The proper care and feeding of boys

Categorized as 03/30/09 Goshen News column

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It was just the other day that I made that very declaration to Mr. Schrock as we convened at the bathroom sink. “Can I get a ‘hear, hear?’” I asked him.

“Hallelujah?” he ventured carefully. “Or is that the wrong word?”

“Wrong word?” I exclaimed. “It’s the wrong list! That’s on the ‘praise the Lord’ list.” Clearly, the situation we were discussing didn’t call for a word from that particular column.

I’ve often told people that with all sons, I can’t write from a “pink” perspective, or rather, from a “raising pink” perspective. It was after boy number four was born that someone said to me, “Oh, I was praying you’d get a girl!” Looking back, I know now what I should’ve said: “Why?”

It’s not that we wouldn’t have loved and delighted in a girl baby. And even though Mr. Schrock has been known to say, “God knew what I could handle” by giving us all boys, he himself has sheepishly admitted that if he ever had a daughter, she wouldn’t walk until she was 12.

The bottom line here is knowing just who it is that plans our families anyway. I once heard Elisa Morgan, founder of MOPS, say that God matches our children’s needs with what we have to give, and He matches what we have to give with our children’s needs. Taking it further, God knows what kind of people He will need in the next generation to carry on His work and to bless the world. Thus, He carefully chooses which family to place each new baby in so that their unique personalities, talents, gifts, and abilities will be formed and guided through your own unique blend.

This is why parents can and should embrace their family composition, and that’s what we’ve chosen to do with ours. Far from being a disappointment or a cross to bear, it is a privilege and an honor to raise young men.

What follows is far from a comprehensive list of what is required for the proper care and feeding of boys. It is offered, not by a doctor of psychology or early childhood education, but by one little mother who has received much of her training on the job; i.e., on a wing and a prayer. That said, here goes.

A boy should know from the very beginning that he is welcome, that he is a delight and an important part of the family. He should be made to feel that he has something special to offer, not just to the family, but to the rest of the world, as a man.

A boy needs to know that his strength is a good thing. He also needs to know that it can be misused. Strength out of control is aggression. Strength that will not act when action is required is passivity. Both of these can have devastating consequences for him and for those close to him down the road if either of these extremes become his default mechanism.

A boy needs to know that there is a time to stand up and fight, and that there is a time for gentleness and mercy. He learns this best from his father. By modeling strength under control, a strength that protects and provides for his family and for others in need, a father teaches his son about being a man. By watching his father demonstrate tenderness to the weak and needy, including himself, he learns that gentleness does not equal weakness.

A boy’s imagination should be encouraged, not ridiculed or discouraged. It should, of course, be guided in healthy ways through good literature, music, movies, and stories. The Chronicles of Narnia and the J.R.R. Tolkien books are excellent examples of stories that capture a boy’s imagination and call out the best that is in him.

A boy needs to learn how to work. Through hard work, he learns life skills and character qualities he will need down the road, and he gains self-esteem when he sees that his contribution is helpful to the family.

He also needs time to play. He needs time to throw a ball, if that’s what he loves, and time to tromp in the woods. He needs to build a fort or to spend the night in a tent, listening to the bullfrogs. He needs a dog that comes when he calls and barks a ‘hello’ when he gets off the bus.

A boy needs an extended family. This gives him roots and a context in which he learns to know himself. He needs cousins to play with. He also needs the cookies that a grandma provides and the chocolate candy slipped to him by a grandpa who was once a boy himself.

Lastly, the raising of a boy requires a lot of prayer and heavenly wisdom. Even then, there are no guarantees that after doing all of these things, a boy will always make wise choices. However, it is a comfort to know that you can always place your boy in the hands of a Father who will never leave him, who will always pursue him, and who has a plan for him. On that, a mother can rest.

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