I admit that my experience in raising boys is limited. It should come as no surprise to you that I am, in fact, male, and I know how I was raised, good and bad. I have been here at Grace long enough to see parents who raised boys well, and not so well. But, when it came time to write about raising boys, I had to pull in some expert help. My source material comes from James Dobson, and his book, “Bringing up Boys,” that I can’t recommend highly enough to you. His advice is annotated by other “experts” on raising boys- my friends Steve and Trish Spitzer, authors of the four Spitzer boys who have (almost) successfully navigated GCS and (some of them) college.
So here are some things to think about for those of you who are boy mommas and daddies:
First and foremost, keep your eye on the ball (see how I’m using “guy” sports analogies, already?). As a follower of Jesus Christ, your role is “to transform your boys from immature and flighty youngsters into honest, caring men who will be respectful of women, loyal and faithful in marriage, and secure in their masculinity” (Dobson). And, most importantly, to develop men who understand Scripture and have a passion for Christ. Like Stephen Covey (who was not a follower of Jesus, but a good leadership theorist) would say, “begin with the end in mind.” Know where you’re going, and plan accordingly.
Channel your boy’s energy. Again, not a shock, but boys are not like girls. They are more aggressive, more excitable. They need to be taught how to be polite and respectful, but their energy needs to be channeled, not suppressed. You can’t overprotect and baby them. Let them go out and get banged up in the woods, accept the fact that they’ll hit each other with sticks when they’re not even angry at each other, and that you’ll probably end up in the ER a time or two (or seven). That’s part of being a boy parent. Appeal to their innate sense of adventure. Take them into the woods, let them play sports, give them a gun and/or fishing rod and teach them how to use it (this IS East Texas, and that’s why God gave us the Piney Woods and all these lakes). They’re not girls. You can’t raise them the same. Boys are a little rougher around the edges, and that’s okay.
Having a close relationship with a boy looks different than girls. Active communication is a little harder. Dads get this, but moms have to reduce the expectation that your preteen or teenage boy is going to come and give you a full download of how his school day went. Here’s his download: “It was fine.” That’s it. Boys have fewer words in their arsenal than girls. Way fewer. Don’t stop trying, though. Ask open ended-questions: “How do you feel about____?” “Which friends do you like hanging out with the most, and why?________” Get them thinking and talking, but don’t force it. Give them their space.
Give them role models. Boys need a strong role model. Dads are the best, but don’t lose hope, moms, if dads aren’t around. That’s why great teachers, youth pastors, coaches, and other strong, Christian male figures exist. Even if you are a dad, you need these other guys around them, guys who love the Lord, pouring into your kids. That’s why sports are so great, particularly sports where they are around and only with other guys, having to strain and struggle against hard things. Overcoming and fighting together, led by men who love the Lord, can keep athletics in its appropriate focus (not an easy thing to do in our sports-crazed culture): dearly striving to win, but winning with honor and glory to the Lord.
Spend time with your boys, especially you dads. Guys need to see their dads at things they do: games, events, eating meals together, movie nights, watching ball games together. Boys know that dads have to work, and it’s important that boys see providing for the family and working hard is part of what men do. It’s important that kids know that they’re vitally important, but not the center of the universe. You’ll have work and church commitments that conflict, and they need to see that, too, but alter your schedule when you can so you can be there and demonstrate value in their lives.
Counteract cultural male bashing. It is hard work being a man. Being the leader of a family as Christ is the head of the Church doesn’t mean being the “boss.” It doesn’t mean lording it over your wife or kids, or being a bully. It means leading in suffering, in sacrifice, taking the hit for your family, initiating resolution in conflict, and making the tough decision. It is painful, difficult work. But, it is also beautiful and glorious to be the father of your children and the husband of your wife and the image of Christ for your family and your community, and for TV to make dads all look like idiots or bullies or Mr. Gender Neutral guy is just a bunch of crap. Affirm your boy’s masculinity, and show him what it means to be a man who leads and loves, who is strong as nails, but under the dominion of the Holy Spirit. Show him how great it is to be that guy, by being that guy. Model it, or find someone who does and get your boy around him.
Boys will emulate their dads, or men they admire. A dad or man like that, who knows God’s Word, who ties it into life, who lives it out, is worth his weight in gold. There is truly nothing that will assure a boy will grow into a man who loves the Lord than living with or around a man who does. You will not be perfect, but let them see you live out that imperfection, coupled with a heart of repentance, one that asks your Lord and your wife and your children for forgiveness, followed with a determination to live well, empowered by the Spirit.
Our world and our Church need your boys to be the men who will lead us, so we need for you to be the guys we need them to be. Ask Jesus to make you that guy, and He will.