Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Two Sons - On Raising Greers

(photo by Judea Jackson.)

These are my boys when they were littles.
They are not little anymore.

Yesterday Vanessa left me this comment on my Heirloom post
...I too, have two boys. I love them so, but as a very girly girl I struggle with how to parent them well and pass on values that matter (they are still very young).... , you seem to have been successful with your boys passing on the faith and traditions that matter! I got your book and love it. What is your advice specifically for raising boys?!

First of all, THANK YOU Vanessa for the sweet words. Parenting is never a sure bet and half the time I am convinced that I am doing it ALL wrong. But I forge ahead with prayer and patience and tenacity and do what I feel is best.

It is no big secret that I thought I would have girls. 
I came for a very female-dominated family and as a girly-girl, I just sort of assumed that I would have girls and boys, but especially girls. (My dream scenario was two of each and I am still not convinced we won't adopt sibling girls one day...)
But I had boys (and I fell head-over-heels in love, of course) and after the initial shock wore off,  I decided to figure out how to be the best mom I could be for my boys, how to relate to them in ways that would fit their personalities and gender.

Now, I am not a big "boys will be boys" and "girls are just that way" sort of person. 
I believe in individuality and equality and cooperation.
I am a Jesus Feminist after all.

But the reality is that if you want to read a book about how to parent a child who likes worms and baseball and wrestling, well then generally you have to buy a "Boy" parenting book, and if you want to read a book about a child who likes to dance, and paint, and sit quietly and have tea parties, then you have to buy a "Girl" parenting book. 
It is just how things are these days


So when Wylie was around the age of 2, and really begin to develop his own interest and personality,  which for him did not include sitting still coloring or throwing tea-parties for his stuffed animals (which I would have been perfectly content with by the way - less noise for me!)  I looked for a book that would help me relate to his active, intense, spirited, dirt loving, cowboy playing, ball throwing self. 

BOYS! was the best book I could find at the time and I personally found the first few chapters hugely helpful. It taught me how to wrestle and tickle as a way to show my active boy affection. It taught me how to handle his intense outburst and how to get in the dirt with the worms and the rocks and enjoy myself. It taught me how to see piles of sticks as gifts and energy spikes as normal and not defiance. To see his imaginary play and need to wear costumes everywhere as his way of trying on parts of himself and testing them in the world.

For Miles, the Spirited Child came in a little more handy. This is the kid who has always wanted to CREATE more than anything. He is almost 10 and he no longer wants toys as gifts. He wants a blacksmith forge.
 As a toddler he colored and painted EVERY surface. He went through a cutting phase where he cut up anything he could - my shoes, pillows, books... And the things he flushed down the toilet... I think he cost us two toilets before age 5. 
Now he hammers everything.
Or tries to wire it up to go faster.

But those early years are behind us and  I no longer have preschoolers or elementary students in my house.
Now I am learning how to parent young men and I am leaning on the wisdom of those who have gone before me, soaking up all I can from moms a little further down the road.
Also, I am expanding on what I have learned thus far, what took root in my own rearing by my marvelous momma, and making it work for us.
Here is a little list of parenting guidelines... Some are tried and true, and some are new to us and we are still working through the kinks... None are done perfectly all the time!

They are, in not particular order:

Family Meal Time: 
You eat what we eat. 
If you don't like what we prepare for dinner, then you don't have to eat it, but you cannot throw a fit, complain or make yourself a separate meal.

Church:  (this one I got from my new pastor, Teri Daily)
Everyone has to serve the body in at least one area. I don't care if it is serving as an usher, singing in the choir, or volunteering in the nursery or helping in the food pantry, everyone gives back. Sometimes we serve as a family and sometimes we serve as individuals. We are not church-consumers.

*We also work to serve in our geographic community as well - working with the homeless in our city, helping with warming shelters and refuge homes for women and children, but these are seperate from our work in our local church family. I believe that both are important.

Everyone comes to their own understanding of faith in their own way. However, as the parents we have decided to follow the Christian faith. Therefore the boys are expected to participate in faith traditions and celebrations as long as they live with us. They are free to question, to explore, to have doubts, and  to speak those doubts, and we promise to not shame or bully them into our way of thinking. But they are expected to participate in our expression of faith while they live with us. (So far this has worked out without much conflict, but they are young still.)

Everyone is entitled to their own feelings but that does not mean you get to be rude. You are entailed to be sad, or mad, or frustrated, or excited, but you do not get to run over everyone in your wake. If you are excited and your brother is sad, have compassion, don't throw it in his face. If you are mad at your mother you must still obey her with a good attitude.

One boy unloads the dishwasher and the other loads. This started when they were about 7 years old each.
On all other chores they are expected to help when asked -folding laundry, mowing the yard, cleaning the toilet. 
All chores are done for the benefit of the family, not just for the benefit of the individual.
This is why they won't be expected to wash just their clothes on laundry days. They have to help wash everyones clothes.

They are expected to their best and ask for help.
Teaching them to ask for help has been the biggest hurdle. As smart kids they assume they should know how to do everything and are reluctant to look "foolish" in front of teachers or classmates and so do not always get the help they need. Teaching them to be their own advocates has been a huge goal of ours.
They also know that the sorts of colleges they want to go to will require great grades plus. We have worked to find a balance of letting them know the implications their grades will have on their future without just losing our minds and applying so much pressure that it freaks them out.
We don't really care where they go, but they seem to care, so we are trying to help them prepare.

As change that I begin to notice at the beginning of last school year, when Wylie turned 13, was how much more emotional and mental energy parenting was beginning to require.
When the boys where littles I was physically worn out in a way that affected my mental and emotional state from all of their demands - feeding, bathing, changing, keeping them out of the street, preventing them from eating magnets... The usual.

Now we are entering the roller-coaster years of teenage hormones and emotions and radical physical changes on their part.
We have 4 years left with Wylie at home and 8 with Miles.
This is our last shot to pour all we can into helping them become well-rounded, kind, self-sufficient young men on a daily basis.
And that takes a lot of mental energy.
Mommas gotta get her game face on.

So I am scaling back on a lot of things.
Pulling out of various communities, scaling back the variety of writing gigs I take, changing jobs, staying home more, being in the kitchen more (because they will always come to the kitchen,) making myself available when they are ready to talk and cry and bemoan life as an adolescent , as much as I can. 

Because when they were babies 4 and 8 years was a long way off.
And now that it is all I have left I can't believe how fast it will fly.


Do you have some great parenting guidelines that you have found to be tried and true?
What resources have you used to connect to your kids?

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