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!