I recently saw my son’s high school academic counselor Ms. Kimberly who is expecting her third son.
“Help,” she says to me chuckling, “What am I going to do with three boys? How do you do it?”
I smiled and congratulated her, and told her she will do a great job with three sons as she’s an amazing fun human being, but I also took to heart her somewhat frantic but mostly rhetorical question!
As the mom of four boys between the ages of 15 and 27, I know how wild and crazy and overwhelming and yet, how amazing and fun it is to raise sons. As I thought about Ms. Kimberly’s exasperated question and reflected on the last 27 years of raising four sons — (and one daughter, but that is in a different post) — I thought of the following 14 things to keep in mind when raising boys.
1.Adventure! That’s the first piece of advice that came out of my mouth in my conversation with Ms. Kimberly. Go on outdoor Adventures! Name it to: “We are going on an adventure today.” Make it a big deal. There is something about experiencing and exploring the beauty and expansiveness of the great outdoors that feeds our spirits and our souls. It’s where we don’t have to tell our kids to slow down or walk or be quiet or color within the lines of life. Adventure is ultimately about the mindset. Have fun!
2. Stay connected to them. Don’t buy the myth that boys need their dads more than their moms. Find ways to connect with your sons from an early age. Have one-on-one time with each, go on dates, coach their teams, be a Scout mom, teach their Sunday School classes, share meals. Even if sons seem to pull away and look to their dad or peers more during a season, always be available, but never guilt trip them.
3. Feed them. Make them cookies. Cook them their favorite meals. Invite them to share special treats. When my kids over the years have written me Mother’s Day or birthday cards, they usually include sentiments like, “thank you Mom for making me crepes on Saturdays,” or “thank you for making me cookies” or “thank you for the best dinners ever.”
4. Help them find their tribe and get to know their friends. When they are younger, invite their friends over and their friends’ moms over to your home. As they get older, encourage them to have friends over–and feed them (see number three)!
5. Find other moms of boys. Have their boys over, exchange who has the boys to their house so you get a break, learn from one another.
6. Don’t expect your sons to be jocks. Get your boys involved in a variety of activities and be careful to not make them feel inadequate if sports are not their thing. And remember, they may grow into them later. My kids have done basketball, soccer, track, ski team, swim team, band, choir, youth group, Scouts. You name it, they did it; they find their niche and their tribe this way.
7. Help them discover their purpose in life; we have to parent with the end in mind. When our kids are drawn to some kind of activity or talent and are good at it, point it out and help them develop it. As parents we can help foster a connection between what our kids are good at and their future vocation.
8. Raise men who are sensitive and not afraid of emotions. Allow them to be nurturing and caring for others and to show happiness and sadness. Years ago, I saw a mom say to her 6-year-old son who had tears welling up in his eyes that he should, “stop crying.” Never shame your son for feeling or showing emotions. I love how my youngest son adores and nurtures his kitty who then had 7 kittens. Kind. Nurturing. Strong men.
9. Teach boys to work, both indoors and outdoors. I remember one mom friend said that growing up her brothers only had to do outdoor chores like mowing the lawn while she and her sisters had to do all of the indoor work like dishes and helping with meals. I believe boys (and girls) should be good at both kinds of chores.
10. Foster humility and kindness and gratefulness. It’s all about the attitude. It’s okay for them not to know it all. It’s okay for them to ask questions. If your son excels in the kinds of sports that get more attention in schools, make sure he still learns to be humble. Boys (and girls) need to say sorry and to do their chores and listen to you as the mom, all of which will help keep our kids humble. My twins used to mention a certain kid in high school that they called a “nice jock;” I love that.
11. Teach etiquette around how to use technology. I was talking to another mom about some of my experiences as a teacher with how kids try to keep their wireless ear buds in during class, and this mom said that phone use is one of the battles she does not fight. As moms, we can’t give up on this battle.
12. Be more of a listener than advice-giver. Ask your sons questions, listen, ask follow-up questions, and help them draw out the answers on their own. I remember one of my best friend Juli’s dad talked about how when he was a teen, he wanted to see a certain movie, and his mom–rather than forbid the movie– asked him questions about it, so that on his own he decided to not go and see it.
13. Raise boys to love God and to know they are loved by God and you. Always talk about the Lord and your own dependence upon him. With kids, there may be times of questioning but always bring them back to how much they are loved.
14. Go outside every day with your sons and have fun. Every single day. Make them go outside alone as they get older. If I did nothing else but go on a local walk with my kids, I felt good. And my kids felt good. We need fresh air all year long, and boys need to be in a place where they are not bound up and told to walk. See number one.
So, fellow moms of boys. What thoughts do you have on raising sons? What has helped you? What do you try to keep in mind? What other questions do you have? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.