Every time I’m asked for parenting advice, I feel hesitant. Children, families, relationships are all so unique– every family, every child has different needs. Most often I advise, “Pray. Follow your own instincts.”
I still believe prayer and meditation is the best advice, but I also know we get confused by the many voices in society offering conflicting information. I’ll say this– I believe 90% of parental mistakes come from parents (not kids) giving in to peer pressure. Trying to fit in.
The desire to be “normal” or at least fit in to some social parameter, plagues all of us. And to some extent these desires are healthy, they keep us from stealing cars and yelling at the slow person in front of us at the grocery store. But the drive to wear the right clothes, see the same movies, play the cool sports, stifles individuals.
I’ll be clear. If you want to raise kind, smart, creative boys (and girls) prepare to be very different. If you’re raising sons, I don’t need to show you the research detailing the toxic environment modern society offers boys. Over and over, people told me I was turning my boys into sissies and nerds by choosing violin lessons, reading too many books, rejecting video games and cable TV. I ignored the nay-sayers because for me, popularity was never the goal. Ironically, my boys are extremely well-liked and popular among their peers.
I’ll share a secret, and it’s a big one.
I believe my children are amazing.
And I believe your children are amazing.
The essence of my mothering resides in these words from C.S. Lewis (my favorite quote ever, ever):
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”
Viewing my children as beings with limitless potential has helped me many many times to sift through bad advice and temporary fads. I have no aspirations for my sons to hold titles or prestige, but I do want them to be good moral men who spread light and joy where’er they may go.
The middle, oft neglected, part of the above quote:
“It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”
Viewing my children as beings with limitless potential has helped me many, many times to sift through bad advice and temporary fads. I have no aspirations for my sons to hold titles or prestige, but I do want them to be good moral men who spread light and joy where’er they may go.
In the same vein, we try to treat everyone as God’s children. I’m the first to admit we haven’t been wholly successful. Cruel remarks echo through our house far too often. But we don’t accept unkindness as acceptable behavior. My boys learned young they’d better not make jokes about someone’s weight or race or education. We laugh almost constantly, but at life’s absurdities, not at other people.
When the boys were tiny and friends warned us we would make them soft, my husband Erik replied, “I’m comfortable with my own masculinity.” Through example, he shows diapering babies, reading Jane Austen, folding laundry and holding up your pinky at tea parties are for real men. Why the desire for “toughness” anyway? Hardness and insensitivity corrupt us all to some degree; we don’t need to cultivate those tendencies.
Too often, the phrase “boys will be boys” excuses bad behavior. Yes, mothers of boys need to understand boys will make enormous messes, turn any stick into a sword or gun and forget to use shampoo and toothpaste. But we don’t have to accept fighting, objectifying women, crude words or behavior.
My friend Catherine has three older girls and twin boys who just turned four. “They’ve starting hitting each other and everyone,” she said, “how do I get them to stop?”
“Work on it every single day for the next fifteen years.” I answered with only the very slightest tinge of sarcasm.
And it’s true. Just recently, my 21 year old learned how to hold wrestling matches without anyone crying or needing stitches. Boys hit. They just do. But it’s our job as parents to help them control their temper.
I am not a fan of the “let them fight it out” mentality. My husband and I both saw examples of brothers who fought as children and caused lifelong resentment. Also, learning to control the desire to hit or lash out will be invaluable as husbands and fathers.
Preparing for fatherhood begins in childhood. Place babies in your boys’ arms at any opportunity. Cultivate a love for animals. Encourage your boys to play with and help younger children. Teach them to treat girls and women of all ages with respect.
Crude jokes– especially anything objectifying women–have no place among real men. Neither does crude behavior.
When someone burps they say “excuse me.” Old fashioned? Yes. But good manners never go out of style. I believe the old ways are the best ways– opening doors, shoveling sidewalks, giving up your seat on the bus for old (or young) ladies.
Our sons should be “acquainted with grief.” This subject requires prayerful insight from parents, but I believe it is essential our children understand the heartaches and struggles in their own home, their neighborhood and the world. For some, it’s easier to talk about starving children in Africa than the fact daddy just lost his job. But our children gain compassion and perspective when they know life isn’t easy for anyone. As Plato famously advised, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Finally, maintaining a sense of whimsy lends to kindness. As Gabe loves to say, “My life would be so boring if my parents weren’t so immature.” I’ll confess to all kinds of immaturity. But I think it would be a shame to outgrow or be “too cool” to make Valentine’s, drive through mud puddles, talk in silly voices, watch Toy Story and hold water fights in the back yard.
Happiness and kindness walk hand in hand. The more I encourage laughter at home the happier we become.
And we are, as I love to repeat, made for happiness.
p.s. a link Xander suggested: The Art of Manliness