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UP CLOSE: Raising Boys– Getting Along

By Michelle Lehnardt

Every time I feel smug about my five sons’ kindness to each other, a scene like this ensues:

(Love their tanned, summer-bruised legs. Love the way Xander stays out of the fray, just enjoying his drink. Love how Hans laughs his way through the fight. And since Gabe is so rarely involved in conflict, I love his intensity.)

Scarcely a day goes by that we don’t have some sort of dispute over crucial, life-threatening matters like “That’s my Lego wheel!” “He’s cheating at Monopoly.” “Who ate the last banana?” (note: add 4 banana bunches to shopping list) With 48 relationships in our household, one of them is bound to be shaky at any given time. But we do work on being kind. We work hard

The responsibility of raising gentle, meek boys weighs heavily on me. Men of God scarcely resemble the crass, burping, selfish, testosterone driven Modern Man. Everything in the media screams “take what you want,” “avoid responsibility,” “don’t grow up.”

My first goal in parenting– before I ever had children– was to teach them to love each other. In high school, I knew two brothers who treated each other with absolute kindness and respect; I watched them, considered their actions, searched for the source of their benevolence. As babies entered my life (one after the other!), I studied the exemplary mothers and families around me and took note:

every child is the favorite– this is crucial. If parents compare or pit their children against each other, siblings begin to see each other as enemies.

focus on solutions, not blame

fighting isn’t allowed (unless it’s a really fab photo-op)

your good is my good– Kids are almost interchangeable in other people eyes. If your brothers succeed, you’ll look exceptional too.

turn off the TV– its sending all the wrong messages. Yes, even sporting events.

creativity spawns cooperation (and a lot of mess, but it’s worth it). Access to wood, tools, sandpaper and paint is essential for boys.

sometimes it’s better to quit the team– I know this sounds positively anti-American, but it’s worth it to walk away from coaches and teammates who are excessively aggressive. We have quite enough testosterone at home already, thank you.

prayer and scripture study. Nothing, nothing will change your boys’ lives more than their relationship with Christ.

patience– brotherly/sisterly love takes a long, long time.

Still, despite all our best efforts, some days are filled with petty fights, cruel words, slammed doors. I yell (and sometimes swear) and put everyone to bed early and angrily. And I want to run away (to Paris!), to give up on this impossible task of mothering…

But I don’t. Because kindness, as elusive at it may be, is a goal worth fighting for.

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

12 thoughts on “UP CLOSE: Raising Boys– Getting Along”

  1. As the mother of two girls, I almost didn't read this post, but I'm so glad I did! The same could be said about my girls excepting the testosterone. 😀 Thank you for being normal, insightful and humorous. Your post made me laugh and feel good about the sometimes serious and impossible, all at the same time.

    Although I realize that some bickering is normal when we live so close and in each other's space all the time, I wish my girls could treat each other more kindly without me having to remind them. I know that one day, all of our hard, behind the scenes, work and diligence will pay off. My sister and I are best friends, and I'm so glad I have her. I'm sure that will happen for your boys.

  2. Whenever I hear my boyos bickering, I tell myself that my sister and I did/said much worse, and we more than tolerate each other now!

    Thank you for perspective!

    Kindness rocks.

  3. I had a conversation yesterday about parenting. I said that I felt adrift in my parenting lately, that I used to have more answers, but now those answers seem completely inadequate. I came home to this post, and felt the spirit confirm some of the items on your list as ideas to ponder and apply in our home. Thanks, Michelle. Inspiring as usual, and honestly something I really needed.

  4. Raising my son, only four years of it so far, has caused me more tears than I ever thought possible. It's hard! But I love him fiercely and hope *hope* he will grow up to be kind, Christ-like, conscientious. Thanks for this great post; it is worth fighting for.

  5. To all of you who are still "in the trenches" of child-rearing, may I just say hang in there and continue to do the good things you're doing. Nothing…absolutely nothing gives me as much joy and satisfaction in my role as a mother as seeing my grown children who are genuinely best friends. It's all worth it! 🙂

  6. Thank you! This is a pleasure to read. Having 2 boys not even really close in age has tried my patience, but then again great work (sibling love) usually takes work and time.

  7. Thank you Michelle L. These are wise words.

    I am definitely still in the trenches. My children range from 2-11 and the 3 middle ones are boys. I am constantly amazed that boys' minds work so differently than mine (from the NEED to sleep with that recently created lego masterpiece, to the 6 yr old who loves his new glasses strap because it will make him look more like a ninja) and I feel very heavily the responsibility to train up the next generation of stripling warriors. What the world tells them is cool and necessary is so completely NOT what the Lord needs in His priesthood holders and what will ultimately bring my dear sweet boys eternal happiness. It is so difficult to teach the 8 year old who cannot sit still for more than a second how to be still and listen for the Holy Ghost he has just received. It is so tricky to balance the boy need for large muscle activity with their spirits' need for quiet reflection and gospel learning. I feel so completely out of my depth on most days (in lieu of swearing, I usually just threaten to sell them to gypsies) but I often find that when I can model the stillness and gospel learning, that in addition to giving my boys where to look and learn, I learn how better to teach them.

    I am the oldest of five girls (no brothers) and my maternal grandmother was also the oldest of five girls (also no brothers). My grandmother and her sisters fought often and awfully for as long as I can remember. Someone was always not speaking to someone else and the one thing my mother wanted, more than anything for her five daughters is that we love each other and get along. Of course we bickered as kids. Of course there are differences of opinion and choices now that we are adults, but my mother has at least this one wish: we are each others' best friends. They truly are my best women friends and it pains me how far away they all live and that we all lead such busy complicated lives. It is one of my tenderest wishes for my children that they grow to be as close as my sisters and I are. The only way I can seem to model this, besides sharing the love I have for my sisters, is to do exactly what you said about not having favorites and strongly discouraging fighting. It's all a daily process, isn't it?

  8. I love you! Thanks for this. I have three sons (you are a saint, the thought of a fourth boy has me terrified for more children) and sometimes I just want it to be QUIET!!!!

    This advice is wonderful and truthful.

  9. I think it's important to remember that, as mothers, we are women, trying to raise boys to be men and sometimes that means letting "boys be boys" and not girls. Some of the parenting moments I've had with my boys has been somewhat counterintuitive because it's not what I remember or what as as a girl/woman.

    Just like we should recognize and honor the fact that each child is different, mothers should be sensitive to the fact that gender plays some role in how we parent each individual.

  10. It's been one of those days in my house, so thank you for this, I needed the reminder of patience and the acknowledgment that I am not alone in "failing" (for today) brings me to joyful, hopeful tears.


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