I am posting this with great trepidation... after all, who am I to write on raising boys? I'm the mom of three girls... The only male in this house is my husband. Believe me, I have a vested interest in boys, for my girls will hopefully marry mature godly men someday! Perhaps raising grandsons will be in the future. And growing up with only a brother and mostly male cousins didn't go unheeded... I had to WORK at being a girl with all that "male-ness" to contend with! Many of you might be able to write a better post than this one because you've successfully raised boys who became godly men, but humor me if you will and consider some of my thoughts. Especially if you are new to parenting and you have miles to travel through the journey of raising children.
And let me say right from the beginning, moms of boys have a REALLY tough job raising them to be manly in our 21st century culture. It's a lot easier to write on something than to put it into practice! My heart goes out to you for the daunting task at hand. But it isn't impossible in the least. This isn't the first time in history that parents have faced this challenge and if the Lord tarries it won't be the last. To make excuses dooms our children before we even get started! Better to embrace the challenge and wear out our knees in prayer than to whine that it can't be done!
Second, to write a post with "five simple steps to raising boys" trivializes the issue. It can't be accomplished that simply. Books upon books have been written on the subject and most assuredly will in the days ahead, however, I hope to get the conversation started here at Homestead Revival with ideas that will spur parents to consider this topic at length and make applications where it's appropriate for their families.
In my humble opinion, I present to you some of my own concerns that I feel are major obstacles in today's culture for boys to become men (in no particular order)...
• Obscured roles within the home. In general, we talk a good talk, but we don't walk the walk when it comes to the husband-wife relationship. Our men either shrink from being authority figures at all because wives refuse to be submissive (or do so subtly), or the men become unruly and overbearing in order to try to grasp and retain authority. I know that sentence seems kind of ugly on both ends, but it has been the struggle in marriage since the Garden of Eden. The only difference now is that women are mostly working outside the home, have freedoms they never dreamed of even 100 years ago, and many are raising their children alone. Is it any wonder boys shrink from being godly men when they aren't sure what that means?
Ladies, we cannot make our men be leaders in the home, but we can be submissive and honor our husbands, giving them respect, even when we don't think they deserve it. (Do we deserve respect back when we fail to show respect?) Within Christian circles, I've heard many things come out of the mouths of women that are totally antithetical to being submissive wives (mine included! I've shocked myself at times!) Many men (I dare say, most) will shrink back from taking on their god-given role as the leader when the wife is constantly pushing against them in the area of respect and submission. Why then, would our young men aim for something that they see as an impossible challenge? Why would they jump into a marriage where they feel they will be disrespected? And if they did, would they even know what Biblical leadership really looks like?
(I could write a book on this, so it's probably best that I move on to the next point and let you mull it over and decide for yourself.)
• Vicarious experiences through electronic entertainment that don't really challenge maleness. That's a mouthful! Even secular researchers recognize that we are on a dangerous path with all our new-found electronic freedoms. And I'm sure you're not surprised that I have strong opinions about electronic entertainment, but putting all that aside, the best of the best in video games will always fall short because they don't really challenge boys to be men. Strong thumb muscles from remote control workouts do little to strengthen overall body muscles and expel excess testosterone. In fact, a steady diet of internet surfing, Facebook time, texting, video games, and the like has a better chance of breeding laziness than anything else.
• Boys need to be outdoors! Even if they don't want to, boys should be outside for a portion of each day. Even if his talents and inclinations lean toward the arts, academics, or some other indoor activity. Nature has a way of opening up his heart and mind to God while exercising his body. And if the Lord calls him to some vocation that requires a lot of desk work, he'll need to be familiar with the outdoors to keep his body fit and strong for the task at hand. He needs to develop the habit of nature.
• Boys need to conquer, protect, and take dominion. Throughout history, this has taken place within the context of survival for daily life. Farming, hunting, fishing, building shelters (helping to construct a home), learning to fight... all skills a boy not only would need in the future, but skills the parents needed him to practice as quickly as possible for the good of the family unit. Sports took place as a means of community entertainment, but only sporadically, occurring mostly at social gatherings on special occasions.
Today, we've substitute real skills that last a lifetime for football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. And mostly because many boys do not have access to hunting areas and such, especially if they live in urban areas. PLEASE hear me when I say that sports are not evil or bad for our kids as a general rule. Two of my very own children do so with great joy. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that these are adequate substitutes for conquering and taking dominion; for protecting and learning skills for a lifetime (precious few will ever be engaged in sports as a career). Have we convinced ourselves that the only place a boy can learn team work and submitting to authority is within the context of sports? Are we running them around to so MANY sports that they don't have time to learn life skills? Ask yourself what IS your son is doing in order to learn conquering, protecting, and taking dominion?
• Boys need responsibility early in life. Chores and jobs should always be age appropriate, but we must be careful not to "dumb down" our children, assuming they are too young for some task. Most of the time, we underestimate, not over-estimate, their ability to do something. And it's okay if they struggle with it in the beginning; it will give them greater satisfaction and genuine self-confidence (not the sinful pride of false self-esteem) when they master a goal that seemed impossible only a few days prior.
• Allow boys to fail. This is a good thing when the stakes are low in order that they know how to recover, get up, and try again. And to do so with dignity! Too many moms rescue their boys, never allowing them to own up to their own mistakes, preventing them from facing giants, and testing themselves (proving their worth) against blows they will most assuredly take as men. I'm not advocating setting our boys up for failure; life will bring plenty on it's own and we don't need to hunt it down. But in today's society, we err on the side of rushing in to protect them from little opportunities that would serve to make men of them in the future.
• Boys need a clear understanding of the terms "gentleman", "meekness", and "manners". As a teacher and principal, the inevitable conflict between boys playing rough and playing with restraint came up... every. single. day. One mom would complain that a young man was too rough with her own son (coming to his defense!). The other mother would counter that her son had been cooped up in a classroom for 4 hours and needed to expel energy... and after all, he IS a boy. What's the correct response in a situation like this? Yes, the rougher boy had a need to be manly, but context is king in this situation. REAL men know that meekness is strength restrained. Like a wild stallion brought under control by it's master. The stallion will always have the ability to crush and trample, but he learns that with people he must be meek. If a boy understands that there are times to be rough and tough, yet times to be restrained and mannerly, while given opportunities for both, he won't become exasperated. (And to the mom who is rescuing her son in this kind of situation... stop, talk to your husband first, and ask how to proceed if your son is feeling bullied. Another man should know what skills to instill in his son to help him rise up to meet conflicts like these.)
• Boys need entrepreneurial skills. Even if a young man ends up working for someone else, having entrepreneurial competence develops a sense of responsibility, assertiveness, initiative, thinking ahead, planning, execution, and a host of other skills he'll need someday as a leader within the home or on the job. Don't wait until they are of "legal" age to work outside the home for someone else; start them earlier with their own small home-based business. Who knows, it could be the beginning of a life-long career. And if times are tough, they'll know how to roll up their sleeves and find ways to support their family rather than waiting for the government to provide in the unemployment line.
A caveat for mothers who do the majority of homeschooling of their boys through their teen years... you'll need to be extra careful not to overly "mother" your young man. It's our God-given inclination to protect our young, nurturing them until they leave the nest. But we should be weaning them off our coddling, not prolonging it. Consider the possibility of your son working independently for most of the day on his studies, while reporting to dad in the evening. Fathers can further help by assigning them some manly manual work for a portion of the morning or afternoon, such as cutting firewood, clearing land, working on an old car, repairing something in the home, etc. If you're a single parent, consider an apprenticeship with another godly man for your son.
And for those raising daughters only... it's easy to become critical when surveying the male population coming up, but beware of being too hard on the mothers of boys or the young men themselves. No one will ever parent perfectly and often we judge the unfinished product. Uphold your sisters and brothers in prayer, with all humility and love.
As you can imagine, I have not even begun to scratch the surface of such a deep topic (and applications are running rampant through my mind). It's a hard topic to address because it strikes a deep chord in everyone's soul. Take heart, dear mothers! He wants your little man to stand strong and be godly even more than you do and He will be there to help every step of the way!
Please share the #1 thing you feel boys need in order to become godly, mature men, after a relationship with Jesus Christ.