Lately on Facebook, several versions of what it means to be a little boy’s mama have been circulating. They are touching, and bring a smile to your face, a touch of nostalgia, and perhaps even a tear to your eye. You are exhorted to have lots of energy, be ready to put up with bloody noses and reptiles in the house, see movies you don’t like, and various other true things.
We mamas of little boys have a tough job. We deserve a little smile as we ponder our muddy offspring. As I type this, my just recently de-mudded grandson is graciously allowing me a few minutes to recoup from a busy day of swimming, mud bogging, dump trucking, and hugging stinky dogs. His sister hung right in there with him. So, yes, we even need these moments that tell our hearts that our efforts are special moments that will unfold in a story book life for our beloved sons.
However, we also need some harder truths, and now is a good time to take a look at that. So, here’s my version, for what it’s worth.
You might think, because I write this, that I am an expert and my sons are jet setting billionaires who are in a third world country fixing the unfixable problems. Nope, they are just normal guys, who have normal lives with some really wonderful successes like those grandkids temporarily being angels, and great jobs, fun hobbies, or devotion to family and friends. Being there when family needs help, rooting for the right football team (Go Irish!), sitting by hospital beds, listening to troubles. They have tried and failed, tried and succeeded, fallen and got back up too many times to count.
Your little boy should grow into this wonderful creature called a man, and to express that manhood as God meant it to be, indeed, as God wrote it into the very cells of his creation, he is called to reflect the image of his Creator, to walk to paths directed and laid out for him by that Creator, to reach down inside himself to bring forth the manly strength written in those muscles made to be so much bigger and stronger than yours, his mother, to rise to the challenges and overcome the trials that life will throw his way, and in the doing, he is going to get banged up and bloody, discouraged and tired.
If he’s going to make that long hard journey, he needs to be training for it, and that starts with you, from the moment you fall in love with his unfocused but intent gaze, swaddled in his first blanket.
Now that we know where we want to go, how do we get there? Listen closely, this first part matters more than anything else. Your little boy needs this more than anything else you can ever in his whole life give him.
Choose his father well.
Choose. Choose. Don’t let your little boy be a biological accident whose sperm donor is on the street dealing drugs. Pick a man, a man who can guide that little guy down life’s rocky road.
Pick a man who will be just as likely to spend the night in the emergency room with him as he would to play catch. Pick a man who will lead that little boy in righteous ways, and teach him the values of a man, the strength of a man, the love and compassion of a man.
Fatherhood needs participation, not just chromosomes. There are some truly wonderful single mothers out there, and God has given them the grace to overcome and to do what it takes to raise good and decent young men, but a boy really needs a father to teach him to be a man.
Before we get off the subject of dads, if you did your job and picked a man, a real man, he’s going to teach your son some things that you don’t like. Some things that really make you uncomfortable and hurt. No, I’m not talking about how to belch on demand and the fart jokes. I’m talking about how to be strong, how to get up when you fall, how to be disciplined and tough, how to be a winner.
He isn’t going to be a participation ribbon guy. He’s going to push your son to excel. He’s going to lean on him when he’s lazy. He’s going to give him really tough goals. He’s going to look him in the eye and ask him if he wants to stick with that story. He’s going to teach him things you think might be dangerous, like how to ride a bike sooner than you think he’s ready, climb a tree, how to use the lawnmower before you think he’s big enough, how to use power tools, how to run a race, fix a car, answer for his mistakes. Maybe even how to be a soldier or a sailor, how to go off to war.
His punishments are going to be tough, his standards high. It will take a lot more to impress him, really impress him, than it will you.
He won’t worry so much about your son’s fragile feelings, because he knows that true worth comes from that confident manliness that cannot come from participation medals and common core teaching, or lots of mom’s hugs.
Get out of his way. Let him teach your son the tough, shoe leather side of being a man. He will do it with his example, but he has to do it with his standards, his discipline, his tough, tough love, his demands, and yes, even his punishments.
Help him. Work with him. Unite with him. The little boy God gave you both needs both of you to make him whole. Each assume your role, and the battles you face will be faced with the unstoppable power of a family, a home, stability and strength. Give him those most priceless gifts, and you will give the world a man to be reckoned with.
Now that the foundation is out of the way, there isn’t a lot to add. Just the common sense stuff.
Your overwhelming instinct is to love and protect, and fortunately for us mamas, little boys really need that. But we need to learn when they don’t need it too. They need to learn to be independent. They need to learn by doing, they have lots of curiosity. Let them use it.
They also have lots of natural aggression. Part of growing into manhood is learning to control it. The world has too many bullies. One thing I learned from my husband and father in law, two world-class dads, is that an aggressive boy needs physical activity and demanding work, not just play. He needs responsibility from a pretty early age. He needs accountability.
As he grows, teach him to work, teach him the value of a job well done. Don’t do it for him, and for his sake, make him do it over when he’s shoddy. Teach him by example that there is no substitute for a good job.
Don’t be the mama who always says “My son wouldn’t do that.” Yes, he will. He will do some really rotten things, and you are not going to want to believe it. Dad will usually be way ahead of you in knowing that yes, he deliberately spray painted Mr. Young’s new shed, or broke Sarah’s new doll. Or snuck out the window, wrecked the car because he was speeding, or was drinking at a party when you thought he was at a friend’s house.
Look with your eyes and not your preconceived ideas, because, yes, he will do that. Now, make him pay the piper. Never ever stand between him and the repercussions of his actions.
Teach him honesty, and realize he’s learning it by your example and not your words. When you give a cashier back the five too much she gave you, he’s learning. When you call in sick to work, then go shopping, he’s learning. Don’t wonder why he lies to you tomorrow.
In all things, homework, chores, sports, trouble with bullies, help him, but don’t do it for him. Stand beside him, not in front of him. Your job is to always remember that one day, you won’t be there, and that is as it should be.
Teach him to respect women by being a respectable woman. Boy, is this your job. First of all, way back in step one, picking his dad, you gave him a big jump on this because you picked a man who admires and respects women, and is teaching your son to do the same. But you are teaching him the why and the how. You are teaching him the worth of a good woman, and to look beneath the cheerleader outfit to see the cruelty or the compassion. He might not be the best at that at fourteen, but keep the faith. The essence of the man you and his dad are forming will whip those hormones. Most of the time.
Teach him that life is hard, and sometimes bad things happen, even when you do the right thing. Teach him to be ready for the bad, and just deal with it. Teach him to face adversity with confidence and yes, cheer.
Teach him to keep going, even when he wants to give up. You do this by steps. Finish the task you started. No, I won’t come pick you up on Mount Rainy because it’s raining. Start baseball season with the Bruisers and find out you don’t like it or they lose a lot? Tough, you gotta finish it. He wrecked his car and wants yours? Is that best, or should you teach him that there are repercussions, and he might have to take a bus, or be without a car for a date?
Finally, lead him to faith. Be a Godly example, give him the opportunity to know the wonder of God’s love for him, ground his world in the strength that only comes from his Creator, and you have given him every gift you want for him as a parent. Without this, he has no chance. With it, he cannot be defeated. It will be a gift he must accept or reject, as they all are, but without your example to follow, your belief to ground himself in, he will flounder and search for value and good. Give him a moral conscience, and an unending source of strength and love, and then watch him become the man he was meant to be, reflecting the perfect love from which he came.
If he sees you in prayer when times are tough, and also when things are well, he sees the source of your strength, and the foundation of your joy. If your answers come from your faith, your belief system instead of just your desires, he learns to look for truth and rightness. If you lead him into church on Sundays, he will find answers that exist no other place on Earth. He will find Heaven above.
Then one day, when the time comes, he will come home to you, holding the hand of a beautiful young lady and speak the best words in the world.
“We’re going to have a baby.” This, ladies, is the best reward in the whole wide world for being a mother.