Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Raising a son to be a man

Here's a new version of an article I wrote some time ago but recently stumbled on at Linkup-parents.com after googling myself (always a fun time sink!). So I wanted to be sure you all heard the story.


My son just came out different. My daughter, that sweet little girl who made every plaything a companion and sat quietly studying catalog pictures for hours, was my first child, and I have to say I got used to her. When she was 4 ½, Chris came along. Suddenly every object had projectile potential and even those toys with recognizable humanoid features turned into vehicles or weapons.

Initially, I was somewhat at a loss. I'm single, so it has fallen on me to nurture and encourage Chris not only as a person, but as a man. However, qualities I respect in the men I admire—honesty, nobility, heroism—simply translate differently in the male universe, and I didn't quite speak the language.

One thing I didn't do, though, was wonder if Chris actually had those qualities. I was sure he did—not out of maternal pride, but from a spiritual conviction that everyone shares equally in qualities that are good since the divine source of these qualities is universal and omnipresent. My job as "mother" would be to cultivate the expression of these qualities in my son. But, I wasn't always getting it right.

A guy friend, perhaps out of frustration over my lack of male-awareness, recommended a book to me—John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus—when Chris was about three.

Gray's book gave me a whole new perspective on something I'd been taught in my youth—the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." My problem had been taking this rule to mean, "Do what you like/want for others and they will do what you like/want for you." Not surprisingly, this led me to many missteps, especially with men. For example, I like to be comforted when I'm upset, so I would try to comfort guys when they were upset, even when they said they wanted to be alone. Imagine my surprise when my comforting mostly just irritated them.

Reading Gray's book made me realize that to truly obey the Golden Rule, I had to see beyond my own literal wants. I had to learn enough about other people to treat them as they wanted to be treated. The insights into maleness from Gray's book hugely improved every guy-friendship I had. One friend noticed my behavior changing toward him so rapidly that he said it was like night and day—and we began to have a lot more fun together. It helped at work, it helped with my friends—and it helped me with my son.

Take shoes, for example. With my daughter, it was natural for me to say, "D'ya need some help, honey?" every time I saw her struggling to get those Velcro straps just right. She always accepted my help, and it made her feel loved.

Chris, however, would resist. "No!" he'd snap. "I can do it myself!" He'd actually get irritated, even at the age of three. Gray's book gave me some insight into the male need for accomplishment and trust. So, I started something new. When the shoes were causing trouble and he'd get frustrated, I'd simply say, "You can do it, keep trying." That little drop of encouragement would be enough for him to regroup and succeed.

I began to appreciate more the role I have as Chris's mother, even (or maybe, especially) when he was so young. That scary sentence from Science and Health became easier to understand: "A mother is the greatest educator for or against crime." At first, this had seemed like an enormous responsibility because I thought I was going to have to come up with some kind of lesson plan against crime. But the same book also says, "Spirit, God, gathers unformed thoughts into their proper channels, and unfolds these thoughts, even as He opens the petals of a holy purpose in order that the purpose may appear." With Spirit governing the process, it turns out that educational opportunities arise naturally, and with the right basis for response you can take advantage of them as they occur.

Once when Chris was about five, we were in the dressing rooms after a day at the beach. Since Chris was so young, he was there with all us girls. The old-fashioned bathroom stalls had complicated latches, sides that went all the way to the floor, and only a few inches of open space under the door.

An eight-year-old girl was changing in a stall, and when she tried to come out, she couldn't work the latch. She was too big to fit under the door. She began to wail, and her mother began to panic. "We'll get you out! Someone call a custodian!"

As the only man on the scene, Chris dropped what he was doing and sized up the situation (remember he's only five). I knew he'd figured out those latches as soon as we'd walked in, so when he looked at me, I nodded the go ahead.

In a trice, he wiggled through the crawlspace under the door, unhooked the latch, and set the girl free. I'll never forget the look on his face when he emerged, triumphant, from saving the damsel in distress. All the qualities of heroism, nobility, intelligence—manhood—that I could ever dream of for him were right there, in that moment.

As the girl ran to her own mother for comfort, Chris turned to me for my reaction. And I said with genuine admiration, "Good job! You saved that girl!" The pride and strength on his face when I confirmed his good deed stays with me to this day.

Now, I could have said any number of other things—"Well, that latch wasn't that hard to open," or "That girl was really silly wasn't she?" I could, in fact, have stepped in to solve the problem myself. But because of Gray's book, I was ready to take full advantage of that moment to strengthen my son, and because of Eddy's book, I knew why it was so important to do so.

These moments come up frequently, even as Chris is now navigating the unsettling shoals of adolescence. No matter what, I try to acknowledge and appreciate what I'm seeing in my son, to help him see and understand his own goodness and strength. My dearest wish for him is that he can one day see the manhood in himself that I've been cherishing for years. I know it's in him already.

Man is God's reflection, needing no cultivation, but ever beautiful and complete.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 2/27/2007 10:59:00 AM, Blogger FatCharlatan said...

Wow! This is a great read. Are you going to include it in your book? You should. This is a perfect example of parenting advice that could work for all parents: single, divorced, widowed, couples, gay, whatever.

I read part of Gray's book a long time ago...I also recommend Deborah Tannen's book You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation . More great insight into communication styles/differences between men and women. (She has other books as well that speak to this.)

At 2/27/2007 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Jeanne said...

This is really touching, Laura, you should save this to Chris to give him to read when he is older. How wonderful to know that this is how your mother was seeing you!

At 2/27/2007 02:44:00 PM, Blogger PtCakes said...

Very nice. I'm going to send this link to a friend.

At 2/27/2007 10:44:00 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Really great story - and terrific parenting ideas! Can think of a couple people to send this post to, and will. I can just picture Chris rescuing that girl!


At 3/01/2007 11:21:00 AM, Blogger ObiDonWan said...

Yep, excellent. I'm a bit older than Chris, but I can always use some of that reinforcement of what's Good in me.


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