“Please grab the door for me, son!” I implore as, laden with Sunday bag and child, I attempt to make it through the perilous double set of doors at the church with three kids in tow. “This is how to be a gentleman,” I whisper and wink as I pass him in the breezeway.
I have three sons. Growing up I only had one sister, so this realm of boys is new to me. Sure, I have a degree in child development, but that doesn’t seem to give me any edge in raising these somewhat foreign creatures. I’ve come a long way in nine years of boy-momming. I’ve learned to handle Venus fly traps, master knowledge of Star Wars planets, build amazing Lego ships, make parachutes out of tarps, and embrace loud noise and dirt. Still there is a long way to go to get them from where they are now to where I hope they will be as men.
I feel ill-equipped for the job. I don’t know what it’s like to be inside their minds. And to make matters worse, the world is different than it was when I was young (I grew up pre-internet generation). I find myself desperate for a crystal ball to foresee how the parenting decisions I make now will impact their tomorrow.
I struggle to find the way to raise my boys to survive in modern culture, yet still place value on the things I think are important. How do I raise them to have values in a world that doesn’t share these values, to be gentlemen, when it is never expected and not reinforced by society? I was embarrassed to ride public transit and see a very pregnant woman get on a full rush hour train and find no one willing to give up their seat. How do I teach my boys to give up their seat when they’ve never seen it done?
When I look at the cultural expectations of teenage boys I find them fairly dismal. They are, after all, expected to basically hate their parents, to be rude and self-centered, and to spend their time engaged only in texting or playing video games. And I don’t like what’s out there for boys (don’t get me started on a lot of boy-marketed toys—the violence and crudeness of it all). I want more for my boys than that. I feel that our expectations of boys and men have dropped off in a lot of aspects, while at the same time our religious expectations are very high. I live in a place with a very small LDS population, so it is difficult to even find modeling of the ideal here.
I want them to become men who are disciplined, who work hard, who are thoughtful, who have good hearts. Men who can succeed in families, in work, in church, in their communities. I want what every mother wants…
I want them to develop their talents, have confidence, care about important things, be happy. In a world of so many pressures and pushes and pulls, I feel torn between these constant pairs of opposites—pushing vs not, control vs freedom, expecting too much vs expecting too little, a lot of structure vs a little structure, work vs more play, more time at home vs more activities. I feel like each day I am sliding back and forth on these tracks trying to find the right balance—the right balance for each of these three very distinct personalities. What limits do you set? How do you protect and nurture while developing necessary autonomy and independence? Am I the mean mom for not letting my kids on every cultural bandwagon? Is it just me bucking against ever pervasive cultural elements?
So tell me, I have a lot of years ahead of me still… What are the answers?
How do you feel about the cultural messages sent to men and boys? How do you fight against it? What are the secrets to raising good boys?