Bringing up Boys


We all grew up singing our favourite mantra to tease fellow class fellows, what are little boys made of…frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails! Rather mean now that I think of it.  And what are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice…indeed!

I was always attracted to little girls and loved them to bits.  Little did I know that I would end up being the only girl in my own family.  I have two boys, age 7 and 2 years and this blog is all about bringing up boys!

Like all parents, our first born was a discovery for us and we learnt as our child grew up.  We made some classic mistakes of spoiling him with every new toy in the market, went by the book in some cases realising later that a child has a free spirit and does not adhere to any guides, and a lot more! When I had my second baby, I thought he was such an ‘easy’ child to bring up, no late nights, no crying (we call him our ‘happy baby’) and just when I thought he was an easier baby to bring up, my sister reminded me that perhaps I was a better mom the second time around.  Food for thought…

A young child especially a boy does not come with instructions.  He just comes with boundless love, energy and an adventurous spirit.  But the journey to manhood begins very early and it is therefore important for parents to sow the ‘right’ seeds at the ‘right’ time.  For all you mothers (and girls) out there, who complain about husbands and boys, being a mother to one is your opportunity to pave the right way for posterity’s sake!

 My brother gave my husband this little book on advice from a father to son, when we had our first born and it starts with five key advice for fathers on being a parent to a young boy, and I would like to share it with you all:

 1. Be around

2. Be his father, not his friend.  If you don’t understand the difference, imagine his confusion when you must discipline him.

3. Be a good husband, show his mom respect at all times. 

4. Be home for dinner

5. Be his hero.

Today I would just like to focus on the various dimensions of bringing up our restless boys and how ‘super moms’ can make the best of their times in one of nature’s best responsibility endowed upon us, that of bringing up a human being in the best of our efforts, knowledge and energy.  I am focussing on boys since I have direct experience in the area but ofcourse most of the advice holds true for girls as well.  Bringing up children is no mean task and should never be taken lightly.  We are bringing up someone who will grow up to be a father/mother, husband/wife and a citizen and we are therefore shaping our future!

 I am a mother to two lovely boys and I have noticed that there are various dimensions to bringing up boys, since I have had the pleasure of observing girls being brought up in the same environment.  My husband’s niece who is like my own daughter really, spends her annual vacations with us and while I have the greatest fun time with her, I also realise the marked difference in bringing up girls and boys altogether.

 I am a working mother and my schedule is crazy and so I try my best to spend quality time with my children.  Thank God for school days as they sleep by 9 p.m. and therefore I get some time for myself too.  I have learnt that I cannot do everything at the same time, so I have prioritized what is urgent and needs my immediate focus.  I have also learnt that it is the elder son, the 7 year old, who needs me to engage with him more than the younger one.  So the first trick is to listen to him.  Ask him what he did during the day, in school.  You will learn many things about his friends that you would not have learnt otherwise.  Sometimes it is also important to not show a reaction to something you completely disagree with.  I have learnt that the particular issue is then marked in his little brain to be not shared with me at a later stage.  I have the luxury of having my sister though as my son’s key ally and she is my ‘good cop’ while I can still afford to be the bad cop.

Speaking of which, while I am quite strict in disciplining my boys, however I have drawn the line and told my son that he can come and speak to me about anything and as long as he can give me a valid explanation, he will not get scolded.  I do not want to be a monster he cannot speak to.  And I would want to be someone he can access without having the fear of being told off, like he gets told off at studying on time, going to bed on time etc.  On most occasions, I have learnt that it is the quiet discussion I have with him on various issues that works much better than when I have scolded him to get things done. 

 Show him how to call you at work.  Then take his calls. Forever. No matter how busy I am, even if I am in the middle of a meeting, I mostly take calls from home, or call back as soon as I can, especially from my fatherinlaw’s cell phone, because most of the time, its my son calling.  Usually he does not have much to say except to complain of something, or to tell me what to get for him on way back from work, but it is just my way of telling him that I am only a phone call away, even if I am not physically at home.

I don’t know about other mothers but another interesting thing I have learnt is that an unhappy boy is often one who is hungry or tired. Or both.  I now make sure my handbag is stocked with goodies after having gone through some bad episodes of unhappy boys stuck in a social gathering.  One thing is for sure.  We should NOT put up with temper tantrums, and this is coming from a mother who had to deal with a whole lot of them in the exploring-first-born-case! Not today, not ever.  The world will not put up with them!

Show him how to clean his room.  Little boys do not come backed with this auto-programming either.  We try. Everyday. I cannot claim that I have fully succeeded in this endeavour, miles to go before I sleep…

Teach him that nothing he has done – or is going to do – is worth lying to you about.  It all started with the crystal ball story, of how I have one at work and I therefore know everything he has done so he might as well tell me.  Because once he admits it, then he will not get punished for it, and that we can ‘talk about it’ and ‘how it should not be repeated’.  He is too old to buy the crystal ball story now, but the habit of telling me things as they happened, and to not lie is definitely a milestone we have achieved. Together.

Tell him sometimes you are wrong. Although the quotation up there advises dads to be their kids’ super hero, I think it is important for all parents to let their child know that sometimes they can be wrong too.  My first born is such a proper kid, he is always asking my permission on everything and that is what actually worries me!  I once actually told him that we could be wrong too, so he need not always ask my permission! Eeeks, I know.  Too much information for a 7-year old, but he is such a proper kid, a little touch of a rebel wont hurt.

Don’t fight his fights.  Classic scenario with parents.  We tend to get involved in kiddy fights.  I must be a really odd mother because I don’t fight my son’s fights.  Infact, I think getting a few beats every now and then will teach him a few lessons in life.  My take on it:  I cannot be with him all the time, so he might as well learn to cope with situations on his own.  If he relies on me too much, then he will never learn how to deal with a conflict on his own.  So we have a rule that I do not listen to his complains on other kids (which means I get complained to my own mother by him in return but that’s a different story!).  This does not however mean that I am not really ‘listening’ because he has not stopped complaining either! I just do not react on his complaints. He needs to learn how to clean his own mess.

Super Heroes Phenomenon: We all must have said it to our sons at one point or another, ‘don’t cry like a girl’.  We only reinforce the stereotypes that boys are ‘rough’, girls are ‘sensitive’, and that boys can do ‘anything’.  What do you expect from a little boy who grows up in this environment, and his only toys are the super heroes.  No room for mediocrity.  Imagine the pressures on the little soul, who is made to believe that he cannot cry, he has to excel in everything and that all it takes to be a super hero is to wear a cape and bingo, all problems in life are solved.  Coming from a household where the toy room is boxes full of superheroes only, it hardly makes a convincing statement, but perhaps we all need to try at our respective levels to counter the superhero phenomenon by narrating stories of influential men in history who grew up and did great things with sheer hard work and strategic focus in life.  Not everything in life can be achieved with a kaa-may-haa-may-haaa!!!  And this lesson we can only instil in the young mind.  We should also teach him that God answers every prayer, sometimes with a no.  He needs to learn to take life in its stride, and not expect miracles/magic to happen at every corner of his life.

My experiences may not be the perfect check-list to bring up the perfect man but I am still learning and hoping to be a better mother, if not a super mom.  I would be happy to hear from you all on your respective experiences, differences in bringing up boys and girls, and your perspective as a parent, grandparent, sibling or uncles and aunts!

30 responses »

  1. Oh I was nodding my way through to the end. There’s an amazing difference between raising boys and girls(speaking from experience). I often check my hubby not to say the typical “dont cry like girls” remark as he loves to use it. Great article Shaista specially love the part “God answers every prayer, sometimes with a no”.. I am the bad cop in our house and am not very comfortable about it but what to do hubby has an extremely relaxed parenting style 😦 I think its so important for both the parents to set boundaries, and discipline kids together so there’s a balance.
    It was my son’s 11th birthday yesterday and have been thinking a lot about how we have raised him and hoping we have done an alrite job..and It’s Fathers day today here in Australia so your article resonated a lot more 🙂

  2. Pingback: Bringing up Boys | Tea Break

  3. What a wonderful piece!
    So articulate and apt for all the mom’s out there. Be it boys or girls, i think what you’ve mentioned is applicable for both.
    My sister has all boys also, and i completely understand the good cop bad cop situation, we have the same thing going.
    Since i’m the youngest amongst my siblings, i was only 11 when the grand child surge happened in my family, I found it extremely hard to accept that omg, i’m not the baby of the family anymore!? Haha, it took a while but it turned out pretty great in the end.
    My nieces and nephews are more like my friends than anything. (My niece is actually invited to my slumber parties because we just have an 11 year gap and well, i guess she’s quite mature for her age :P)
    And my nephews, MashAllah se i have four, who treat me like i’m their age. My brother’s son wrestles with me and tells me all about his ben ten and yoyo upgrades, my sister’s eldest refuses to believe i’m not a teenager anymore and compares star wars notes with me.
    They keep me young (not that i’m a hundred, but still :p) and updated about life, i think it’s really important to listen to these guys, sometimes they can make the smartest of remarks that can really get you thinking.
    My sister’s often told me that she’s lucky to have me around cause once her boys grow up, she has me to be her secret agent and keep an eye on them.
    I think raising happy, polite and humble children is probably THE MOST challenging thing one can do in this world.
    I love watching my siblings raise their children but moooooooost of all, i love how i don’t have to make them stop crying when they’re having a tantrum cause they’re not mine, Moohahaha.

  4. I love it. most of these apply to girls as well, the communication, the quality of time, the honesty in the relationship, and the need to discipline. Boys, I’ve been told,a re more difficult, but I’m not too sure about that. I know enough kids, my own nephews included, to know that not al boys are rowdy and I know, now all girls are naive.

    Its important to have a friend your kid can talk to. My sisters and my mom to that, but since we’re alone most of the time, raising her ourselves, it helps to be friends but not forgetting to discipline.

    is best to engage with their creativity and imagination, let them run around unaccompanied, dictate their terms, once in a while, … basically be children..without controlling them too much.

    My two year old remembers till now the Dora cake I baked her for her birthday, although 8 months have passed without a single mention of it. kids remember small things we do for them. they retain the happy moment, and probably the unhappy ones too. they’re people like us and we just need to remember that more.

    whats most important, is to be happy as a couple, to find couple time, so the kid doesn’t have to deal with issues of parents fighting or cribbing or disagreeing. the lack of stability may hound them forever.

    As for you…You, Shaista are a wonderful mother. I think you take after from your own 🙂

  5. Shaista really nice article and a great read. I have a young daughter and I completely agree with you about keeping the channels of communication open. I want her to know that no matter what she does, good or bad, she can tell me about it. Its something I never had with my mother because once I told her something not so good that I did and had such a negative reaction that I never told her stuff like that again. So its important to learn from our parents and from others and be better parents ourselves. I really think our generation of parents, both moms and dads, who are trying to maintain a 2-income family and trying to be the best parents possible, have a tougher time, but in the end I think we should give ourselves for being such great parents. So here’s a pat on the back for you Shaista 🙂

    p.s. we share the same last name 🙂 Is jafri your married or maiden name?

    Salma Jafri

  6. HOW PERFECTLY TRUE – sharing this article with my wife as I think she can relate to this PERFECTLY – we have two BOYS as well elder one is 6-1/2 and the younger one 3-1/2

    your pointers are perfectly as we have realized the same as well – 😉

  7. A great insight into bringing up the boys. I just pity some moms and dads who lost the track and their seemingly wonderful kids turned out to be problem children for everyone in the society. What I have learnt is, no money, no spoiling them with the best stuff from the market can get them closer to you.. Its only & only TIME you spend with them and make them feel loved and cared for.

  8. Shaista! I have just read your new article.I think this piece should be the guideline for many immature Moms.I am happy that you always choose very current topics. Waiting for the next …..

  9. Ok hon…read it and obviously loved it. You hit a nerve…this is a very deep and important subject. I see you have mentioned so many issues that our society faces…Father son relationships…Mother son relationships…aren’t we all guilty of the “crying like a girl” comment…it is downright meant isn’t it when we say that? Our little boys are small angels…they are learning the ropes of life just as any other girl so why cant they cry about things just like their XX chromosome counterparts do? Why so much pressure?
    I love the show Malcolm in the middle and especially the mom in it…she is the toughest broad on the block but she watches over and protects her boys like a hawk! I feel like the hawk…I want my boys to be tough for the outside world for sure…but if anyone even tried to hurt them…!Bas kya karain…yeh dunya kay dastoor hain! Lucky to have a younger sis around who is my 007…she has promised to be my partner in crime whenever I need to get a message across to the men 🙂
    I agree with you…we need to really take a step back and make ourselves and them realize that we can be wrong at times….especially with our older ones…the younger ones automatically learn a lot when they see the Big brother go through it.
    Chalo my dear…like I say…keep ‘em coming.

  10. Another great article and many parents could learn a lot from it which would actually make lives better for them and their children if they follow your advice. However, I think the standards you have set are rather high (I am speaking for myself only). Still, it would be great to put your suggestions to the test once Imaan grows a bit.
    All the best

  11. Dear Shaista jee,
    such a great article. i completely agree with everything you have written. its so true. im bringing up a boy and a girl and have to switch between slighly different techniques for both of them. i will share this article with my friends and family. its so well written.

  12. Mostly true. I’m a disciplinarian but at the same time I’m a big one for having fun. And thats what I try to teach my kids. Be good but don’t forget to live your life. I brought up my elder one to be the perfect child. Well mannered, well disciplined, good kid. When he was around four or five I followed an aggressive, conscious effort to undo 50% of what I did. I’ve realised that I don’t want a perfect child. I worked hard to dilute the “zero error syndrome” and am hoping to bring up a child who makes mistakes and is not embarassed, a child who goofs up and knows that its ok, a child who doesn’t have the pressures of being something or somebody and is comfortable in his own skin. A child who knows that he’s loved no matter how good or bad he is and a child who’s satisfied with doing his best and knows that he needn’t worry about doing any better. I tell my kids that its not important to be the best but it is important to be the best that you can be. We have made rules and set boundries but have maintained a lot of flexibility within the margins. In our household we never discuss positions and exams, we study for knowledge. We know that we need 8-10 hours of sleep but we let the kids choose to take an afternoon nap and have a late night occasionally. some days we skip school just because we feel like it ( not often though). We eat one snack and two meals in a day and the kids choose when they want what. And yes! never tantrums. NEVER.
    Of late, as my boys are mashallah grown up now, I’ve re-discovered the pleasures and the effectiveness of a gentle hug, a slight kiss and an appreciated nod of aproval:P

  13. I agree with everything but i take a strong protest to the comment ” boys are made of frog snails and puppu dog tails” blatant chauvinism this!!

    I have a daughter and a baby son, and i must say boys are half mad in childhood full mad when they grow up.
    allah ham sab ke bachon ko nek taufuq de!

  14. My son is loving, sweet, kind and yes, very sensitive. Most importantly, he loves his mommy! My daughter, not so much. She loves me… yes. But, I wonder for how long. She fights me on most things and is independent beyond her 6 years of age. My daughter is the tough one which is good I’m guessing as girls can be very cruel.

    Funny how you parent two children in exactly the same fashion and they grow to be complete opposites.

    No matter, I love them both the same.

  15. I think this article is nearly touching the actual life of most of the Moms. Majority of the Moms are doing the same and Most will start to do the same after reading your article. One thing, I feel, was missing in this article. Your most of the views were walking with the Life of your elder boy. What I missed was the Dealing of Super Mom with Two Boys at the same time. How both boys think about each other? How Super Mom gives preferences to boys? How to manage the life of both at same time? Who need more care? Who is more close to parents?

    I will remind your views, experiences & guideline till my time to become the Father.

    Gr8 effort Sis….

  16. I loves it!!!! Very true every bit, can relate to the whole lot except the part about being a better mom the second time round. I think while we may be a little more relaxed teh second time round, a lot depends on teh nature of the child. My second one is the cling on monster and poor chap gets screamed at, while I have hardly needed to shout at the elder one. The elder one reacts when I scream the younger one doesn’t care a hoot!!!
    love the article, keep it coming girl!

  17. Good article! Just wanted to add;
    • Try to teach them read the surroundings i.e. what you observed while going to school, what was the color of door etc. This would help them to improve their observation and reading power about surroundings.
    • Ask them to keep focus on what they do. This would help to get the job done perfectly.

    By the way, I hope I am not the one in your office you mentioned in your article 😉

  18. Jia, nice one. Though a more serious topic than your earlier posts. I so love pulling your webpage on a random day and finding a new blog. I am so tempted start writing mine as well 🙂

    By the way, is there RSS on this website or can we get notifications when you put up a new blog.

  19. Finally got the chance to read your article. I think there is some problem in my Laptop; unable to open the link and had little courage to ask you how to read it otherwise. Today got the chance some other desktop and quickly opened the link.

    I must say that you have touched one of the most important issue of ours. Since, I am also father of a boy, who is as old as your younger son (10 days younger). Me and Khizran also used all the advises received from our family, friends and all we met during this time. I think if you had written this article some two years back, I would have taken a printout and used it as a bible for children up bringing.

    God has blessed you with a strong writing skills. Keep writing good articles and soon we will see a hardcover book written by you.

    Well Done!

  20. well i did nt know u write and write so well…it was wonderful reading it and sharing your experience. will help me a lot …lolz…keep up the good work and we look forward to have more of your master pieces soon inshallah…look after yourself

  21. It is an interesting read, a refresher for all of us indeed. While going through, couldnt help but compare my own dealings with my son…a real good one shaista 🙂

  22. hmmm so where to start from…it’s a gr8 article shaista….i agree with the mums who believe that this could relate to girls and boys both…infact it’s a CHILD u r bringing up first and then it’s a boy or a girl…certainly there is a huge contrast between the two…as i am a mother of a girl, khala of two girls, phuppo of a girl and on the other hand mumani of two boys…upto a certain level the behaviours could be the same and suddenly as they grow the behaviours would start changing too…
    i’ve heard this term too that don’t cry like girls and on the contrary the girls r supposed to be sober n all but now a days it really doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl…it’s all parent’s responsibility and especially a mum’s…fathers somehow do have a casual attitude n mums r always the bad cops n i personally find no harm in being called a bad cop because deep in my heart i feel satisfied that i am trying to fulfil my duty n not being impression concious infront of my child…
    there’s a lot to share and i totally agree with u’r views…what i need to teach myself is to control my temper and reactions…my daughter is almost 22 months old…i’ll learn with the passage of time and u’r tips r undoubtedly going to be very useful…i really enjoyed going through the article as for all the mothers this must be very interesting and i’d love to be a part of this as we can always share our experiences and learn from them…
    Keep up the gr8 work!!!

  23. Great article. You put across your argument very well. I agree that misogynistic and chaunvinistic attitudes of men largely stem from childhood indoctrination at the hands of their mothers. We need to tell our sons that it is okay to cry if they feel like it as it is to take up pursuits that are traditionally viewed as feminine. I have seen many a men (cousins and friends included) repress their artistic talents to take up the pressures of mundane jobs just because it is not considered “manly” enough to pursue a career in the arts.

    I also wish that people in our society would stop being so lax when it comes to leaving young male children alone with servants or strangers. We are all guilty at one point or another of exercising discrimination against our sons in this regard. It’s no rocket science that the vulnerability of young children to sexual abuse is equal regardless of their gender. If the case of Javed Iqbal, one of the most horrific instances of molestation and murder in recent history hasn’t woken us up to this fact I don’t know what else will?

    And thank you for reaffirming my experience that an unhappy child is one who is either hungry or tired. A hungry child is a recipe for disaster. Ensuring that my child is well fed before a family get together or a wedding has yielded great results each time. A child may act off or cranky when tired but outright bratty ness is what you can expect of a hungry child. And hungry children do not sleep very well or for very long hence making them all the more tired. Having tried and tested the formula on nephews, nices and friend’s children I can safely say that in baby land food is what makes the world go round….

  24. Hey..
    Just came across this article and being a mother of 3 BOYS…I can totally relate!
    You are very skilled at writing and the article is very informative. Good work 🙂

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