Raising a Man

 

How are you raising your child to become the adult you want them to be?

I grew up with sisters and am learning about raising boys in real-time. Boys were always a puzzle to me growing up. They could be caring and kind, and then aggressive, dismissive and cruel. What makes them act this way?, I’ve often thought. I’ve heard throughout my life (both as a child, teen and now parent), “It’s easier to raise boys than it is girls.” This never made sense to me. The beauty of girls is that we are allowed to have emotions.  And while there may be room for improving how we experience or work through our emotions, we are not conditioned to hide or repress them. Boys don’t often tell you what’s going on. My oldest son talks to my husband and I and is pretty open about what’s going on — yet he too really struggles to understand the emotion(s) he is feeling and what’s causing them. He lumps them all into two categories: those that make me feel good, and those that make me feel bad.

Watching my sons grow, I am starting to see them exhibit those same confusing behaviors I saw from boys when I was growing up. Particularly from my oldest. He can be loving and kind, empathetic and thoughtful, and then on what seems like a turn-of-the-dime, he can be rude, dismissive and cruel — whether its to his classmates, friends, brother or my husband and I. Consequences seem to have minimal impact, it’s almost like he can’t help himself. My biggest concern as I watch him grow is what kind of man he will be. I want to believe that what my husband and I are teaching him the ‘right’ things: appreciating diversity, equality, and what you have, being kind to one another, and sharing your gifts with others. He’s for equality, diversity, fairness, and taking care of the planet, yet I see him struggling with being kind. He often directs feeling of negativity towards his younger brother, or us. I understand the desire to vent to those that you know will still love you and be there for you, but it’s draining on my husband and our patience and takes a toll on his younger brother. He shared what he deemed a ‘good day’ that included playing volleyball well in P.E. (I’m good with this), and then watching a female classmate miss a shot and fall in a way that was ‘hilarious’ – “Mom, I couldn’t stop laughing,’ he said (I’m not good with this). I attempted to ask him how he thought the girl felt (I’m sure embarrassed) and he acted as though I were purposely trying to be a killjoy. “Mom, I said I had a good day.” and he immediately ended the conversation.

I want my child to be happy, but not at the expense of others. Particularly not at a women’s expense. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because overt sexism and misogyny are finally getting the exposure we women have needed to change what is ‘acceptable’ behavior. I feel like I’m at a pivotal point in my son’s maturing and need to ‘up’ my parenting skills a notch to ensure we’re guiding him down a path toward manhood that he’ll one day be proud of. I want him to be kind to others. I want him to see the benefit — not only to others to how he’ll feel. I don’t know how else to do that then exhibiting the behavior myself, and getting him to think (rethink) how he interacts with others.

What challenges are you facing in helping your child to grow to be the adult you hope they will be? How are you helping your child?

 

 

 

 

Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?