REFLECTIONS ON PARENTING BOYS
Our family took a family trip to one of the Great Lakes. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, a cool comfortable breeze was blowing, and our kids were smiling. My children were immediately drawn to the beach, the water’s edge, and creative play. It created the perfect backdrop for reflecting on parenting my boys.
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My daughter immediately took to shell hunting. Digging through the sand and walking with her head nearly to the ground, she meticulously hunted for the tiniest, most delicate, most unique, and biggest shells.
Carefully separating them into shells that were pretty, shells that were alike, and shells perfect for decorating a sand cake, she played by herself. Content to examine stripes; happy to invent stories of creatures that formerly called the shell home; and clever enough to serve a multi-course meal both served on and made from shells, she played quietly.
Two other girls combed the beach with her. One hunted for sea glass, the other assisted by creating an imaginary story for their adventure. They all played gently and quietly and collaboratively.
My husband and I stood between the lake shore and a small inlet that created a pond on the other side of the jutted beach where we relaxed, talking.
On one side of us, the girls played, dreamed, and danced while looking for shells. All the girls remained clean and dry.
On the other side: the boys. Just as my daughter had taken to immediately exploring for shells, the boys had immediately found rocks. Bringing up boys can be dirty and a little dangerous!
Big rocks. Little rocks. Flat rocks for skipping.
The beach where they played must have been noticeably smaller and the water just a little bit higher by the time that we left that evening for they had managed to throw, skip, slam, toss, and shoot dozens, maybe hundreds, of rocks into the water.
In one hand, they held rocks– ready to launch. In the other hand, they held sticks –the largest they could find. Like a skeet launcher, they tossed a rock and took a swat with the stick.
Other times –fists full– they threw sand in the air like New Years Eve letting it rain down into their hair, down their backs, and onto unwary passersby.
The entire time we were at the beach, the boys skipped rocks, swung sticks, and threw sand. Not only did we listen to the violent serenade of plops and splashes as the rocks beat the water, but we also listened as each toss, throw, and launch had its own sound effect.
Machine gun fire, rocket launches, war cries, and more were belted from those small boys. Every once in awhile one boy would gleefully declare that he made a rock skip twice or maybe even a hundred times.
Eventually we gave warnings for one last throw, one last swat, and one last skip.
That night as I got the kids ready for bed, I found rocks and sand in the boys’ shoes. I found pebbles and twigs in their pockets, and their shoes were squishy from getting too close to the waves.
They fell asleep as fast as those rocks had fallen into the water.
UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF PARENTING BOYS
I often expect my boys to sit still, to watch silently, to play carefully, and to talk quietly. Correspondingly, they end up in trouble, in timeout, with lost playtime, thereby exacerbating the perceived behavior problem.
I wonder what I am doing wrong –why my daughter can play quietly with crayons while my boys must wrestle. Raising boys sometimes makes me feel like a bad mom.
Sometimes I catch the side-eye of the mom of all girls.
Sometimes I catch the sympathy of a mom of all boys!
However, when I step back and watch two parallel universes I realize how unrealistic I am. In these rough moments of play I can so clearly see the differences in their worlds.
One world: the girls playing collaboratively, quietly, and carefully, the other: the boys playing loudly, rough, and dirty.
Sure. My daughter has moments of rage, anger, violence, and noise. And, likewise my boys can be calm, sensitive, and caring. No one in the world is a better snuggler or gives more hugs than my boys!
Then I realize that it isn’t my fault. My kids are all different!
Yet, I can’t help but wonder how many times I try to keep my children in the same neat box. How many times do I tell them to release the stick, to get out of the rocks, and to stop throwing dirt when that is their version of tea parties and adventure?
Even though I see it time and again, I fail to remind myself that they see the world and learn differently. This rings true even when they play with others.
MY BOYS WITH BOYS
I have a friend with 3 boys. Inevitably, as soon as my boys enter into the room with her three boys one, two, or even all 5 of them are immediately into some sort of pileup on the floor. Heads are rubbed into the carpet. Legs, limbs, and laughs are shooting from all angles.
Someone ends up hurt; he cries; they start all over again.
MY BOYS WITH GIRLS
I have a friend with 3 girls. Dress up, imaginary play, and crafts become the theme of the day even for my boys. Inevitably one of my boys is the daddy. They have a great time.
They can play rough; they can play gently. But, when they get the chance, they choose loud, rough, and dirty.
The real challenge is embracing their strengths while also teaching them to respect others.
BOYS WILL BE
BOYS LOUD AND ROUGH AND DIRTY AND KIND
I am a blessed mama for sure. As a mom with both boys and a girl, I have moments in my life when I really see what I have, what I might be missing, and how I can improve as a mother.
I really do need to take more opportunities to refrain from correcting “boy” behavior. What does it hurt to throw rocks into a Great Lake? While I don’t see much entertainment in a long stick, for them it is the essential piece in some adventure.
Sometimes my boys get the most enjoyment out of just hitting each other. I don’t get it, but for some reason, they just like to see how rough they can be while shoving each other.
However, that doesn’t mean that I give up on teaching them manners, polite behavior, and humility.
They might be loud, rough, and noisy, but they will still be gentlemen.
LETTING THEM BE ROUGH BUT TEACHING THEM TO BE GENTLEMEN
I demand that my boys be polite, respectful, and kind –though sometimes they aren’t. I require that they do things like open doors for women, pay the dinner bill, and even carry heavy items for other people. They must use pleases, thank yous, and polite tones.
I don’t require these things simply because I am parenting boys but because they are kind, decent, and thoughtful thing to do for other people.
My boys are wild things, and they must have their playtime.
Capes, rockets, sticks, rocks, sand, and hitting are somehow part of my boys –innate. They certainly didn’t get it from me, and their dad didn’t teach them to hit each other for fun!
I hold on so tightly to control and calm that I find myself shouting at them to put the rocks down and to sit still as we watch the movie.
But then I remember to let them be little, to try to understand that there is something built a little differently in my boys.
SO I WILL PRAY MORE: PARENTING BOYS!
They tell me I am beautiful, that I look like a princess, and that they want to marry me. They bring me prized rocks and ask me to play swords. I am blessed to have both boys and a girl.
In that blessing I realize how easily I could count myself a failure that my boys don’t play nicely along the shoreline. Likewise, I see how easily I could judge the mom whose boys are all tackling each other at the store. As a mother of both boys and girls, I must make a concerted effort to foster and nurture innate pieces of their individuality.
I know that sometimes their perceived misbehavior is just their different way of looking at the world. Sometimes parenting boys means that I put up with rough and loud and dirty play.
So…I will clean rocks out of pockets. I will sweep sand from the bedside. And, I will pull twigs from their hair.
I will also buy more helmets and bandages and cover them with daily prayer.