I’m the mother of four boys, aged between 8- and 24-years-old. When my first son was born, I had expected a daughter (thanks, ultrasound technician) but found out just a few days before his birth at a wellness check ultrasound that ‘she’ was actually ‘he’. Since he was born, every ultrasound tech made the same announcement, three more times—“it’s a boy!”
I threw myself into learning everything I could about infant and early childhood development, what kinds of toys would stimulate learning, how to raise them to be independent, honest, caring individuals who would contribute to society and have empathy for others. I could probably write a book about my experiences, because at this point, I really do think I’ve seen it all. From the birth of my oldest son to the birth of my youngest, things have changed so much. The safest way to lay them down in their crib; cloth diapers to disposables and back to cloth again. The one thing that never changed for me was my opinion that boys and girls didn’t need to be raised much differently.
I started out trying to be the perfect mother, providing the perfect environment for boys, and the perfect toys, and by son number three, a lot of that went out the window. For example, my first son sent me racing to the Emergency room every time he fell and dented his head on something, slammed his fingers in a door, or sneezed too often. When my second son was born, visits to the ER diminished to asthma flare-ups, stitches, or obvious infections when the doctor’s office was closed. By the time son number three made his way into the world, I was crazy-gluing small gaping cuts closed with crazy glue. It’s all the hospital would have done anyway, but without the wait and exposure to hospital germs (a nurse taught me that trick).
I guess I figured out that I had an ideal for the type of lifestyle I wanted the boys to live, and just got on with it, realizing that there just wasn’t any rulebook for raising my four very different kids.
It’s been 24 years since my first son was born, and my other children are aged 19, 11, and 8 now. Like many kids, they’d rather be watching television or movies, or playing video games. I suppose I’m old-fashioned, but I still cling to the ideals I had when my first son was born. I want to raise healthy, well-rounded boys, who aren’t constantly attached to a screen. I’ve always been an outside-the-box kind of parent, breastfeeding my boys until they decided they were done (between ages 2 and 3 years), allowing my kids to play with my old Cabbage Patch dolls, and encouraging them help me with baking in the kitchen. Two of my boys used to put the preemie Cabbage Patch dolls under their shirts and pretend to breastfeed them, which really turned heads when it happened in public!
My second youngest desperately wanted a toy vacuum and a dust buster for Christmas one year, so he got it. He would get up every morning and vacuum the floors and clean the table with the dust buster, then repeat it all at night after his toys were put away. He also asked for a toy lawnmower, which he diligently used to ‘cut’ our lawn. Their favorite toys were Lego and K’nex, and a variety of board games. By the age of 4, the dolls fell away in favor of toy soldiers and Matchbox cars, and they began to build more and more complex structures from the massive amounts of Lego we had accumulated over the years. One of my kids still occasionally enjoys playing with his Barbie and her pooping dog. I don’t care what my boys play with as long as it’s positive play.
I have a rule: each child must be enrolled in one social activity (my two youngest are in Cubs and Scouts), at least one physical activity (swimming is a MUST) and one artistic activity. The artistic activity tends to change over time; however, they always come away from their recreational activities having learned something valuable, and having expanded their minds and social skills. Because of these rules, I have two sons who are Lifeguards/Swim Instructors, two sons who play drums, one of whom also plays a myriad of other musical instruments including the guitar and bass (and is now teaching others) one son who plays the piano, and three sons who are actively involved in volunteer activities completely removed from their other activities.
I’ll be damned if I’ll clean up their messes, their rooms, or helicopter parent them. My boys will learn to take responsibility for their own actions, clean up their own messes, learn to meet their own deadlines, and face their own consequences. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll defend them with my last breath if they’ve been wronged or someone abuses them. I’m a lioness when it comes to my kids. I just won’t be responsible for raising boys that will grow into men with a sense of privilege who believe that someone else will always do the work for them, and that the rules don’t apply to them.
I have never been a believer in raising boys to be boys, and girls to be girls. My boys have, or are, learning how to cook proper meals from scratch (no, not Kraft dinner!), have learned how to bake, and know how to do laundry. They know how to remove stains from clothing, and how to steam clean a carpet after they broke the rules and ate blueberry yogurt in their bedrooms. They’ve taken ballet, music, art classes, horseback riding, and gymnastics, to name a few.
They’ve also taken ice skating, played ice hockey, taken swim lessons, swam on swim teams, taken taekwondo, participated in triathlons, been on the track and cross-country running teams. They all know how to install hardwood flooring, use a paint roller, use a hammer safely, put up blinds, unclog a toilet, and check tire pressure and the fluids in a vehicle. They all know how to set up a wireless internet network, troubleshoot network problems, and two of them unfortunately know how to hack into my iPad.
Two of them saved lives before they turned 18.
Like all kids, my boys are far from perfect, but I think they’re pretty awesome. My job is far from done, but as long as I’m alive, my boys will learn that all life skills are gender-neutral. When they leave my home, they will be ready to face the world with all of the tools they need to succeed. Not just the skills that social gender rules dictate.
Photo: Getty Images