Dear Parents of Boys: This is a picture of my family. A Dad, a Mom, and two pretty cool boys. We have been doing this “raising boys” thing for almost 12 years. Although I could probably list you a hundred lessons I have learned on this journey so far, here are my “Top 10 Tips for Raising Young Men”….. for today….I’m sure these two creatures will do something this weekend to cause me to update this list Monday morning but – hey – that’s part of the excitement!
1. Give solid boundaries. We are a house of grace, in fact it is one of our family core values, but know this – boys need structure. They need someone to tell them when they’ve gone too far in how they talk to mom or each other. They need someone who will counsel them and hold them accountable. Don’t let the phrase “Boys will be boys” be an easy excuse for not setting boundaries.
2. If you want to discuss something serious, don’t just sit there, do something. A counselor friend of mine shared that in her years of counseling boys and girls in a school setting, a frustrating thing kept happening: while the girls easily opened up and would talk face-to-face in her office, the boys often clammed up and shut down. But as soon as they began doing something, for example, shooting baskets outside on the basketball court, or playing a card game in the office, the same boys miraculously opened up about anything and everything. I have certainly noticed this with my boys. I recently had “the talk” with my oldest son (by the way – it is not a talk – if done right it is a conversation that continues for months and years, but that is for a future blog post) and noticed that he opened up and asked the most questions when we were fishing or playing basketball. If something serious needs to be discussed with your young man, try broaching the subject during a walk or a game he likes to play. You may be amazed at the ease of his words in between turns of a game of Horse.
3. Offer wisdom more than solutions. Liz and I try to help our boys form a paradigm for finding an answer, rather than give them the answer. Being an independent, critical thinker is going to benefit them for life. We want our boys to be able to find their own way while still understanding the wisdom that comes from experience.
4. Love their friends. Liz has took the lead on this one before we even had kids! We want our boys to know their friends are always welcome in our house. We want our house to be a safe place where other kids can feel loved. From the fridge to the pantry to the toys in the playroom, our boys know they are free to share them all.
5 . Let them explore. One of the scariest aspects of raising boys is their tendency to risk life and limb for no good reason. Boys are risk-takers. They wrestle and bounce balls that break lamps and pee places you never thought someone would pee. They’ll jump off something and you’ll likely end up in the emergency room a time or two. This is part of exploring and discovering. A good friend of mine has 3 boys…his family built a mini rock climbing wall in one of the bedrooms. He and his wife are supporting their boys’ needs to explore and test their courage in the safety of their own home. Exploring helps our young men grow in courage and in faith and in the ability to be a man. Of course there’s a line they should not go beyond, and guess what, as the parent, you get to draw that line (see tip #1).
6. Avoid impossible demands. Be absolutely sure that your son is capable of delivering what you require. Impossible demands result in unresolvable conflict. Adjust their responsibilities and your delegation to them as they grow. Asking something of them that they cannot do brings inevitable damage to your relationship.
7. Boys adore their moms….celebrate this! Liz would probably agree that both my boys are “Daddy’s Boys.” I think just based on the fact we are the only 3 dudes in the house – we have a strong and consistent connection. However I love and celebrate how they adore their mom. From helping her cook to snuggling on the couch, when I see these moments I celebrate them. She will always be their first love….and for that I am grateful!
8. Find ways for them to compete. On a certain part of our church campus we have a long hall way . Every week I smile as I see young boys racing their dad or friend down the corridor. They can’t help it! Find ways to help your boy compete. Teach him to win and lose with character. The key with this one is to make sure they know your love for them is in no way tied to their performance!
9. Make God part of your family rhythm. We have some special china dishes we received on our wedding day. They sit beautifully in a china cabinet and are used during special, rare moments. However this set of dishes have missed a lot over the life of our family. It has missed laughter, stories, jokes, and even a few tears. If you asked my two boys if they want the china as an inheritance they would probably both say no. They realize the china dishes are important but they don’t hold much meaning. Don’t allow your boys to say God was important but He just didn’t come out much in the daily rhythm of life.
10. Know your role! Your role is not to impress your son with your ability to parent. Your role is to impress your boy with the love and nature of God. The fact is – you have more potential to impact your son than anyone else. Reflecting the image of God in your home is the best way to impact your child!
Don’t worry parents – I know that boy’s antics and sheer physicality are bound to try our patience and sometimes even bring us to the brink of exhaustion. But thus far, I have found that having boys has been one of the greatest joys in life.