Friday, March 22, 2013

How to Have Boys

**Travis insists that I add a disclaimer. Something that says, "This is the way I've decided to handle the mess and chaos that is sometimes boys, though there are many different ways to parent, and none are better than each other." But I will not say that. Because we're all grown ups here. If you read this, then you understand it's my opinion, and if you have a different opinion than me - why would that offend me? Just as I assume that YOU won't be offended by my decision to let my boys be messy and hyper. There you go. Read on, friends.**

Before my boys were born, and even when they were babies - I was pretty against the saying "Boys will be boys," because it seemed to imply that my children would be unruly. They would be messy, they would roughhouse, they would refuse to hold still, but ah me, what can be done?

Nothing. Boys will be boys.

But soon I had toddlers. And while the little girls that surrounded us were holding still in church, and picking flowers in the park, and wrapping their stuffed kittens in washcloths and rocking them to sleep...
my boys were being boys.
They were thrashing and punching and screaming during church. They were alternating between eating woodchips at the park, and throwing woodchips at passing children. They were digging a hole in the front yard and pouring water into it, so they had a perpetual mud pit.
And it didn't matter how many times I spread a blanket in the front yard and read "The House on Pooh Corner" aloud.
It didn't matter how many babies and stuffed puppies I bought them. They weren't interested. They wanted cars, balls, bikes, shovels, and hammers.
They wanted boy toys.
And they wanted to be unruly, messy, roughhousing wigglers.

It occurred to me, that this wasn't a flaw of my children. It isn't something that I must correct through careful, quiet training or ADHD medicine or whatever else. It is just who my boys are.
They are boys. And boys will be boys.

(I feel silly that I must say, though it is hopefully obvious to everyone, that not all boys are like this, and certainly lots of girls are this way. But it seems to me, that the extra wiggling, interest in bugs, and love of a good mess tend to be more boyish traits than girlish. And that certainly has been the case with my boys so far. Okay, moving on.)

And so, a few days ago a friend wrote a blog post on all the things that she does to help foster her daughter's intelligence and creativity (things like, Reading Quality Books, and Doing Arts and Crafts) and it's an awesome post and you should read it {HERE}, and I agree with pretty much everything written.

But I am also a parenting expert (ha!), so here are some things that I think little kids need (and boys in particular), which somehow Moms forget about or are afraid of - because being quiet and clean is so much easier and nicer. 

1. Get dirty.
If you get out paint and your child decides (like mine inevitably do) to paint their bodies, their brother, or ignore the painting in general, and just spend 15 minutes pouring all the paints together: LET THEM.
Who cares? If they have slightly green skin for two days, that's just fine.
If they want to spend all afternoon digging a disgusting hole in your yard: let them. My brother Jack used to dig holes all day, until our back yard looked like the crater-y surface of the moon. You don't need to convince them to take a break, take a bath, or ask them if they're digging to China. Just let them dig.
If your kids want to help you cook, but you know it means that you'll get flour all over the floor or red-sauce all over their clothes, let them help anyway. Invest in some Spray and Wash and then stop sweating the little things.

2. Be unruly (sometimes).
I'm a firm believer in teaching and disciplining children, especially when it comes to teaching kindness or honesty. But who decided that blowing bubbles in their milk is naughty or bad mannered?  Who said that the proper way to eat is with silverware?
Why must they comb their hair? Do their toys really needed to be sorted by type?
There is a time and place for everything, and certainly their hair should be combed before church and they should be to use silverware at other people's house, but come on, Moms. Let them eat fruit where it can drip down their chins. Let them go shirtless. Let them go barefooted to the store.

3. Let them explore, without YOU.
I once read a quote that said, "You can't babyproof the world, so worldproof your baby."
I love that. Don't hover around your eight-month old fishing everything out of their mouth. If they eat a few handfuls of salty-ocean sand, they'll just poop it on out.
And as they get older, that list changes. Let your two year old play in the yard while you're in the house, if you can see them from the window (or even just hear them) - they're probably fine. They'll learn to solve some of their own problems and entertain themselves. They don't need you to teach them how to go down a slide. Sit your butt down on the bench and let them climb up themselves. If they fall... they fall.
Maybe you disagree. It's true that we have already been to the emergency room twice, and Grey has pulled his arm out of the socket twice. Maybe that's not worth the risk to you, but I love seeing my kids explore and experience the world on their own - and I am positive that it's made them more capable, courageous, and independent.

4.  Let them tackle. 
This is not a scientific post or blog, so I won't quote studies at you: but it has been shown that tackling, wrestling, and roughhousing is good for boys. It helps them express and identify affection. My kids love a good chest bump, they regularly "rev up" down the hall, and come at us running - knocking us down with delight. They can't even pass each other in the hallway without slapping each other on the back. You don't need to scold your boys for knocking each other down, just teach them to be gentler and only tackle those who want to be tackled. Grey loves to come up behind those who are sitting and slam his body into them. Over and over. Every few times, he peeks over our shoulder, makes eye contact and smiles. It's like he's checking, "This is okay, right? I'm not hurting you?"
And if you smile back, then Bam. Bam. Body slam.

5. Don't teach them to be afraid. 
I am afraid of bugs. Not extensively, but I certainly don't want to squish them with my bare hands, and if a bee - even a friendly, fuzzy bumblebee gets in my house, I go into PANIC MODE.
But my kids are not afraid of bugs. They are not afraid of the dark. They, generally, aren't afraid of anything. They get surprised or worried, of course, and I'm sure that eventually they will be afraid of things.
But I try very hard not to ask them to be afraid. You know what I mean, saying things like "Ooh, it's dark! Are you scared?" (Even in a silly voice) because then they start to think that they should be afraid of the dark. I steel myself whenever we see bugs. I don't run away. If my kids pick up a beetle, I say, "Oh, wow! That's a beetle, be very gentle" and if they hand him to me, I take it. I set him on the ground, and I let myself get the heebie-jeebies inside only, or later when I tell Travis the story.
But I certainly don't tell my kids that I am afraid or that they should be. They can have their own neuroses they don't need mine.

6. Make them work, even if they're little. 
My kids help with dinner almost every night. They sweep the kitchen. They help make beds. They pick up their toys.
 But actually, they're the worst ever at those things. Half the time, when sweeping, they actually fling crumbs across the room. They put their toys in the wrong places. They dump a quarter cup of salt into my sauce, that I have to try to carefully spoon out. But I'm teaching them, and someday I will say to Grey "You're in charge of dinner tonight," and he will know how to make dinner.
As it is, he pretty much made muffins the other week. (Okay, So he just dumped the ingredients in, cracked the eggs, did the stirring, and helped pour it into the muffin tin. But that's pretty good for a two-year old.)

7. Don't make them hold still. 
If they want to eat a bite of dinner every time they run once around the table, just let them. If they want to run screaming to the end of the block, don't make them hold your hand and walk.
If they scream when you're strapping them into their stroller at the zoo, then just let them walk. If they have an exhausted meltdown later and need to be carried, then go get the stroller - or even better, teach them that their choices have consequences and make them keep walking.  (I am a total hypocrite, and usually end up carrying my kids through the second half of the zoo. But for real, every time I see a child that's clearly over three, riding in a stroller - I assume they're disabled. Why else would a mom put her preschooler in a stroller??)

If your kids build an obstacle course where they climb over the couch and under a chair over and over again, don't make them stop. They are wigglers. Let them wiggle.
Again, there are times and places to hold still, but it seems like boys are forced to sit in the car, in school, in church, at restaurants, so every time that your boy is at home and can spin in a circle with his arms outstretched, just let him.

8. Love on your boy. 
We all have different love-languages, as I think almost everyone knows. And I am not an expert and have no idea if this is real or not, but it sure seems like boys and men thing touch is a lot more important than almost every thing else. The same way that sex makes your husband feel better, even though you'd rather be told that you're beautiful, or get flowers, or have someone else do the dishes for once - little boys want your love through snuggles, hugs, kisses, and back-scratching. When my boys are sick, they don't want to read a book, they don't want a treat (although they wouldn't say no), they just want mom. They want to cuddle, and snuggle, and hug. They want me to lay them across my lap and rub their back. Not all boys are snugglers, but I think it's much more common for boys to be snugglers, huggers, and kissers than for little girls to be.
So take advantage of that while they're little. And get all the messy-faced smooches that you can, before they decide it isn't cool to cuddle with their mama. (Not all boys do outgrow it. My brother Jack is almost 16, and DANG! That boy is a serious cuddler, snuggler, hugger. He'd rather sit on a chair with you than on his own chair- and whenever we're in town, he spends half his time with his arms draped over my shoulders slouching behind me as I move around.  And I hope my boys stay that way, too. I love a good-hugging boy.)

And so my house is always messy. I have mud tracked on my floors every day. My children look ill-kept, possibly insane, and sometimes like they fell down a flight of stairs - which they have done. (Like in the photos below.) They are both excessively (worrisomely) brave when climbing up ladders and ridiculously obsessed with me kissing all their owies. They eat their food like they're starving cave-men, and are much too aggressive when stirring food on the stovetop. But, ah me, what can be done?
They are little boys after all, and I like it. 

 I wanted to make this list have an even 10, but I ran out at 8. What other things would you add to the list? I'd especially love to hear from Moms whose boys are older than mine! I only have two years of experience, after all. :)

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Anonymous said...

Thank you! I needed a reminder of this! I have 4 boys ages 4, 3, 2 and newborn. I am a total girly girl and it can be a challenge having so much testosterone around. I have discovered with my 4 year old that they love to play ninjas and shoot the bad guy, which I have a hard time with lol. But you have to play their kind of pretend! It may not be the gentle games I would much rather play but they LOVE it!

Party of Three Heads said...

I love this! I have a 2.5 year old boy.. I love my boy.. and I certainly wouldn't want it any other way!

Polly said...

When Jack was little we decided that we wouldn't buy or allow toy guns in the house. Not that we were against guns, but because we had guns in the house and didn't want them to be thought of as toys. As you may recall, we also didn't have TV so there was no access to to violent TV shows. Then one day while Jack was standing on the dining room table (do you see a pattern?) he picked up a washcloth and held it in his hand, pointed it his mom and started shooting her with it and laughing. Boys will be boys.

Unknown said...

I love this post, I can't wait for my daughter to play and rough house! I remember loving to play in the ditch in front of our house when I was little and digging for worms in our yard. To be honest I kind of hope my girl enjoys some of these "boyish" activities too when she gets older :) I want to try to be a mom who isn't too controlling.

Unknown said...

Moms of boys unite! I loved reading this! i have 3 boys ages 9, 7 and 4 and a daughter who just turned 2. Nine years in this parenting business and I can say that all the above stay very true but louder, messier, more entergetic! And honestly I hope my daughter grows up just like them except wearing a dress in the dirt! My parenting style is very similar and it has done nothing more than help them adjust in school and life in general as fun laidback kids! Boys still love to snuggle with their mommas even years down the road!

-Danica- said...

It's funny that this is titled "how to have boys" because EVERY single one of these points are things I deeply believe and stand by in parenting my little girl. I think it is so important to let them be kids and explore the world around them without controlling everything. Which includes not forcing certain outfits (except for things like church and important events) on my daughter, or always doing her hair. Because really, what would I be teaching her if I did? That she is only presentable with matching outfits and perfect hair? So we end up going to the store in princess dresses and mismatched shoes, with hair that looks like a crazy person. And I love it!

Also, I recommend this book to everyone, but you should check out "the child whisperer" by carol tuttle. It's all about taking the energy and personality each of your children are born with and encouraging them in a positive way rather than trying to control them. It really helped me let go of the things I realized were important to her, and pick my battles somewhere else.

Elizabeth said...

I especially like the teaching them to be brave and exploring by themselves. Elanor is not really afraid of much (she will jump into the deep end of a swimming pool) anne I like that about her. Thanks for linking my blog. Mine was not general though, just things to help with intelligence. I of course, agree and implement most of the things you listed. Some of these things just are not quite the same for girls, or for at least Elanor (tackling and holding still for example).

Emily Susan Kim said...

"But for real, every time I see a child that's clearly over three, riding in a stroller - I assume they're disabled." Hahahaha. I'm not a mom yet but I love this post and want to be a mom like you!

scott and ali said...

completely agree-moms that run after their boys trying to keep them out of dirt, sand, etc. are just making themselves go crazy! It's not worth the worrying, because like you said-boys will be boys

Amanda said...

This is so helpful! I'm starting to realise the whole "boys will be boys" thing, but I'm really struggling... I like everything clean and in order, so it's difficult for me to watch the craziness! And because I grew around all girls (and a girly man), I don't understand wrestling and being boys!! I'll definitely pring this out to remember to let go!!

Since you're now the uber person I look up to, can you also teach us some of your parenting skills? I struggle to get my boys to get along, did you have that issue? And how do you teach them that they're doing something wrong? Sorry, I'm new to this!! ;)

madamelinae said...

I like this post a lot, even though I am completely convinced that it could easily be titled "How to have children" and be even more helpful to everyone. Even though that may sound like a lesson on where babies come from.. Wait, so does the title of your blog anyway, so it's all in line. :D

I grew up on a street called Kuhberg (German for cow hill) and that is exactly what it was. Cattle just at the other side of the fence. I delightedly picked up cow poo, brought home worms and built little dams in the river nearby - without parental supervision. I liked to roughhouse and tackle my brother just as much as I loved to play with my dolls.
I think it is important to pick your battles. No matter if you're parenting boys or girls. The most difficult thing with all these guidelines might be that kids don't immediately understand why it's okay to tackle some people but not everyone. Why they can run and yell at home but not at church. But they'll get it eventually...

Crump it up! said...

I would only add that they love you, but most of the time they love daddy more. He can tackle them all day long. He can sit and teach them how to play video games. He can find the energy to go down the slide with them twenty more times after "the last time". You could do all of this too, but they would rather have daddy do it.

LP said...

I have 5 daughters and I love everything about this post. Let them be boys. My girls are girly and boys will be boys. You are a great mom and a great example to other moms. Keep sharing your life with us.

Anonymous said...

As a first-time mama-to-be of a little boy, this post came exactly when I needed to find it! He kicked for the first time this morning, and I was struck by the very REAL thought that in about 4 months, I will be a mama - to a BOY!

So...thank you for writing this post. Thank-you for the advice. Thank you for sharing your photos of your muddy, painty, oh-so-sweet little boys. It made a difference <3