Tabitha Studer shares some parenting advice for women raising young boys.
Inspired by a Pin I’ve recently seen about “rules for dads with daughters,” I went searching for a similar list for moms with sons. This search was mostly fruitless, so I was inspired to write my own Rules for Moms with Sons. Granted, my list will not be conclusive and may not be entirely uncontroversial. So agree, or disagree, or take with a grain of salt – but I hope to inspire other moms who are loving, and struggling, and tired, and proud, and eager to support the boys in their lives. You are the most important woman in his life, his first teacher, and the one he will look to for permission for the rest of his life. From “Can I go play with them?” to “Should I ask her to marry me?” Its a big job, but as the mumma, we’re up for it.
Your son will scream out of frustration and hide out of embarrassment. He’ll cry from fear and bite out of excitement. Let his body move by the emotion, but also explain to him what the emotion is and the appropriate response to that emotion for future reference. Point out other people who are feeling the same thing and compare how they are showing that emotion. Talk him through your emotions so that someday when he is grown, he will know the difference between angry and embarrassed; between disappointment and grief.
There is no doubt that you are the loudest person in the stands at his t-ball games. There is no doubt that he will tell you to “stop, mom” when you sing along to his garage band’s lyrics. There is no doubt that he will get red-faced when you show his prom date his pictures from boy scouts. There is no doubt that he is not telling his prom date about your blog where you’ve been bragging about his life from his first time on the potty to the citizenship award he won in ninth grade. He will tell you to stop. He will say he’s embarrassed. But he will know that there is at least one person that is always rooting for him.
..and load the dishwasher, and iron a shirt. He may not always choose to do it. He may not ever have to do it. But someday his wife will thank you.
Emilie Buchwald said, “Children become readers on the laps of their parents.” Offer your son the opportunity to learn new things, believe in pretend places, and imagine bigger possibilities through books. Let him see you reading…reading the paper, reading novels, reading magazine articles. Help him understand that writing words down is a way to be present forever. Writers are the transcribers of history and memories. They keep a record of how we lived at that time; what we thought was interesting; how we spoke to each other; what was important. And Readers help preserve and pass along those memories.
Dance, rhythm, and music are cultural universals. No matter where you go, no matter who you meet – they have some form of the three. It doesn’t have to be good. Just encourage your son that when he feels it, it’s perfectly fine to go ahead and bust a move.
The examples of men with big muscles and a uniform (like Batman and LaMarr Woodley) will surround your son from birth. But make sure he also knows about men who kick a$s because of their brains (Albert Einstein), and their pen (Mark Twain), and their words (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and their determination (Team Hoyt), and their ideas (The Wright Brothers), and their integrity (Officer Frank Shankwitz), and fearlessness (Neil Armstrong), and their ability to keep their mouths closed when everyone else is screaming (Jackie Robinson).
The examples of traditionally beautiful women (like Daphne Blake, Princess Jasmine, and Britney Spears) will surround your son from birth. But make sure he knows about women who are beautiful from the inside out because of their brains (Madame Marie Curie), and their pen (Harper Lee), and their words (Eleanor Roosevelt), and their determination (Anne Sullivan), and their ideas (Oprah Winfrey), and their integrity (Miep Gies), and fearlessness (Ameila Earhart), and their ability to open their mouths and take a stand when everyone else is silent (Aung San Suu Kyi).
You already are all of those things. If you ever fear that you are somehow incapable of doing anything - remember this: If you have done any of the following: a) grew life b) impossibly and inconceivably got it out of your body c) taken care of a newborn d) made a pain go away with a kiss e) taught someone to read f) taught a toddler to eat with a utensil g) cleaned up diarrhea without gagging h) loved a child enough to be willing to give your life for them (regardless if they are your own) or i) found a way to be strong when that child is suffering…you are a superhero. do not doubt yourself for one second. Seriously.
Because its nice. and it will make the world a little better of a place.
Because someday he will be afraid, or nervous, or heartbroken, or lost, or just need you, and you won’t be able to be there. Give him something to turn to when it feels like he is alone, so that he knows that he will never be alone; never, never, never.
Like with babies, and flowers, and animals, and other people’s feelings.
Resolve to be cool about dirty and ruined clothes. You’ll be fighting a losing battle if you get upset every time he ruins another piece of clothing. Don’t waste your energy being angry about something inevitable. Boys tend to learn by destroying, jumping, spilling, falling, and making impossible messes. Dirty, ruined clothes are just par for the course.
Or how to use a hockey stick, or read music, or draw panda bears (or in my case alpacas), or the names of different train engines, or learn to speak Elvish, or recognize the difference between Gryffindor and Slytherin, or the lyrics to his favorite song. Be in his life, not as an observer but as an active participant.
Turn off the television, unplug the video games, put your cellphone on the charger, even put your camera away. Just go outside and follow him around. Watch his face, explore his world, and let him ask questions. It’s like magic.
Losing sucks. Everybody isn’t always a winner. Even if you want to say, “You’re a winner because you tried,” don’t. He doesn’t feel like a winner, he feels sad and crappy and disappointed. And that’s a good thing, because sometimes life also sucks, no matter how hard (as moms) we try to make it not suck for our kids. This practice will do him good later when he loses again (and again, and again, and again, and again…..) Instead make sure he understands that – sometimes you win – sometimes you lose. But that doesn’t mean you ever give up.
There is a big difference in giving someone the opportunity to help and forcing someone to help. Giving the opportunity lights a flame in the heart and once the help is done the flame shines brighter and asks for more opportunities. Be an example of helping others in your own actions and the way your family helps each other and helps others together.
This doesn’t just apply to performance-based activities (like sports and music) but also applies to everything in life. You become a better writer by writing. You become a better listener by listening. You become better speaker by speaking. Show your son this when he is just young enough to understand (that means from birth, folks – they are making sense of the world as soon as they arrive), practice trick-or-treating at your own front door before the real thing. Practice how you will walk through airport security before a trip. Practice how you order your own food from the fast food cashier. Practice, practice, practice.
Answer him, or search for the answer together. Show him the places to look for the answers (like his dad, or grandparents, or his aunts/uncles, or his books, or valid internet searches). Pose the question to him so he can begin thinking about answers himself. Someday, when he needs to ask questions he’s too embarrassed to ask you – he’ll know where to go to find the right answers.
Especially the wipes.
…without interrupting about how to do it the ‘right way.’ If you let his dad show and teach and discover with your son while he is growing up, some day down the road (after a short period of your son believing his dad knows nothing), he will come to the realization that his dad knows everything. You will always be his mother, but in his grown-up man heart and mind, his dad will know the answers. And this will be how, when your son is too busy with life to call and chat with his mom, you will stay connected to what is happening in his life. Because he will call his dad for answers, and his dad will secretly come and ask you.
Drums, a pen, a punching bag, wide open space, water, a dog. Give him something to go crazy with – or he will use your stuff, and then you’ll be sorry.
Forts have the ability to make everyday normal stuff into magic. Throw the couch cushions, a couple blankets, and some clothespins and you can transform your living room into the cave of wonders. For the rest of his life, he’ll be grateful to know that everyday normal stuff has the potential to be magical.
Because it will make his brain and his heart open up wider, and the ideas and questions and memories will rush in.
Any mother of sons will tell you that little boys are so loving and sweet. They can be harsh and wild and destructive during most of the day. But there are these moments when they are so kind and sensitive and tender. So much so that it can cause you to look around at the inward, reserved grown men in your life and think, ‘what happens in between that made you lose that?’ Let’s try to stop the cycle by kissing them when they’re loving and kissing them even more when they’re wild. Kissing them when they’re 2 months and kissing them when they’re 16 years old. You’re the mom – you can go ahead and kiss him no matter how big he gets – and make sure he knows it. p.s. (this one is just as important for dads too).
You are home to him. When he learns to walk, he will wobble a few feet away from you and then come back, then wobble away a little farther and then come back. When he tries something new, he will look for your proud smile. When he learns to read, he will repeat the same book to you twenty times in a row, because you’re the only one who will listen that many times. When he plays his sport, he will search for your face in the stands. When he is sick, he will call you. When he really messes up, he will call you. When he is grown and strong and tough and big and he feels like crying, he will come to you; because a man can cry in front of his mother without feeling self-conscious. Even when he grows up and has a new woman in his life and gets a new home, you are still his mother; home base, the ever constant, like the sun. Know that in your heart and everything else will fall into place.
For more thoughtful wisdom on parenting boys, we have a couple of book recommendations:
Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys is a compelling “owner’s manual” for boys, written by a pair of therapists. The book plays off the theme of the classic, Where The Wild Things Are, to provide an enlightening view on raising thoughtful and caring sons.
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys shares parenting wisdom from two of the country’s top child psychologists. The book goes into detail about how America’s obsession with machismo is leading young men astray—and how to gently correct their paths before it’s too late.