This article first appeared in the July-August 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
I still recall how my disappointed, five-year-old son, Joshua turned away from me when I overruled his suggestion to transfer his chocolate milk drink from a tetra pack to his new thermos bottle. I figured there would be less spills. Then instantly, I remembered how a few days earlier, a dear friend cautioned me, “As moms, we have a tendency to think that our plans are better; and to make things easier on our part, we usually impose our authority as a parent without realizing how this approach can weaken our boys.”
Triccie Syquia, mother of three boys, shares the same dilemma. She says, “I, too, see myself always overriding my sons’ decisions or suggestions, or doing things for them because it is the faster way to get things done. I try harder each day to make them more independent but it’s hard.”
Raising men In some cases, men have been deprived of an environment that inspires leadership. Many men have difficulty initiating. They find it hard to express themselves. They, at times, take forever to decide. Others shy away from responsibility and on occasion, I have heard women describe their men as being “as dense as a rain cloud.”
Sometimes, it is probable that a woman, either a mom or an older sibling, is at fault. Their unrestrained authoritative approach has crippled their sons (or brothers) and kept them from growing into confident men.
Syquia says, “I really noticed that little girls nowadays are really more strong-willed than boys. Well, at least my boys. Maybe it’s because mothers today are more strong-willed, opinionated and independent compared to mothers of before.”
Indeed, had my dear friend not cautioned me, I would continue over-ruling my son, often killing his momentum, and damaging his self-esteem.
In Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, authors Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., write, “Mothering any child comes down to this delicate balance of closeness and distance but between mothers and sons, there are many ways in which that synchrony can be dis-rupted. If she doesn’t recognize, in his changing behaviors and attitudes toward her, the necessary phases of her son’s growth, she may fail to provide what he now needs, or she may continue trying to provide something he no longer needs or wants.”
And more often than not, mothers of boys are more challenged because they feel that they don’t understand boys. Their expectations of boys are drawn from their relationships with their fathers, brothers, or husbands. While boys look to their mothers for love and acceptance, they also have the need to feel competent and distinctly male, they add. “He will distance himself from her when he feels the need for autonomy or to assert his ‘boyness,’” they wrote.
Such a realization called for some changes in my parenting style. After seeking my husband’s advise and the counsel of others, we’ve come up with creative ways to train our son to be a man who will one day take the lead.
1. Involve the family First we talked to his older sister. Our firstborn was once described as a future president of her class -- that gives you an idea of her personality.
At eight, it shocked her to be asked to occasionally allow her younger brother to lead and to support his ideas. For her, it was like abdicating her position as the eldest. Slowly, she has yielded and it has done Joshua good.
We also talked to our female helpers. We cautioned them not to belittle five-year-old Josh and his ideas or contributions to keeping house. We encourage our kids to contribute in household chores.
However, I have observed how some helpers refuse the help of children thinking that the child will slow them down. We tell our helpers to be patient with the children. Doing housework will help prepare the kids for their lives in the future.
Recently, Joshua’s godmother bought him a toy: a remote control dump truck that he chose over a flashy black collapsible car. I asked him why he chose this one and he replied, “The black one is a show off. I can use my truck to help around the house.” And that is exactly what he does. He cheerfully loads all his baby sister’s newly- pressed clothes and directs his truck right next to her dresser.
Even his grandfather is in on this “raising men” thing. He shared his concern over his grandsons who are younger brothers of very strong granddaughters. He suggested that we explain and train our daughter to be supportive of her brother’s ideas. He told us to guide her to ask creative questions such as, “What do you think about…?” or “What would you prefer…?” or “How would you solve…?” and resolve to support his responses. By doing so, she is putting value to her brother’s mind and person. I must add that my firstborn daughter will not naturally do this if I do not model it to her.
2. Make opportunities for leadership Create opportunities for boys to lead and decide. By asking Josh how he’d like us to spend a Sunday afternoon or requesting him to say grace before meals, by allowing him to occasionally take the front passenger seat (with seatbelts secure), by asking his opinion and acknowledging his preferences, with the power of repetition -— these little things will cultivate a disposition for leadership in Joshua.
We also allow him to make decisions that will affect the rest of the family members such as which restaurant to go to or what family video to watch. There are times when his choices are not always ideal, but he always learns from them. We cannot measure the boost he gets each time he is asked to decide, but we are certain of this: giving our son the choice has always brought a smile to his face. Now, isn’t that great? In the future, when he needs to make a choice, he would have learned to do this thing first: smile.
3. Give appropriate discipline "Correcting him in private, praising him in public." This principle we apply to all our children. But I realize that the boys will benefit more from our consistency. Men were created with a natural need to be admired, encouraged and affirmed. Many times when this need is more than met, they are miraculously freed to lead. On the other hand, correcting them in the presence of others crushes their spirit and compounds their feelings of inadequacy.
So whatever happened to Joshua’s idea on using his thermos bottle? I actually called my son back, apologized for dampening his enthusiasm and told him that using his new thermos could be a fun idea after all. With his spirits revived, he scooted out of the room and didn’t even give me a chance to demonstrate affection. It was a delight to see him run off with so much determination. That was my first lesson on stepping aside, taking on a supportive role and allowing my son the freedom to express himself. It felt good and I knew it was a step towards our goal of one day releasing to the world a future leader and a key decision maker in the home.
Solving that puzzle of a boy Parents, moms most especially, are often confused as to how to deal with their boys. Here are some smart suggestions from Steve Biddulph, author of “Raising Boys.”
1. Boys are prone to separation anxiety. That’s why parents must show them as much affection as girls. They should also avoid lengthy separations, especially before the age of three.
2. Boys have testosterone surges, making them argumentative and restless sometimes, especially around age 14. That’s why parents must calmly guide them through conflicts. Never resort to shouting or yelling. Settle them down through reasoning. Tell them that they need to show good manners always, and they should never use or threaten violence. Fathers need to be role models and insist that mothers are respected.
3. Boys have growth spurts that make them vague and disorganized, especially at age 13. That’s why parents must get involved in organizing them. Teach them techniques for tidying rooms and doing housework. Give them routines.
4. Boys have bursts of physical energy that need to be expressed. That’s why parents must give boys time and space to exercise and move about.
5. Boys have a slower rate of brain development, affecting fine motor skills in early primary grades. That’s why it’s advisable for boys to delay starting Grade 1 until they have lots of pen-and-paper skills.
6. Boys have fewer connections from the language half to the sensory half of the brain. That’s why parents must read to them, tell them stories, talk to them a lot and explain things, especially from ages one to eight.
7. Boys have a more muscular body. That’s why parents must teach them not to hit or hurt others. Teach them to use words to communicate.
8. Boys have a predisposition to act first without thinking. That’s why parents should talk with them often in a friendly way about their choices and how to solve problems.