hair,
and the Hope of the future with a frog in it's pocket.
~ Author Unknown


  1. Susan, I loved this post the first time I read it, and I loved reading it over again today. We are kindred spirits! If I was as eloquent as you are, I would say everything you said here, word-for-word. After 30 years of being a mom to only sons, I feel like I'm sort of reading the story of my life. True, all of it. And like you, I wouldn't change a chapter of my story for anything.

    Thanks for re-posting this. It's such a fantastic essay about mothering sons (and motherhood in general)--it so beautifully points out the sometimes weird but mostly wonderful traits of little boys, and how important it is to let them become the men they're supposed to be!

  2. Love this post!!! Each point is so true! When my boys were little I wasn't going to buy guns but then an older wiser mom told me that it didn't matter - they would make guns out of bread crusts (yep!) but to watch - they always use the weapons as good guys (yep!).
    Thank you for sharing these lessons!!!

  3. Susan, I SO needed this today!! Thank you for writing it. I'm saving it to read over and over again!

  4. For a mama expecting her 3rd little boy, this is so great to read! Thank you for your honesty and ability to bring humor to raising these boys into men. Bookmarking this for future times!


If you are having trouble leaving a comment, please feel free to send me an e-mail or leave a response on my Facebook page. Thanks!