Bringing Up Boys
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an avid reader (as much as life with small children will allow). Sara often makes fun of me for reading textbooks for pleasure. For example, one of my current reads is a textbook on Old Testament archaeology. I’m just a Bible nerd and I own it proudly. However, I also ensure that throughout the year I pick up books that help me be a better husband and father. I’m just finishing up Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson.
A friend of ours recommended this book several years ago when we were still getting a handle on the baby stuff. Now that our oldest son has reached school age (what in the world happened???), he’s begun to present numerous parental challenges that, quite frankly, blow my mind and leave me scratching my head (where everything exploded out, of course). Sara wisely ordered this wonderful book and I dove right in hoping to glean some much needed wisdom. I wasn’t at all disappointed. Bringing Up Boys has really helped me understand; and re-learn in some cases; some behavioral tendencies that naturally drive parents bonkers. Here are some valuable nuggets I’ve picked up from this wonderful book:
Boys Will Be Boys – Somewhere along the way we grow up and forget that little boys are not mature adults like we parents supposedly are. For some reason I kept expecting my 3- and 5-year-old boys to act and react like rational grown-ups. Why couldn’t they sit still and stop yelling?!? Why did they have to leave a wake of destruction everywhere they went and create minefields of toys in all of the high-traffic areas in the house?!? I started to think they did it just to see how well I’d learned to control my tongue. How foolish was I? The answer is: they’re boys! That’s what they do. They are rambunctious little Tasmanian devils that feed off of competition, destruction, and adventure. They don’t stop to think about how they feel or even how I feel most of the time. They just go full throttle and see what happens. Trying to take that out of them is not only impossible, it adds needless frustration and anxiety for us as parents. To take the rambunctiousness out of a boy would be to take away what makes him a boy. It’s better to accept that your life raising boys will just be loud, messy, sticky, and often stinky. As a dad, it’s my job to vector and mold all of that boy-ness into a healthy, stable, and Christ-loving man. The challenge is that their natural inclinations (thanks to that wonderful hormone testosterone) tend toward competition, aggressiveness, and risk-taking. All things that make molding and harnessing all of that boy-ness into a somewhat exhausting adventure. I like what Dobson says on this in particular: “That’s why I recommend that you not look too quickly for the person your child will become. It is also why I believe parents should seek to ‘just get them through it’ rather than trying to fix everything that bugs them as parents.” That is to say…a big task of raising boys is to ensure they survive until they can hear the voices of reason and common sense!
Dad’s Are Critical – This wasn’t so much of a revelation as a 2-ton reinforcement. I’ve always known that my role as a father was an important one. You can’t talk about many of the ills in our society today without being confronted with the fact that absent or disengaged fathers have a lot to do with many of the root causes. However, Dobson devotes two entire chapters to explaining why present and engaged fathers are so important to raising boys and an additional 2-3 chapters about topics which dads are particularly suited to handle (competition and masculinity). This is not to say that mom’s aren’t important or that a single mom can’t raise a well-adjusted and god-fearing man (we know many single moms out there doing just that); but it does point out the fact that when it comes to raising boys in particular, dad’s simply must be involved and engaged. We can’t leave mom to take care of everything while we become workaholics or devote too much time to our “manly” hobbies at the expense of our boys. We have a very important role to play and there really is no substitute. Having other strong male figures in the boys life may help, but nothing can replace Dad in a boys life.
Approval Needed – Boys are emotionally complex creatures. Just because they are different from girls (and oh man they definitely are different, despite what any politically correct secular philosophy will tell you) and they don’t always wear their true emotions on their sleeves, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a diversity of emotions going on. Boys’ brains are wired so much differently from girls in a way that separates the thinking and emotional centers of their brains. Sometimes they aren’t even aware of how they feel and therefore have trouble expressing it. Part of those diverse emotions is a strong need for approval, particularly from their dads and other boys. Though they may not even realize it, a lot of how they build their understanding of self-worth is in how their attempts to emulate their fathers are received. For good or for bad, boys want to be like their dad and will go to great lengths to show their similarities with their heroes. Whether it is because their dad is too busy, not around, or just disinterested, boys who can’t get their dads to take interest in them and show that approval will struggle mightily in so many areas of life. Part of the reason dad’s are so critical to boys is bound up in this fact.
Overall, what I loved about this book was its practical and down-to-earth emphasis on recognizing the distinct challenges of raising boys and how they are different from raising girls. That’s kind of a “duh” thing to say; but really, with so many people trying to tell us that we need to raise boys to be more like girls and vice versa so that they are treated equally. They may be equal in worth, but they are distinctly different and have vastly different needs. Bringing up Boys gives a lot of focus on how to manage, vector, and develop your boy’s masculinity. As I say to my Bible study class any time I talk about a book I’ve read, the ones that I am willing to endorse are few and those I will endorse without reservation are even fewer. This is one of those books I would wholeheartedly recommend to any and all parents raising boys or who are in a position to influence a boy (i.e. grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.).