Raising Real Men

I recently was able to borrow the book Raising Real Men from a friend.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this book.  As a mother of two girls followed by two boys I can testify to you that boys and girls are different, and it’s not just about the plumbing either.
I was sold on Raising Real Men when I read “When girls are quiet, all’s sweetness and light.  When boys are quiet, someone better check on them.”  Any woman who has mothered a boy knows the truth of that statement.
As the mother of a four year old boy and one year old boy, I read this book with an obvious bias towards what I can do to help my littles ones.  If you have older boys, then you will read it with them in your thoughts and will no doubt glean different things than I did.
Raising Real Men, by Hal and Melanie Young covers snips and snails all the way through puppy dog tails.  As you will know from my last post, boys are rough and tumble, stick loving, rock throwing, danger seeking, stinky balls of love.  As a woman, that can be frustrating (ok, there is no CAN about it.  It IS frustrating.)
By the time my girls were two and four I knew I had this parenting thing figured out.  Read to them, give them plenty of cuddles, set out some crayons and paper and they will color princesses and unicorns until the sun goes down.  Life couldn’t be easier.
Enter Spencer.  Life is no longer easy.  Matt and I often joke about how his name coupled with his big eyes and glasses will often engender thoughts of a soft spoken and gentle child; those thoughts could not be farther from the truth.  If we had known what he was going to be like, we might have named him Rocky, or Spike.  Those would both be more in tune with his nature.  Spencer can’t get off anything without jumping, he spends 80% of his time upside down (you’d be surprised how long he can stand on his head) and will not go at any speed slower than a sprint.  He’ll sit for 3.2 minutes when I try to read to him and his creations with crayons and paper don’t even slightly resemble princesses and unicorns.  Though he does still let me give him plenty of cuddles 🙂
We were terrified when we found out Jack was a boy.  Neither of us thought we could handle another one.
I have to admit, knowing how judgmental and mighty I felt when I was the parent of only girls, I just shake my head when I get nasty looks and snide remarks from other people about my boy.  Sometimes a mom will even have one or two boys of her own that just happen to be quiet and mild mannered.  She just looks down her nose at me.  I can’t help but think “Oh your day will come.  Some day you will be the mother of a real boy and you will change your tune **insert evil laugh here**”
I really need to work on being more Christlike.
Back to the book.  It is broken up into two parts, part one consists of what boys do that drive moms crazy, and part two is what we as mothers need to instill in our boys that drive them crazy (aka hygiene, etc).  Hal and Melanie hit the nail on the head.  The book starts out talking about how boys and girls are different and instead of cultivating and nurturing their differences, society unfortunately tries it’s hardest to feminize our men and create more masculine women.  Women are expected to be hard and tough, whereas men are expected to be soft and gentle.  All you have to do is turn on the TV to see how the “man’s man” is demonized and the meek woman is considered an oppressed and abused doormat.
They do mention that people are not cookie cutter and that yes, of course there are some boys that are mild and soft spoken, just as there are some girls that would love nothing more than to spend the day wrestling or digging in the dirt.  You can’t pigeon hole anyone, but it’s important to remember that those are the exception, not the rule.  And trying to turn us into a genderless society will do no one any good.
I loved the chapters on heroes.  Everyone needs someone to look up to, but having our boys look up to men in capes or athletic stars is counter productive.  Try to encourage admiration of a man with character.  George Washington, scriptural heroes, and the ideal hero for your sons should be his own father.  And any father who does not want his sons to look to him as an example, maybe he should read my article of Desire and become the man he wants his boys to be when they grow up.  There are also countless people that you wouldn’t want to emulate entirely, but do have some great characteristics and qualities that are admirable.  Theodore Roosevelt is a great example of a determined and “manly” man, but I wouldn’t agree with his political ideology.  Take the good, and explain then ignore the bad.
We need to let our boys take age appropriate risks.  Allow them to fall and scrape their knees.  Don’t discourage boisterousness unless it’s a really inappropriate situation.  They are boys!  Spencer loves to wrestle with his dad.  This morning he came up to Matt and said “Dad, can we play a game?  Can we play ‘attack Daddy’?”  At 35 years old, Matt still wrestles with his Dad, and breaks quite the sweat doing it.
Let your boys throw and kick balls against a brick wall.  Let them run around and yell at the top of their lungs outside.  Teach them to ride their bikes without training wheels.  Let them climb trees and play with sticks.  There will be plenty of time for them to sit down and be quiet later on in life.  Let them be alive and feel the wind on their faces.  We live in a world where our boys spend hours playing video games instead of experiencing life for themselves.  This applies to children in general, but boys specifically.  When we allow and encourage our boys to live in a virtual world we rob them of the opportunity feel the genuine pride and satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something real.
Just look at the flash mobs and riots that are happening all over the world right now.  These kids are the walking dead who have spent their lives in a virtual world and the only way they can feel anything real is through causing chaos and hurt.  What if instead they had grown up knowing what it felt like to be a part of something tangible.  What if they had grown up hunting and fishing with their fathers instead of playing shoot ’em up games on the computer?  What if they spent their weekends hiking and camping with their families instead of hanging out in the mall parking lot smoking with their friends?  They would be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
I had three favorite chapters.  First, the chapter on competition.  Boys crave competition.  Hal and Melanie talk about how good it is for them and how competition can be enriching for all and demeaning for none.  The “experts” like to tell us how competition is only healthy if “everyone wins”, but that’s not really competition now is it.  They gave the example of their homeschool football league which now serves over 700 players.  No one swears, no one throws tantrums, no on yells at the referees, and when a player is hurt, both sides take a knee and quietly wait for the player to be helped up.  What a great example!  Good clean football, complete with tacking and teamwork without the degrading and oh so ugly unsportsmanlike behavior.
That is something that has alway bothered Matt and I about sports from high school thru professional sports.  Why is it when the other team makes a mistake, the fans cheer.  How is their mistake making your team better?  What kind of person prefers to find satisfaction in the mistakes and failure of other people rather than the personal improvements and accomplishments?  Competition is a necessary thing for boys (it’s going to happen whether we like it or not).  But it HAS to be taught the right way.
My next favorite chapter was entitled “Doing Real Things”.  Boys are hardwired to protect and provide.  Why don’t we take advantage of that instead of trying to crush their little spirits by telling them they are too small or can’t handle it.  Instead of shooing him away like a fly buzzing in your ear, try enlisting his help.  Spencer slowly but surely will put away the silverware because he knows what a help it is to me.  Give them jobs you think they are too small for.  You will be surprised at just how hard these little men work to try to please the women in their lives.  Play the damsel in distress and have him stomp on the spider scurrying across the floor.  Since reading this book I have taken an entirely different approach with Spencer.  He is four.  He is loud.  He is EVERYWHERE and into EVERYTHING.  But now that I talk to him about growing up to be “big and strong like Daddy” and giving him “big boy jobs that will really help Mommy” he is a different kid.  He is still four.  He is still loud and he is still everywhere and into everything.  But he also beams with pride and jumps at every chance to help me.
My last (and most) favorite chapter in Raising Real Men dealt with the concept of “men’s work” and “women’s work”.  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I tend to take a slightly different view of the roles of men and women than some in the mainstream Christian world.  As a homeschooling Christian woman, I find a lot of great ideas and advice from the mainstream Christian world that have truly blessed our family.  But my nostrils flare and the hairs on my neck start to stand on end when I hear or read about how men shouldn’t have to participate in the running of the home or how we shouldn’t ask for our husbands support or sacrifice when we want to pursue some interest of our own.  Personally, while I do believe I am more suited to certain types of work and Matt is more suited to others, the only thing that is genuinely “women’s work” is pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.  Those are the only things Matt absolutely can’t do even in a pinch.  So yes, I do most of the cooking and cleaning and schooling our kids, but it’s because, as a woman I’m more efficient than he is at those jobs, not because he has no business in my domain.
Usually when I come to these chapters on husbands and housework, I just plug my nose and skim it to see if there is anything I can glean.  I was throughly delighted while reading this chapter.  Melanie was the mother of six boys and no girls when a friend told her that she never allowed her sons to do “women’s work”.  That didn’t sit right with her because, among other reasons, she had SIX BOYS to clean up after and no girls to help lighten the load.  Hal told her that in the military men cook, clean, mend clothes and do every other job that would be normally be performed by a woman in a traditional home.  It wasn’t at all considered degrading or “woman’s work” in the military, so why should it be at home.  It is perfectly acceptable for a man to be a chef, or to be a tailor or run a laundry mat for a living.  Why on earth would it not be appropriate for him to do those same jobs at home where he doesn’t receive a paycheck (did I mention that Matt french braids Lucy’s hair and tailors his own clothes? Just thought I’d make you ladies jealous for a moment 😉 ).  She then wrote about how she and her husband enjoy each other’s company and so they routinely will help each other out with the various household jobs, inside and out, just so that they can be with each other.  Now THAT is a marriage.  The same type of marriage that I am privileged enough to be a part of.
So the long and the short of it (could there be any short at this point?) I would defiantly recommend this book to any woman who is the mother of a boy, or the wife of a boy, or has any boy anywhere she kind of likes.  This will change your perception and you will find much more appreciation for the boys and men in your life.  I highly suggest you pick one up.  I was able to borrow this from a friend, but I plan on getting a copy of my own as soon as I can and will be reading it again and again as my boys grow.

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