I don’t understand boys.
At least once a week my boys — who are 8 and 11 years old — get themselves into mischief that I never could have dreamed of. They’ll make water balloons in the house, sled over a rock wall, roller-skate through the living room, or sit naked in a bucket and get their asses stuck.
If you have boys, I’m sure that you have plenty of entertaining parenting stories of your own.
My mother-in-law, a mother of three boys, has a sign in her kitchen that says “God bless the mother of boys.” Every time I see it, I say a silent “amen.”
She also has a sign in her basement that says, “A boy is the only thing that God can use to make a man.” That sign makes me take a step back and say, “Oh, right… I’m raising two people to become men. Two men who will someday be adults and have their own lives, loves, and heartaches. They’ll spend more time as men than they will as boys, and I’ll have them in my life forever.”
That sign stops my brain from wanting to sell the boys to the circus — at least for a few minutes. It also reminds me to appreciate the life long journey that my boys and I are on together.
However, my husband, who of course has some practical experience being a boy, has his own theory. He believes that from an evolutionary point of view, boys have to be a little bit crazy.
“Men are the hunters. And let’s face it — you have to be a little bit crazy to run after a wild animal with a stick and think you can kill it,” he says.
You know what? He’s right!
But why do boys still have to be “a little crazy” in our modern society? And where is the metaphoric wild animal that they’re chasing?
Raising these little hunters is a challenge for me. I don’t always do it correctly, and I need an abundance of free space (like, the size of Africa!) to breathe so that I don’t eat them alive. After I get some space, I ask myself a few questions to help me gain a more reasonable perspective on my boys’ behavior.
These questions help me maintain my sanity, and I hope that they’ll help you too:
1. Will this activity kill or permanently injure him or someone else?
This question is probably the most important question I ask myself as I raise my boys. As an only child, my instinctual response to everything from sliding down the banister to snowboarding on an icy patch is “Stop!”
But part of being a kid is learning your own boundaries. My telling the boys to “stop” all the time isn’t really helping them come to their own conclusions about the world. The occasional skinned knee can teach them valuable life lessons.
Most of the time, I’m being too careful. And in more extreme cases, I tell my boys to put on a helmet. Besides, it’s the crazy stories we’ll tell at family dinners for years to come that’ll make us laugh and build connections.
2. Can I let my boys stay joyful just a little longer?
A child’s joy is so big, so loud, and sometimes so annoying that as adults, we can hardly stand it. We tell our kids to “be quiet,” “sit down,” or “stop running around.”
Yes, sometimes it’s appropriate to stop our kids. But ask yourself if you can let your children experience joy for just a little bit longer.
Maybe you’ll see that if we want to learn how to be more joyful as adults, we need to gain some perspective from our kids.
3. Can I value his playfulness?
Along with their joyfulness, many boys are playful. Not only can that be annoying for a mother, but it can also be annoying for a wife when her husband is also a little too playful.
Many times, I’ve heard women scold their husbands for being “another child” when really, the issue is that they feel deeply uncomfortable with letting their hair down and just playing.
Can you let your boys play? Can you let the hardness within you soften? Your boys are calling you to come out and play!
4. Can I clearly articulate what I want in a nice way?
Little boys aren’t supposed to think about picking up their socks — but we expect them to. We also expect not to have to tell them multiple times to do things.
But how would your life change if you let go of the idea that you should only have to say something once? What if you could let go of the idea that your boys should automatically do what you want?
If we can ask for the help we want without expecting other people to read our minds, everyone’s life will be easier.
Will you feel like a broken record? Yes. But who cares? Your children’s’ learning takes time. Eventually, picking up socks will no longer be a problem.
5. Can I find ways to praise my sons?
Little boys often just want to make their moms happy. I notice this behavior in my stepson, but there are times when I tell myself that he doesn’t love me because I’m not his mother.
But that’s not true. My stepson wants to please me, and I should recognize his effort.
When we find ways to praise our boys, their self-esteem (and their relationship with you!) improves. Therefore, I make sure to ask my stepson for help with simple tasks and then let him know how much I appreciate his help!
6. Where can my sons and I be of service together?
Boys are often about “doing.” If you want to spend quality time getting to know your boys, find something that both you and your boys enjoy doing together.
Engagement and connection arises out of “doing.”
Doing things with your boys can involve epic adventures, but it’s also important to do real work together. Clean the gutters together. Rake together. Find ways to get your boys involved with helping others alongside you.
7. Can I be vulnerable around my sons?
Most people hear how important it is to let boys feel their feelings and be vulnerable. But do you know where your son learns that skill? From you and your partner.
Let yourself be vulnerable around your boys. Be honest about your feelings. Let yourself cry or even ask for a hug when things are tough. Allow yourself to be open when you’re struggling.
There is a big difference between putting the weight of life on your children and simply allowing yourself to show your humanity in front of them.
8. Can I let myself be a woman around my sons?
I’m not really a “girly girl,” but I’m letting myself get more and more comfortable with my femininity, and it’s important for my boys to see me enjoy it. So many women I meet are invested in a concept of “boy” motherhood that consumes their every waking breath.
But our children watch us in our relationships with ourselves. Sure, they might cry on date night when you leave, but showing them that you love your gender expression is an important part of teaching your sons to respect women.
The relationship you develop with your boys is lifelong. The way that your boys can feel most confident is to see your confidence in raising them to become wonderful men.
If you enjoyed this article, come meet me and become part of my community on my website!
Originally written by Ani Anderson on YourTango.