This post has been brewing in me for a few days now. Over the Christmas/New Year break I learned that 4 lovely friends experienced a traumatic holiday due to their male partners – 3 of which resulted in break ups. Now I admit I’m biased in that I am fiercely loyal to my girlfriends but, all 4 really are amazing, strong, inspiring independent women and all of them mums who pretty much single-handedly raise their children. What struck me as I tried to fathom how these lovely ladies had ended up with such idiots was the complete childish, spoilt-brat behaviour and general crap-ness at ‘big-boy life’ of these men! And I found myself doing something I never normally do – I blamed the parents – at least in part!
I am not usually one of those people who every time they hear a story of an unruly Teen points the finger at the parents but, I have to say mums of sons in particular have a lot of answering to do for the state of today’s ‘grown man’. As a single mother of a son I regularly give myself a firm talking to about my responsibility to grow my son into a good man – and not just for the sake of the women of the world and the women in his future, but for his own sake.
Why do we often treat our girls differently to our boys giving girls more responsibility, practical lessons in domesticity and even personal hygiene? We are doing no favours for our sons, let alone letting down the female race, by exempting them from chores and cooking and not encouraging the importance of washing (clothes and themselves). There was an ongoing argument with my son’s father when we were together that he did not get up in the morning because he said I did not wake him up! When I asked him who he thought I relied on to wake me up and suggested perhaps it was the sleep-fairy it didn’t go down too well! The suggestion of an alarm clock was even more unpopular. Eventually it emerged that every day of his life until he left home his mother woke him up by bringing him cereal in bed and this routine still existed if he visited home as an adult. He therefore never learned the responsibility of having to get himself up and ready in the mornings and expected me to do it. He also never ever said sorry. If I ever pulled him up on something and his mother was around she would leap in to defend him. Consequently he never had to account for his actions in his life – ever. Any mistake was explained away for him without the need to take responsibility and apologise.
I believe these lessons should start from a very young age. Every time we clear our sons toys away for him when he either refuses to or does it too slow we are sending a message that someone else will do it or at least can do it better/faster than him and this excuse/belief can stick for years. I have often been worried that my son will have trouble knowing how to be a ‘good’ man by not having a father around him daily but then I realised the importance of my role in teaching him what a good man is – simply by what I will or will not put up with. I used to feel so guilty about his father and I splitting up but I realise now that the strongest message I can send him is that I did not stay in an unhappy, abusive marriage and that I got myself together, worked hard and provided for us and loved him and gave us a life.
Going back to my friends with the watless men – the mother’s of these grown men have acted almost as appallingly during the break ups. I understand a mother sticking by her son whatever he has done, and I know I would do the same, but what I hope I would also do is teach and encourage my son to do things in the best way he can – the right way where possible. To face responsibility if he is going to cause a mess and to try to handle it respectfully and maturely facing the consequences of his actions head on.
Whilst pondering all this I came across a brilliant blog post on ’25 ideas for mums raising sons’ by Tabitha Studer and this is exactly what I am talking about. I just love this list and want to share it with every mother of a son out there. It shows how we can start growing men from our toddlers, preschoolers and young boys – men we and they can be proud of. I am already doing some of these ideas but I am certainly going to try to put all of them into practice with my son.
1. Teach him the words for how he feels.
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.
2. Be a cheerleader for his life
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.
3. Teach him how to do laundry
..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, someone will thank you. Maybe even him.
4. Read to him and read with him.
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.
5. Encourage him to dance.
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.
6. Make sure he has examples of good men who are powerful because of their brains, their determination, and their integrity.
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).
7. Make sure he has examples of women who are beautiful because of their brains, their determination, and their integrity.
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).
8. Be an example of a beautiful woman with brains, determination, and integrity.
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.
9. Teach him to have manners because it’s nice. And it will make the world a little better of a place.
10. Give him something to believe in
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.
11. Teach him that there are times when you need to be gentle
like with babies, and flowers, and animals, and other people’s feelings.
12. Let him ruin his clothes
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 often tend to learn by destroying, jumping, spilling, falling, and making impossible messes. Dirty, ruined clothes are just par for the course.
13. Learn how to throw a football
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.
14. Go outside with him
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.
15. Let him lose
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.
16. Give him opportunities to help others
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.
17. Remind him that practice makes perfect.
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.
18. Answer him when he asks, “Why?”
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.
19. Always carry band-aids and wipes on you. Especially the wipes.
20. Let his dad teach him how to do things
…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.
21. Give him something to release his energy
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.
22. Build him forts
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.
23. Take him to new places
Because it will make his brain and his heart open up wider, and the ideas and questions and memories will rush in.
24. Kiss him
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 dad’s too).
25. Be home base
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.