When I was pregnant, I knew right away that it was a boy. When the ultrasound confirmed it, I was so excited to have a little boy. I get asked all the time when we are going to have our girl, and I honestly don't like that question. If God gives us a daughter, I will be thrilled. But I will not love my children any less because of their sex. My friend Justine over at Sunny in June is pregnant with her third baby boy. She recently wrote a great article in response to why this question in particular annoys her so much, because apparently raising boys is the worst.
I've noticed a lot of articles floating around recently about raising boys. Maybe it's because Facebook's algorithm is that good and notices I don't click on stuff with daughters so it pushes all the "boy parent" stuff up to the top of my feed. Regardless, I have read some interesting things out there in the last couple of weeks, with a particular resurgence since the Women's March.
I'm not making a political statement here. I'm writing from the heart on my thoughts, concerns, and fears when it comes to raising a boy. Girls and women get so much attention nowadays that it's hard to cut through sometimes and remember that raising our boys is so important too.
Firstly, however, I want to say that women's rights are important. We are equal to men. We are different, and those differences are cause for celebration. I mean, show me a man who can push a baby out his bits after carrying said baby for 9+ months, then continue to give that baby life by breastfeeding, and I will show you that pigs can fly. Women should be paid fairly for doing the same work men do, women should have the same opportunities men do, and women shouldn't have to feel like someone else needs to shatter glass ceilings for them. I am also in no way implying that every man is the same nor is every woman the same. Amongst us all, there are so many differences. Which again, should be celebrated, not shamed, in the way that some people do. If you want to work and pursue your career, go for it. If you want to stay home and take care of your children, do the damn thing. If you don't want to get married and travel the world with no strings attached, DO YOU GIRL.
But there are biological and developmental differences in men and women that can't be denied. We can't treat our boys and girls exactly the same because their needs are different. Having taught middle school for many years, I can tell you that the developmental difference is very much present. Their individual needs have to be met so that they can develop into the men we want a whole generation of girls to marry.
And while the old school mentality of "man up" doesn't necessarily sit well with me, neither does the notion that our boys have to be the same as girls, or that girls somehow deserve more of our attention than boys do. We want our boys to grow into men, into fathers, into spouses, and into incredible members of society. I don't want a son who is offended by everything, but I also don't want a son who is offensive. If we neglect them. or imply that somehow women deserve to be treated better than they do, then we are setting ourselves up for a generation of boys who is resentful.
So how do we raise our boys into men? I'm not sure that there's a right or wrong way to make our boys into men, but I know it starts at home. I don't know what the future will bring - I don't know if a few years from now I'll look back on these words and think, "Wow, Jenise, you had so much to learn." But I'd like to think that by doing some of these things, my Caleb will grow from a boy into a MAN.
Be the example.
Dads, you play a super important role here. The way that your sons see you treating women will be the way they treat women. You know that saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree?" Kids learn best by example. If you are demeaning women, making women seem less than men are, then that's what they will emulate. We are our children's first teachers. So hold open all the doors, allow women to go first, and give up your seat for the pregnant woman, for crying out loud. Same goes for us moms - whatever we allow to be done to us will be what our sons think is acceptable. But also very important will be how they see us treat other women. If we are bitchy and backstabbing and gossipy, they will think that behavior is okay.
Recognize their unique needs.
Some boys are sensitive. Others are not. Some boys are rough. Others are not. There is no mold for boys, just as there is no mold for anyone else on this earth. Pay attention to your child. If your son has an interest in trucks, let him play with trucks. If your son has a desire to rescue animals, let him do it. I come from a family with a diverse group of men. My grandfather was always a baseball-loving, scotch-drinking factory worker who loved to build things and use his hands. My dad is also great with building things and is super handy, but he loves to decorate and has never been interested in sports, really. One of my brothers is a priest who will occasionally play soccer and loves a good cigar, and my other brother is a lanky engineer who loves video games. Encourage the uniqueness in your boys. Don't ever tell them, "You're a boy, you should (or shouldn't) be doing this."
Let boys be boys.
Before you jump down my throat and say, "That's the most misogynistic phrase ever!" please let me finish. I don't mean that boys should be excused for inappropriate behavior because it's somehow ingrained in their DNA to be inappropriate. I do mean - let them play outside, give them activities that involve movement, teach them healthy ways of getting out stress or anxiety. I have friends whose daughters are content to sit and color and play with PlayDoh for hours. Caleb stands at the back door and begs me to go "ousside". He runs in circles while aforementioned girls are coloring. Their energy needs to be expended, and it's usually in super active ways. Let them go outside, let them get dirty. Let them learn to fix things. Take them fishing and let them bait the hook. Since when is being a man's man a bad thing (as long as you're not being a jerk while at it)?
Monitor what they watch/listen to/read.
I'm not saying to censor anything, but if it has a questionable message, (and their maturity level is at a place where this is an appropriate action) talk to them about it and discuss why the message is questionable. Mainstream media is full of smart, independent women, but it's also filled with terrible messages that heavily influence our boys. They think that if the celebrities they look up to say it's okay, then it's okay (don't even get me started on kids having celebrities as role models). We also live in a society where sex is "easy come, easy go," and a lot of things are no longer considered taboo, especially when it comes to what we are watching and listening to. If we teach them that sex is something to be valued, then they will recognize those messages as frivolous. It all comes down to talking to them openly. Having open lines of communication with your kids makes a world of difference in their perception of the world.
Teach them self control.
This one is huge. I think if more people (men and women alike) practiced self control, we would avoid a lot of the issues that we have. If we teach our boys to have self control and not act on every impulse, that will cut the issues we have tremendously. By teaching them to control urges of all kinds, we teach them about patience and respect. One of the things I always used to tell my middle school students was, no matter what a girl says to you, you need to exercise self control and think about the situation. I came across many situations where girls were baiting boys, and the boys would get in trouble when they really didn't think they were doing anything wrong, because girls were sending all the "green light" signals. When the boys got in trouble, they were dumbfounded, and a lot of that could have been avoided if they had exercised self control. My parents' favorite phrase to tell us was "There are choices and there are consequences. Every single choice has a consequence. Consider your options." After a few years, it was shortened to, "Remember: choices and consequences," as we were leaving the house to head out to wherever we were going. It makes you stop and think about what the reaction to your action will be.
Teach them that feelings are okay.
One of the most damaging things we can tell our boys is to "man up." They need to learn that a healthy expression of emotion is normal. Crying is normal, anger is normal. Punching or hitting someone isn't (unless they deck you first, in which case, have at it... and that's something I would tell my daughter, too, if I had one.). So many guys grow up thinking that they can't act a certain way or feel a certain way because it isn't manly. That just isn't true. Feelings are a normal reaction to events in our lives and should be felt, not squashed. And if our boys don't learn to deal with their feelings, then they hold them inside until they blow, resulting in rage, violence, depression, you name it. So go ahead baby boy, cry it out. I'll comfort you and tell you it's okay.
Teach them kindness.
Kids can be cruel. Teach your kids to stand up for those who are picked on, to sit at lunch with the kid who sits alone, to offer a helping hand. And don't just tell them to do it. Model the behavior! Don't talk badly about people or make fun of others. Be kind to everyone you meet, and your kids will emulate that behavior. Help those you come across who are in need, and teach them that being a silent spectator is just as bad as committing an act yourself. If our kids learn from a young age to be kind, then they will continue to practice that kindness throughout their lives. And really, that's what the world needs right now - a whole lot of kindness.
Don't make excuses for them.
My mom always tells this story about me. When I was in high school, I was in an Honors math class. I had a bunch of friends in the class, but since Math wasn't my strength, I always sat in the front of class and was ready for when the teacher walked in (go ahead, call me a nerd). One day, he walked into class and the rest of the class didn't settle down, so he said that since we didn't need him, he was just going to give us a test on the material we were supposed to have learned that class. Two of my bookish friends and I, all of whom were ready for class to begin, got up and walked out of the room, something that was totally out of character for us. My mom was the Assistant Principal at the time, and we marched straight to her office, indignant that we were being treated so unfairly by the teacher. She looked at us and said, "I don't care whether you think it was fair or not, he actually has the right to report you, and you could be suspended for your actions. I suggest you march right back to his classroom and apologize." We burst into tears and walked back to class, heads down, so embarrassed. We were lucky we didn't get into more trouble, but it's a perfect example of not bailing your kids out. My mom and that teacher still work together and laugh about this story every time we are all together, but it taught me a really important lesson, and that was that regardless of what my mom's position was within that institution, she wasn't going to let me off easy.
This is probably, by far, the most important thing. My mom could have made up an excuse for me and said it wasn't fair, the teacher was wrong, any number of things. But she didn't. Kids have to learn to deal with the consequences of their actions. All of these stories in the news where boys sexually assaulted a girl, what do they have in common? Mommies and daddies who swoop in and save them. As a parent, it's natural to not want to see your child suffer. But sometimes, a little suffering goes a long way. If they see that their parents are going to hold them to the same standards that everyone else is held to, they won't think they'll get off easy.
Will these things make a difference? Will these things help me make my boy into a man? I don't know. And the answer is that truthfully, nobody knows. And we can teach our boys everything we know, and they are still going to make mistakes. And at that point it will be up to us to reconsider our use of the phrase "boys will be boys." Because really, boys are human, and like every human, should be held accountable for their choices.
Stay hopeful friends, there are some good men coming your way.
And go check out Justine's latest post on raising boys, too! I promise you'll love it!