A sweet friend recently contacted me about giving my thoughts on raising boys. She is facilitating a book club using the book The Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas . Luckily I did not have coffee in my mouth when I read her request as I'm sure I would have been cleaning up the mess that I spit out from laughter.
With nervous smiles and gritted teeth, we just launched the boy, to become a new Marine recruit. Obviously we are not experts on the subject of raising boys in general, but we are experts on this one young man. He is wonderful and funny and smart and handsome. He loves Jesus. But, he is very different from my three girls. Last year he completed his first year of college away from us. The lessons he learned about himself and 'adulting' through life led to his decision to join the U.S. Marines. Honestly, it was rough on us all as figuring out the college scenario can induce a rocky road for any freshman, male or female. The year seemed to last forever, mainly because I just knew in my gut something was amiss with him. I do not remember a time when I have been on my knees more often. I worried. I worried about his discipline, his health, his friends, his professors.
This boy right here is my second birdie to fly, and my oldest is a girl. When she left, I could get in her head. Our thought processes are similar, so I just didn't worry about her choices. I knew what she was thinking, exactly. The boy, not so much. Let me just add here as an aside that we never had a problem with this kid with disobedience or disrespect or even just bad behavior. But, we soon discovered how lost he felt navigating his choices for planning his life. He was unsure about his major and what he wanted to do with his life, and the whole process of making such daunting decisions overwhelmed him. Did I mention we live thousands of miles away from where he is attended college? I think he recognized within himself a yearning for more discipline, and honestly a break from school in general. And so, to the recruiter's office he went. I look back now and see God's hand in it all. I, the mama, have learned volumes about myself and my prayer life through all this, so here is some gentle guidance for my fellow mamas with younger hatchlings.
Pray for wisdom. It clearly states in the Bible that God doles this valuable thing called wisdom freely and without reservation! Thank you Jesus! Boys have a vastly different operating system than we do. Somehow we as females find attractive the fact that our husbands are different from us. So I remain confused as to why we struggle to remember this nugget when it comes to our sons. So many days found me on the floor begging for help from God. Lots of them I just did not comprehend the boy's thinking process. I hope and pray we have reached the end of a long tunnel with this problem as he and I both have matured in untold ways since last summer, and I have a new understanding of the peace talked about in the Bible.
Trust the dad's insight. Odds are, the boy is a lot like his dad. For a long time during our homeschooling high school years, I usually thought I knew more about the boy's behavior because I had been with him all day. For example, if I had seen him struggle with huge advanced chemistry problems for hours, I probably cut him too much slack by doing a chore or two for him. Such behavior (by me) does no one any favors. There are reasons for the dad to expect different things from the boy than from the girl. Dad will generally have higher standards about some things than the mom. Go with them. My husband's insight on my son is different than mine and I value his contrasting opinions. They temper mine, and balance me. He IS a male!!! He knows!! Simply put, there comes a point in a boy's journey into manhood where the mama needs to back off.
Sports are important. Over the years, some of our most valuable lessons, both good and bad, came from sports. With us, it was basketball. My boy learned how to share: the ball, fame, and defeat. He learned about discipline, and just showing up. He learned that he was important, but not too important, and that the world would not crumble if he got hurt or fouled out. He learned that other people, coaches, have similar standards as his parents, thereby cementing his own world view about life in general.
Nurture his passions. My little 4-year-old boy would sit spend endless hours in the tub with his matchbox cars slowly pushing them along the edge while watching how the wheels turned. He was fascinated. He built magnificent lego cities. Obviously he is bent toward mechanical processes. Watch these passions, mama, when he is little, because they will someday become his livelihood. It is these interests and passions that give us clues as to what makes him tick. They will lead us to pursuing a career direction that will fulfill him. Just these past months I have leaned hard on these memories in helping him to search within himself to better choose a major and future career on which to focus.
Let him fail. This is one area that cements vast differences between the male and female species. I think my girls tend to 'meltdown' when they are only teetering on the edge of a problem. They can just see the bottom and it is then that they freak out. Boys on the other hand, tend to need to fall off the edge. Sometimes hard. But, when they've picked their way back up the mountain, they can enjoy the discovery that they've climbed all by themselves. This is a great analogy in theory, but is terribly hard for the mama to watch. So we just pray, and know he is getting stronger with each small step.
Allow him to take a stand against injustice. One year the boy had a situation with his young basketball coach that kept growing, somewhat like a cancer. He wanted to quit his team midseason but we would not allow it. Finally, one incident occurred in the off-season that angered him enough to take a stand and quit. Let me just say that when I heard about it, he was justified. The 'incident' had nothing to do with basketball, but showed the true character of his coach. My son could not in good conscience support such a figurehead, so he quit quietly, purposefully and without fanfare, even though he loved playing with his teammates. Just a week or two later, that coach quit for another reason, not even knowing about my son's decision. An amazing turn of events led us to a wonderful new coach. My boy returned and played the next season with this team who then won the league championship. This coach and mentor even today remains a major Godly influence on my family and the current team. My boy learned that there is a time and a place to take a stand, and sometimes you must 'go with your gut'. In the end, we all witnessed, first-hand, how God works out difficult, even impossible situations for His glory.
I have said before how much I love being a 'big kid mom'. I love how we finally get to see them pursue what they love and how God created them with passions that emerge first when they are little. But mostly, I love that my boy, along with my girls, all drive me to a greater and deeper dependence on Him, the one who created us all. I have grown so much in my faith over the last year that I have to wonder if all these worries about the boy, are, in fact growing me. As parents, we do a new kind of growing when the kids leave the nest. We get a little glimpse into the mind of God and His love and care of us, his kids.