Even with three kids there are times when I sill feel like I’m just now getting the hang of being a dad. Most of us are. That said, there are a few subtle nuances that I have picked up along the way as a dad that might come in handy for moms raising boys.
Ladies, here are some things to think about with your boys:
- Think caveman. Adult women have thousands of emotional states, as do girls like my daughter. Boys, on the other hand, tend to feel one of three: mad, sad, happy. Don’t project your complex emotional life on your son. His issue of the moment might not be that complicated. He wants to eat, poop, or run. On a really bad day he wants his toy back after some other kid took it from him. He doesn’t want to stare out the window and have lengthy discussions about the meaning of life, as my eight-year-old daughter often did.
- Watch his body not his mouth. Again, like adult men, the clues to how your son is doing will show up first in his body language. Jumping up and down with six-inch vertical leaps is the natural state of being and is good. Slumped shoulders are bad. Yelling is good. Quiet needs attention.
- When in doubt, hug. Boys will often have a much harder time than girls verbalizing their problems. My 5-year-old son will sometimes burst out into tears after seemingly trivial events. I know there is something deeper going on, but I am not going to get it out of him, at least not at that moment (whereas my daughter would not only tell me what went wrong but in no uncertain terms why it was my fault, which was generally true enough). So the solution is physical not verbal. I spend a lot of time just hugging my boys. I usually have no idea why. But as a default cure-all, it seems to work wonders. A minute later they are all patched up and ready to rumble again. This even works pretty well with my 14-year-old, who is a 6-foot-tall linebacker at Boston College High School.
- Yes, it really is all about poop. Girls potty train 6 to 9 months before boys, but once boys make it onto the throne, there is no stopping them. Moving their bowels is pretty much the highlight of their day (true confession: it still is for me, too), and they are going to want to talk about it. Bathroom time is a participatory sport. My five-year-old likes to head to the bathroom just as the family is sitting down to dinner, sometimesduring dinner. It’s the first time he has been still long enough to realize he has to go. And he wants me to come with him, not just to assist in the wipe but to have a leisurely conversation about the status of his poop. As much as I found this inconvenient at first, now I just go with it. Quality time is quality time.
- Batman lives forever. Boys, even at a young age, realize the importance of super powers. They want to be good and believe in the existence of ultimate good in the world. Boys sort out their identities in relation to the mythical characters they hear about. My son is obsessed with Batman. He wears a full costume, even through the airport and down Madison Avenue. What amazes me even more than his dedication to the superhero is how the guard at LaGuardia or the guy hanging off the back of a garbage truck sees him and shouts, “Batman!” My boy nods his head just slightly, acknowledging his public before moving onto the important work at hand, like going to kindergarten.
- Pointless physical activity is perfect. My brother and I once convinced his two sons and my older boy, when they were all around the age of 10, that they really needed to build a structure out of rocks. The rocks were on one side of a beach, but the perfect spot where the structure had to be built, according to our sage advice, was on the other side of the beach. Each stone weighed between ten and thirty pounds. The boys started moving the boulders one by one, working together to lift the heaviest ones. My brother and I set up our beach chairs midway from the rock pile to building site. We read the paper most of the morning while the boys tired themselves out moving rocks and then assembling a tremendous cathedral. By lunch they were tired and happy, and my brother and I had enjoyed a peaceful morning.
- Winning does matter, but less than you think. Boys — perhaps even more than girls — put themselves under extreme pressure to perform in school, in sports, and in social situations. They talk about it less, so the sting of failure can run even more deeply than with girls. With boys it’s important to emphasize the lessons to be gained from failure, instead of trying to win at all costs, and to emphasize the development of the whole boy. Too often in our culture, boys are pushed to become one-dimensional robots. Goodness isn’t about winning at youth soccer or having the most friends or being the smartest kid in class; it’s also about being kind. That’s something as a mom that you can particularly help your son understand.
- Clothes matter. I know there are way more options for dressing little girls than little boys, so the tendency might be to just throw jeans and a t-shirt on your son and forget about it. But you better make sure they are the right jeans and the right t-shirt. The only consistent battle I have had with my sons is over what they wear. It matters way more to them than I ever would have imagined. They want to look cool; they want to be comfortable (pants that are tight but not too tight, warm and yet breathable). I do draw the line with clothes that have already been worn two days in a row, but I don’t discount the importance of fashion to my kindergartener.
- Crowds, not so much. I have noticed that my daughter lights up when she enters a crowd, whether family or strangers. Mass humanity is something that gives her energy. With my boys, and, frankly, for me too, it’s the opposite. They get shy and tend to hide behind my legs. I try to protect them from these situations and not push them beyond their limitations.
- Bedtime is sacred. Because boys are so active, it’s hard to get them to sit still. The best time of day is the ten minutes before they go to sleep. Crawl into bed with them, read books, and hold them while they fall off to sleep. If you don’t believe in God, you will once you have lain next to your overactive son while his body goes limp next to you, and he ever so faintly begins to snore.
If you enjoyed this, you might also like Tom’s new piece: Raising Teenagers For Dummies (Like Me)
I thoroughly enjoyed your advice to Moms about raising boys! Nice job! Particularly noteworthy: 3 emotions, mad, sad, happy. But the most noteworthy of all is your advice about clothes. It was equally true in the ’50s when I grew up. The “right” jeans, the “right” sneakers, the right way to wear a plain white tee shirt – for us then (sleeves rolled up). Oh and underwear! My generation was changing from boxers as our fathers wore to white briefs! Nice job!
Oh how much I’ve enjoyed this article! Beautifully written and thanks for the heads up!
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Wow I love this. I am a single mother of 4 sons and I am constantly looking for inspiration on ‘how not to raise delinquents’. I run a blog about the adventures of raising sons (boytherhood.com) and will be reposting this article on our Facebook! Parents, we have to band together. The quality of our aged care depends on it.
This is beautiful. I felt the words as I read them. Being a mother of a 4 year old boy, I litteraly can FEEL this words
I am the mother of, and the survivor of, 4 sons and I now have 8 grandsons. I am blessed. One thing that I think is important is for moms to stop telling their sons that they are precious or sweet about the age of 6. At this time, they begin developing their sense of manhood and “sweet” just isn’t part of that. That can totally undermind his entire concept of his own manhood. Tell his grandma, his aunt, your best friend, but don’t tell him. Tell him he is wonderful, brave, thoughtful, kind, strong, smart, a great problem solver,… Read more »
Advice guaranteed to create aloof, emotionally distant fathers and husbands.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your son that he is “sweet”, any more than there’s anything wrong with telling a daughter that she is “tough” or “resourceful”. Haven’t gender-stereotypes hurt Dads in their relationships with their kids for long enough?
Whole heartedly agree.
respectfully disagree. I’m with Jeanne Logan
This kind of gender stereotyping strikes me on a personal note as well. I am a mother of a highly intelligent/highly sensitive boy. Most of the description of “boys” do not fit him at all. He loves to learn new things, to read, to teach things to others. He is very emotionally intense, moreso, I would say, than my daughter. The pressure of boys to be a certain way, rough and tumble, ignores the kids like my son whose wonderful qualities of caring, intelligent and conscientious are often overlooked in society’s quest to raise “tough” boys. Our national obsession with… Read more »
I agree. A lot of Tom’s advice seem personality-specific; rather than gender. I’m no scientist or PhD, but there is biological truth to boys having more physical energy than girls because of hormone levels at certain ages, etc. Look up the 16-personality types developed by Carl Jung. Kids can be typed at an early age, and knowing their type helps with how to raise them; rather than just knowing their gender!
Tom has had the unfortunate experience of being and fathering introverted males and an extroverted female and assuming it was a gender difference instead of a normal human difference.
Crowds? No thanks. I’ll stay home.
Thank You! I have 2 older girls and can read them like a book, my son who is the youngest is a different story. I will reconnect with him! He is now a teen and do not get him! They are different : Girls and Boys……
You lost me in the first sentence. Parenting isn’t a competition, it’s a collaboration. Opening your article with that is, at worst, pandering (“if I say that they’re better parents, women will read this!”), and, at best, disingenuous. I’m lucky to be married to a woman who, yes, is a great parent. But you know what? So am I. And neither one of us is keeping score of who is the “better” parent, because it’s something that we work at together.
Listen up parents! As a 30 year old female Ive met a lot of wonderful men, Ive also met just as many if not more childish men. Its dawned on me watching so many of my friends struggle with relationships in the present and the past that parents are messing up with their boys. If you you do have boys remember not to just teach them how to be good children. So many parents do this accidentally. Teach your boys how to be good friends, good roommates, good boyfriends, good husbands, good co-workers. I think some of these things come… Read more »
Heartfelt perhaps, but waaaay too overgeneralized about gender. I think I would rather read more dad’s experiences on how to parent in general as I think dads often are just as good of parents as moms, but do things differently.
I thought this was a great article. People need to chill out and realize that this man is sharing HIS personal experiences with HIS sons. Not everyone needs to be politically correct all the time. Yes there are actually biological differences between men and women, our brains are a bit different and generalizations are OK sometimes. Anyone with half a brain should know not EVERY boy or EVERY girl is going to fit into a typical category, that is OK there are ALWAYS outliers. I am the mom of a 3 year old boy, I’m a teacher, and I’ve worked… Read more »
This is a great post written from an experienced Dad, with a title that targets the wrong audience for some reason. I am really surprised you wrote this to Moms. Other than the first two points, I think this is great advice for all parents, but it really seems to be a must read for Dad’s. I don’t think it comes as naturally to Dad’s to hug, think about crowds, accept losing and care about clothing. It seems to me that Dad’s are looking to the Mom’s to interpret their kid’s meltdowns more frequently than not. I also don’t think… Read more »
I thought this article was funny, clever, adorable, and just a great read. I am mother to two boys and two girls. Great advice.
When a dad gives advice to moms… SEXISM!
please realize that these are clear generalizations and speak quite acurate to most boys. Let’s drop the whole “I am offended” baloney.
I have two boys. They use to say that I’m different from the “other mothers” they see. As a compliment. The fact is that I work with art, nature, and also as an activist (and the two boys very much participate in my work). I see they using me as a role model, and I consider it good but also a bad thing. Because I would prefer they grown more independent of what I am. We are best friends, like the three mosqueteers, but with a almighty captain, total rulers, that is me. I will really miss their childhood. Thanks… Read more »
Great article (for me) As a single mum of a ten year old (the father went off with his PA when he was 7mths old), I am mum and dad. I do worry about bringing up a balanced boy, without cossetting him too much. It is hatd for a boy to accept advice from his mum sometimes (I am for hugs and stories and organising his life apparently) You are right about the hugs being better than words. Hugs get my son to ‘breathe’ when he’s pent up. sometimes gets him to open up about how he is feeling, but… Read more »
A note on the second to last bullet point. You said that “crowds give girls energy.” This generalization you made is essentially the same as saying “girls are extroverts” (extroversion vs. introversion is defined by where people get their energy from: from being around others, vs. from having alone time). Well, yeah, some girls are extroverts, and thus gain energy from a crowd. But some girls, myself included, are introverts – we NEED our alone time in order to recharge. Also, yeah, some boys are introverts. But some, such as my cousin’s husband, are extroverts. I really am very skeptical… Read more »
I was coming here to say as much – you have found a personality distinction, not a gender distinction, for this point. I do believe in generalizations as far as genders, though. They don’t fit for 100% of boys (or 100% of girls) but they are a useful tool, and it’s clear that there are traits that are strongly present in the boy population and strongly absent in the girl population, and vice versa. It’s like what I’ve been teaching my nephew recently: When you say “boys are stronger than girls” you’re referring to them in the aggregate. It is… Read more »
He didn’t say crowds give girls energy. He said they give his daughter energy.
Spot on! Found myself laughing through your descriptions. Do I recognize the everyday life with a 4-year old boy!!! You bet! These advices works for a Norwegian mum as well. Thank you.
Mother of 2 (4-year old son, AND 8-year old daugther)
i felt really triggered by this article. i found it full of sexism and labeling of boys (and girls) as being one way only. many of what i read in it i could also say about many girls i know (i am a teacher and am around lots of kids all day long). statements like this: “Because boys are so active, it’s hard to get them to sit still” is not true of all boys and it implies that boys who are not particularly active are not “boyish”. also “Boys, on the other hand, tend to feel one of three:… Read more »
Absolutely, revolutionaria, I too found the article entirely sexist, with so much literature out there to the contrary why do people insist on attaching stereotypes onto genders. The actual differences in boys are girls are so small and cannot be attributed to the stereotypes that are so often banded around. We are all individuals and often ‘boy’ traits can be seen in most girls and vice a versa. Unfortunately boys are socialized from a young age not to talk about emotions or cry etc and girls are given more space to this. I have two children, both boys who are… Read more »
According to this article I am a boy(and I am a 29 year old female!). I hate crowds, I don’t like to talk about my emotions, I only wear sneakers and jeans when given the option, but they had better be the right jeans and sneakers, my body language is not so different from that described but I certainly won’t tell you about what’s bothering me willingly, and I move constantly even when it’s not necessarily productive. I don’t have children but I am a teacher and have seen a wide variety of children. There are no ‘boy traits’ or… Read more »
Beautifully said Jess, if only everyone was so open minded about gender, I absolutely agree with you regarding traits and about the focus on the individual.
Wow, I’m so glad you commenters not any of my kids teachers! I am the mother of 5, four boys and one girl. Some people TOTALLY missed the point! I think they took your words as the bible and implied that you are proclaiming to know all as truth. I, on the under hand, found it funny and very true. I appreciated your honesty and humor. And I especially liked getting an honest male point of view. Keep writing and let these “politically correct”, no keeping score, nay sayers go find another article to lash thier insecurities at!
I am so with Tina. Really people. I am one of 10 children – 5 of each and have 4 children myself. 2 boys and 2 girls. I too appreciated the honesty and humour and I would most definately say (and I am also teacher) that my boys and my girls require very different parenting from me and it is nice to hear someone else say that they do to.
I couldn’t agree more with these people being the “gender police”. They totally missed the mark here. This is an amazing article and I love it! I’m also thankful any of thos persons aren’t my sons teachers!
Great article. sorry the gender police can’t understand the concept of GENERALIZATION.
I find the article perfect! Thank you so much for your insight! Ignore the feminist women above and it gave me a great insight that i enjoyed reading.
how sad we need to ‘ignore the feminist women’! because here’s another feminist woman *pauses to allow the eyerolls* who agrees … and Jim, i think the problem i am having with the article is the opposite to generalisation, that it is very specific to these sons. which makes it a nice article, but hardly useful advice for MY son. and I’m entirely unsure whether it is a worthy piece for The Good Men project which is about NOT enforcing the gendered roles that have damaged so many of our beautiful young men. nice personal piece, not so great advice.… Read more »
I agree with everything, except one thing. I do not think that moms are generally better parents. There are too many factors involved for that to be true in my opinion.
I agree with many of these points, especially the ones about hugging, physical activity, and quality time. Some of them, however, are worth calling out. For one, making generalizations about the personality types of men and women is based entirely on lack of truth. Personality types do not favor gender, and children are not that different from adults. The shy woman you met at the office was not a center-of-attention-seeker as a young girl, simply by being a young girl. She was shy, like she is now. It seems that your daughter is more extroverted and outgoing while your boys… Read more »
I appreciate the article (well-written, enjoyable, pretty helpful) but I do feel obliged to point out to other readers looking for advice that quite a lot of the above isn’t universal. I’m not a parent, but I have been a babysitter and long-term nanny for several different children, and I can say it varies quiet a lot, particularly being in crowds, talking, hyperactivity, and dealing with emotions.
But yes, Batman!!
I loved your casual insight. Thanks for the good advice.