I don’t understand boys.
At least once a week my boys, 8 and 11 years old, get themselves into some mischief that never in a million years would have occurred to me. They would be making water balloons in the house, sledding over a rock wall, roller-skating through the living room, or sitting naked in a bucket and getting their asses stuck.
If you have boys, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of parenting stories of your own.
My mother-in-law, a mother of three boys, has a sign in her kitchen that says, “God bless the mother of boys.” Every time I see it I say a silent “amen.”
She also has a sign in her basement that says, “A boy is the only thing that God can use to make a man.” And that sign makes me take a step back and say, “Oh… right… I’m raising two people to become men. Two men who will someday be adults and have their own lives, loves, and heartaches. They will spend more time being men than being boys, and I will have them in my life forever.”
That sign stops my brain from wanting to sell the boys off to the circus — at least for a few minutes — and reminds me to appreciate the life long journey that we are on together.
However, my husband, who of course has some practical experience being a boy, has his own theory. He believes that from an evolutionary point of view, boys have to be a little crazy.
“Men are the hunters. And let’s face it, you have to be a little crazy to run after a wild animal with a stick and think you can kill it,” he says.
And you know what? He’s right!
But why now, in our modern society, do boys still have to be a little crazy? And where is the metaphoric wild animal they are chasing?
Ummm… Hello, ladies, it’s us: women.
Raising these little hunters is a challenge for me. I don’t always do it right and I need an abundance of free space (like the size of Africa!) to breathe so that I don’t eat them alive. After I get some space, I ask myself a few questions to help gain a more reasonable perspective on their behavior.
These questions help maintain my sanity, and I hope they help you too.
1. Ask: Will this activity kill or permanently injure him or someone else?
This question is probably the most important question I need to ask myself while raising my boys. Being an only child, a girl, and raised by a very careful father, my instinctual response to things from sliding down the banister to snowboarding on an icy patch is, “Stop!”
But part of being a kid is learning your own boundaries. My telling the boys to “stop” all the time isn’t really helping them to come to their own conclusions about the world. The occasional skinned knee or bumps and bruises teach them lessons about life.
When I look inside of myself, one of the main reasons I want them to be more careful is because I don’t want to deal with the aftermath of their incidents. And “I told you so” is SO close to the tip of my tongue I almost can’t help but say it when what they have attempted is so ridiculous!
Why is it so important to me that I’m right? Why can’t I just let them experience the world? If what they are doing is not going to cause serious damage, can I just let them try it out?
Most of the time, I’m being too careful. And in more extreme cases, I tell them to put on a helmet. Besides, it’s the crazy stories we tell at family dinners for years to come that make us laugh and build connections.
2. Ask: Can I let them be in their joy just a little longer?
Do you wish you were a happier person? How do you think you learned to be so tightly wound? Well, you were probably punished, or at least yelled at occasionally, to settle down and stop being so… well… joyful!
And as a mother, I get it because I sometimes get annoyed too.
A child’s joy is SO BIG, so loud, so annoying that as adults we can hardly stand it. We tell them to “Be quiet! Sit down! Stop running around!”
And yes, sometimes it’s appropriate to do so. But if you ask yourself, “Can I let them be in their joy just a little bit longer?”
Maybe you will see that the difficulty you have when your child is in his joy is a reflection of yourself — a reflection of the sadness you felt as a kid when YOUR joy was stifled. If we want to learn how to be more joyful as adults we can gain some perspective from our kids!
3. Ask: Can I value his playfulness?
Along with their joyfulness, boys are inherently playful. And not only can that be annoying to a mother, it can be annoying to a wife when that behavior is also exhibited by her husband.
Many times, I’ve heard a woman scold her husband for being “another child” when really, the issue is that the woman is deeply uncomfortable letting her hair down and letting herself play.
Play is profoundly terrifying for a lot of women and we can’t STAND to see it in our husbands. They have a special knack for being playful at just the wrong times. In their minds, they are breaking the tension.
In our minds, they are being a prick. The reason it pisses us off so much is because we closed off playfulness in our hearts a long time ago. And generations of women have taught us that being “irresponsible” and playful is bad and keeps us from earning respect and power.
Can you let your boys play? Can you let the hardness within you soften? The boys are calling to our hearts to come out and play!
4. Ask: Is he a different kind of smart?
Men aren’t stupid and neither are boys. They just think differently. Boys are just a different kind of smart than we are as adult women. And thank goodness they are! Because for as much as men are labeled as “stupid”, women can be labeled “nuts.”
And when we can’t recognize all forms of intelligence in the world, including the fluid, simple, playfulness of men, we are cutting ourselves off from a lot of enjoyment in our lives, and THAT is nuts!
Intelligence can show up in a variety of ways. Like can YOU make a working sling shot/candle holder out of toilet paper rolls and duck tape? That takes some wild creativity.
5. Ask: Can you clearly articulate what you want in a nice way even if you have to say it over and over again?
Little boys aren’t supposed to be thinking about picking up their socks. But we expect them to. We expect them to notice the messes they are making around the house. And we expect not to have to tell them multiple times to do things.
How would your life change if you could let go of the idea that you “should only have to say something once?” How would it change if you could let go of the idea that “you shouldn’t have to ask, they should just do it automatically?”
Women are supposed to notice things; it’s our job. And then we are the ones who are supposed to direct the actions of the household. That’s what we do.
Just because it’s our job to notice doesn’t mean it’s our job to do everything. If we can ask for the help we want without expecting other people to read our minds, everyone’s life will be easier.
Will you feel like a broken record? Yes. But who cares! Their learning takes time. Eventually, there will no longer be any more little socks to pick up.
6. Ask: Can I find ways to praise him?
All men love to make women happy. Including our boys. I notice this behavior particularly in my step son, and there are times I tell myself, “He doesn’t love me because I’m not his mother.”
But that’s not true. I’m a woman in his life and men love to please their women.
When we can find ways to praise our boys, especially when we clearly ask for their help and they give it, this does a tremendous amount for their self-esteem and our relationship with them. So I make it a point to ask my step-son Jet for help with things like bringing in the groceries, and then let him know how much I appreciate his help!
7. Ask: Where can we be of service together?
Boys are about doing. Our girls will enjoy sitting and chatting with us over a cup of tea, but boys are about doing things. If you want to spend real quality time getting to know your boys, find something you enjoy doing together.
It’s in the doing that the engagement and deep connection comes out.
Doing things with your boys could be an epic adventure, but it’s also really important to do real work together. Clean the gutters together. Rake together. Don’t expect them to do it all day, but for short amounts of time.
Hold them to a higher standard for contributing and being a part of the work it takes to provide for the family. And, of course, let them know what a great job they did afterward. I don’t know about your guys, but mine also really enjoy sharing a treat together after a job well done.
8. Ask: Can you be vulnerable around him?
Most people have heard how important it is to let our boys feel their feelings and vulnerability. But do you know where he learns that? You and your partner.
Let yourself be vulnerable around your boys. Be honest about your feelings. Let yourself cry or even ask for a hug when things are tough. Allow yourself to be open when you’re struggling.
There is a big difference between putting the weight “on” your children and simply allowing yourself to show your humanity in front of them.
Children learn more from what we do and don’t do than what we tell them to do. If you’re harboring resentment, frustration, anger, sadness and allow yourself to be vulnerable around your family, then your boys will learn a healthy way to deal with emotions as they grow up too.
9. Ask: Can you let yourself be a woman around him?
I’m not really a girly-girl. But I’m letting myself get more and more comfortable with my femininity and it’s important for my boys to see me enjoy it. So many women I meet are invested in a concept of motherhood that consumes their every waking breath.
But, our children are watching how to be in relationship by watching US in relationship with our spouse AND ourselves. Sure, they might cry on date night when you leave, but showing them that you take care of yourself, dress up, enjoy a night out, wear a skirt, do your hair is all very important to their self-esteem.
This relationship you are developing with your boys is a lifelong relationship. And the way they grow up and feel confident is to see YOUR confidence that you can take care of your emotional needs.
The way they grow up and attract healthy mates is by having a healthy mom. The most important thing you can do for your boys isn’t to be with them all the time. It’s to do what makes you feel good and let them be around you as you enjoy being a woman.
Sometimes life with my boys feels like it will never end. I’ve had a boy in my life for almost 9 years now and it feels like a lifetime. But, someday in the near future, I’ll look up at him and I’ll see a man… and I’ll miss my little boy.
So I want to make sure I enjoy every minute. These 9 questions help me to be a better mom to my boys and I hope they help you too.