There will always be days to recount mountain journeys or races to run. (In 7 days to be exact). But yesterday, all day, my mind has been heavy, weighed down in self-reflection. My heart consumed with worry. How do you raise a man? How do you know that you are making the right decisions to raise a boy to become a man?
How do you raise a man?
I mean, let’s state the obvious. I am not a man. I do not know a man’s mind. I am a woman, a mother, trying to raise a boy to someday become a man. My son, my little man, being raised in a house full of women. In a house, where his sisters like everything to be “fair and just.” They don’t understand what it means to be a boy either.
This little man…my wish for him is the same as my girls. To be kind and gentle. To brave and full of heart. To be respectful and appreciative. To love and be loved.
How do I know I am raising him right? My choices, responses, actions. I am a woman, operating from a woman’s mind and perspective.
My little guy is a force to be reckoned with most days…and I say this with unfailing love for him.
He is a force, in every sense of the word. Everything he does and exudes comes at you with force. He loves you with so much emotion. Every time he hugs you, it’s like he’ll never see you again, holding onto you so tightly. He even laughs with great force…with every ounce of his being.
He plays with high-octane force, both physically and imaginatively. When we are out in public, he can turn anything into an obstacle course…including people. Buzzing and weaving in and out of people and places. At home, no matter what the toys are, he turns everything into a battle. His ninjas, his stuffed animals, his Minecraft characters…even his sister’s Shopkins.
This is him. In a nutshell. A boy…in a house full of girls. So raise him to be compassionate, kind-hearted, gentle, and respectful. Yes. Most definitely.
But there is a flip-side to his high emotions. Anger and sadness? Just as intense. There are days when being his mommy drains every last ounce of patience and energy out of me. Days when his anger gets the better of him, and he projects it out on his sisters, or myself. Days when his mindset is stuck on control-mode, and his outbursts are so amplified that we do all we can do not explode as well.
Some days I can remain patient. Other days? Well…not so much. Those are the days I have failed him as a mother, as a woman. “Be easy, be forgiving, he’s just a boy (not a man),” I repeat in my mind. Are my expectations for his behavior higher than the girls? Is that what we do as parents with our sons and daughters? Is it fair?
He doesn’t think so. He states often that things are unfair. That the girls “don’t get in trouble” the way he does. My heart is so heavy because I think he’s right. Are we tougher with boys? Do we hold them to a higher standard for behavior?
Those are the days I have failed him. Those are the days I am filled with guilt and empty with self-forgiveness. How do you raise a boy to become a man? Maybe I’m asking the wrong question. Maybe the question is how will I create an environment where all of my children feel loved, heard, supported and safe?
When I ask him what is something I always say to him, his response is “I love you.” I taught him how to ride his bike. I taught him how to swim on his own. I model for him, through my own actions, that being brave doesn’t mean being perfect. That it is ok to take risks. Sometimes we achieve success and sometimes we fail….hard. But no matter what, we rise and try again.
I know there is more that he needs for the pure fact that he is a boy. What about his need for independence? What about the need to save face with his friends when the time arises for that? Being gentle won’t help him there.
But being strong of heart and mind will perhaps? A strong heart. A strong mind. My little man…he watches, he observes, he analyzes. He takes it ALL in and processes it the best he can, organizing all of his information into boxes. I absolutely love watching him think. He is truly brilliant. He takes it all to heart as well.
A boy in a house full of women. It cannot be easy to navigate and survive some days. We have our own emotional regulation issues to deal with. He needs his people. He is better when he has “his people.” I lug a heavy sack of guilt around that as well. My family lives on Long Island still. We don’t have my family to see on weekends. His grandpa, his boy cousins, his uncles…His People.
My little man…he is a force. He wants to be strong. All powerful. The Alpha. Is it wrong to teach him to be gentle and kind, instead of rough and tough? That it is much better to communicate feelings through words than outbursts or ignoring them. Am I failing him by not supporting his need to be strong and tough on the exterior? I know he plays hard. At home. At school. Always. All or nothing attitude. So where is the balance? And what is MY role as his mother?
He even dreams with force. He is the only one who has terrible nightmares. I cannot even remember the last time either of the girls had a bad dream. And what do I do when he comes in my room, seeking comfort? Do I tell him to ” be a big boy” and go back to bed?
I do not. I hear him. I see him. He matters. I hold him and hug him. We snuggle until he feels safe again…safe enough to close his eyes and sleep. Maybe that is what he needs to learn how to become a man? To feel safe and loved. To be heard and seen.
Yes…boys are brave. And so are girls. Does he feel loved, heard, safe and supported? My heart deep down says yes…
Days when I swell with pride and love in raising a boy are the days he shows me. Sometimes it is with the tightest hug in the world. Sometimes, he leaves me notes like this:
These are the days I exhale and thank God for another chance to “get it right” as his mommy. Days when I remember he is just a boy...and not a man yet. Days when I practice patience, so I can guide him on his journey towards his own manhood someday.
Like the great Dicky Fox said in Jerry Maguire, “Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I’ve failed as much as I’ve succeeded. I love my wife (I’ll insert “kids” here) I love my life, and I wish you my kind of success.”
So for now, I will cherish the moments, both joys and struggles, with raising a son. I will accept not having all the answers. Maybe the answers are simple? I will be kind, gentle and loving. ( I mean, honestly, how can you not love that face! )
I will continue to be his biggest fan…and somedays, even his Lovey. Amen.