Cranford‘s delightfully absurd Miss Pole (an unmarried elderly woman who had hardly ever talked to a man) said,
“My father was a man. I think I understand the sex.”
Well, as a mom of 7 boys, 15 years in, I think I actually *do* understand more about raising boys (at least *little* boys) than the average Joe.
So, in a spirit of helping out my fellow sisters around the world, let me offer the following observations:
#1- Keep a lot of bandaids on hand.
#2- If at all possible, have a spot in your yard where digging is permitted.
#3- Keep them busy with useful tasks.
Some ideas: Lightbulb-changing; bathroom trash to the main trash; doorknob screw-tightening; using baby wipes to wipe stains off the floor under the dining table; WD-40 on rusty bike chains.
#4- Make them look you in the eye when you talk to them.
This is ESPECIALLY true when correcting them, but it’s a good principle in general. Getting 2 & 3 year old boys to look you in the eye (and not look away), before you correct and discipline them, is more than half the battle.
#5- Your boys want to feel competent, and to earn your respect.
Look for ways to help them grow in depth of confidence in skills, and let them know when you see them working hard and doing something well.
6- Don’t let them get away with not doing any inside housework.
Maybe I’m saying this because I’m a mom of only 1 girl, and we would DIIIIIIIIIIE under a pile of laundry and dishes if my sons never did these chores. But I hope I would say this no matter the composition of our family: don’t put all the housework on the shoulders of yourself and your daughter(s). Later, even if your delightful-little-genius-man of a son is a CEO of a major corporation and never again does his own laundry or dishes, it will be really good for him TO HAVE DONE laundry or dishes, regularly, and appreciate the time and work involved in these activities that support every person’s daily life.
#7- Wrestling, tickling, and snuggling on the floor is a great wintertime energy-user-upper.
#8- When they complain about work, do not ever let them off the hook.
Whatever your solution (talking them through it, connecting their work to the benefits of the family, or — as we do– adding more work to their plate when they complain), do not let them off the hook. Lamentations 3:27 says “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” Let it be a major aim of your parenting, that you will teach this little man to be a diligent worker, and bear the load of hard work, while he is young.
#9- Let not thine heart hold out hope for jeans without holes in the knees.
#10- Not being able to sit still now doesn’t mean he never will. It means he’s a boy.
Even great men like Thomas Jefferson wrote (or dictated!) great documents like the Declaration of Independence while pacing back and forth.
#11- That said, teach him how to sit still sometimes.
From 3 years old onward, our sons sit through a hour-long church service, twice-each-Sunday. Yes sometimes they wiggle, and yes, the 3 year old definitely needs to be trained to do it. But it’s worth it to (sometimes… not all day, er’day) teach them to sit still. Self-control is a major battle in the life of a young man. It’s the one thing the Bible specifically tells us to”urge” young men to be.
#12- Silly noises can help them warm up to things like face-wiping after meals, or nose-wiping when sick.
#13- Learn how to give basic boy haircuts.
You’ll save yourself a heap of money over the long haul. Especially if you have 7 of them. 🙂
#14- Teach him to speak up; never allow him to mumble.
Of course, this assumes that he’s speaking clearly at other times. If your child is capable of loudly asking for the ice cream flavor he wants, or screaming for the blue block, he can apologize– or say “hello” to the older woman at church who greets him, or say any number of things which he doesn’t on his own wish to say– loud and clear.
#15- Do not ever talk poorly about his father.
If you have something negative to say, say it to the Lord or say it directly to your husband. Your son has a deep need to respect and learn from his dad. It will already be hard enough, given the fact that every human father is human. Don’t make it harder.
#16- Take opportunities to familiarize him with the things our culture sees as “man things.”
(And even though our culture loves to lecture about gender and sex, blah blah blah, there are still clearly things that our culture expects women to know, and expects men to know. This hasn’t changed.)
The more things you can expose him to– concepts and tasks that average men in his culture like to know about– the more equipped he will be to take on the tasks of manhood in the time and place where he is planted.
Some ideas for skills to acquire:
- start a fire
- get a grill going,
- fill a car up with gas,
- gun safety basics,
- lawn mowing & weed eating,
- home maintenance like changing the air filter,
- check the oil and other gauges on a car,
- basics about pocket knives,
- hail a taxi,
- read a topographical map,
- put out baits for home pest control,
- clean a toilet,
- speak to a manager about a problem in a polite but firm way,
- catch a football,
- climb a ladder & walk safely on a roof,
- replace a computer battery, etc.
These are just ideas, but project him forward as a man, and consider, what situations might he be in, as a man, and want to know at least a basic familiarity with a topic so that he doesn’t look or feel like a doofus. You can help him then, by familiarizing him with those things now every time there’s an opportunity.
#17- It’s perfectly normal for your son to need painful discipline to be motivated to change.
This is very, very common. It may be a much different “feel” than the way discipline felt with your daughter(s). This does not mean abuse them. (In fact, if you’re close to the edge of your self-control, or wondering if you are abusive, DO NOT SPANK.) If you spank, test your spankings on your own leg. Your spankings really should hurt, sting, smart… make you feel it. It should be painful enough to truly act as a deterrent against his future foolishness.
This is the basic principle of Hebrews 12 discipline– being consistently trained by pain, by invested and loving parents, yields peace and leads to righteousness. The vast majority of situations where someone says, “he doesn’t respond to spankings”, can be solved by two things: painful-enough discipline, and consistency. (Check out the recent Mom On Purpose podcast about that, HERE!)
#18- If you happen to have an extra-wiggly boy toddler around the same time that you have a newborn, this gate/playyard might just change your life. (I ended up buying two and attaching them to make a large play space when I needed two young children to be safe and enclosed.)
#19- The older they get, the more they need to take on an independent responsibility for their own work, and receive discipline from their father (not you, Mama!).
This will be difficult if you (mom) have been overseeing everything. It may take purposefulness on your part, but it’s worth it– for him and for you. For us this last year, that has looked like my husband taking over most of the responsibility for overseeing the schoolwork of our 14 year old. Aside from small daily rebukes/correction, my husband does most of the discipline and corrective talks with our sons once they’re about 10/11 and up.
#20- It’s OK if it takes a while for him to learn to read.
The average age (so far) for our boys to learn to read is 7. Then they go on to read things like Lord of the Rings, Wayside School, Pilgrim’s Progress, Roald Dahl, Heaven for Kids, and books about economics and architecture.
They really will be OK if they don’t read “early;” many boys don’t. This does not necessarily mean he has a learning disability. It might just mean he’s a boy, developing physically and in other areas first, before he moves to that particular skill.
#21- Emotional self-control CAN be learned.
Crying doesn’t make him a sissy, but it will be a deterrent in his life if you don’t teach him how to control himself.
If your son has trouble controlling his emotions, give him physical ways he can work to master his responses. Some that work for our boys are: folding hands, washing the face off with cold water, doing a physically-demanding chore, taking three slow & deep breaths, standing with their feet and hands backed against a wall, and going for a run around the block.
#22- Play that includes things with wheels, explosions, funny sounds, or anything you can build or connect, always beats play that does not include these things.
#23- You are the primary teacher for how he should treat women.
Even if/when you are stronger than him, do not let him hit or be rough toward you. Teach him to be gentle and servant-hearted toward you. This is one way you can bless his future wife.
#24- Between the ages of 4-12, your son will probably do a number of things that make absolutely no sense to you.
Asking “why” (as in, on Sunday morning before church, asking: “why did you stash two plastic disposable forks in the waistband of your suit pants?”) will yield no reasonable answer. At this point, instead of beating your head against a wall and losing your mind, I’ve found it best to stop my quest for an answer and just accept that sometimes they do things that make no sense.
#25- Rubbing or scratching their backs while you talk might just help them to open up their heart and soul to you.
IN THE COMMENTS:
What would you add? What’s your TOP tip for moms of boys?