By Kristy Campbell
I have 5 children. 3 boys. 2 girls. My oldest child is 17 and on the edge of the nest, ready to launch off into the world. She is everything you’d want a young woman to be: confident, ambitious, and determined to make her mark in the world. She’s been given the same message that I received when I was a young woman…except I added a caveat that wasn’t included for my generation of women:
YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL…(my added caveat) just not at the same time. Pace yourself.
As I look at the other 4 children remaining in my nest, I focus on the three boys staring back at me. I need to prepare them for their respective launches, but I believe in order to best prepare them, I have to raise them differently from my girls. Why? Because they’re different.
I’m constantly fascinated by the “boyness” in my boys. I marvel at their ability to not hear me when I call them for dinner or not care that they haven’t bathed for days. I find their constant need for motion exhausting. I’m also intrigued by their intuitive need to figure out every gadget in the house. I admit, since I had a girl first, I thought that if I used more female-driven models in my parenting, my sons’ alpha-male traits would be tempered. Well, it’s not working.
I am learning that boys will be boys and I don’t need to temper the boy part of my sons. Their competitiveness, aggression, and sex-charged traits perhaps need to be channeled or redirected, but not altered. Squelching the male spirit is not what mothers need to do in order to raise future Prince Charmings. We just need to impact a few key areas in order to stand a chance at future grandchildren. These areas are the cornerstones of the launch message with which I intent send my boys out into the world:
Be men, but learn to communicate, understand, and empathize.
Communication: Learning to Talk.
I practice discussion techniques with my boys. If my son is upset, I say:
“How are feeling?”
to which he says,
to which I say,
And he says,
Even two-word answers count as a discussion. It’s a start.
Understanding: Learning to Listen.
I believe in demystifying the female experience for my boys, so I talk openly with them about hormones and mood swings. Sometimes a woman may cry for no reason; there’s nothing to fix -- the best tack to take may be to just listen.
We also work on listening skills. I have a dinnertime game where a topic card is drawn and everyone takes a turn answering. The discussions are lively but the real challenge is learning to wait and to listen without interrupting. The kids (and my husband) are getting better at it.
Empathy: Learning To Feel.
The best way to teach empathy to boys is to involve them in hands-on community service projects. Make lunches and deliver them to a homeless shelter or give out turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Another way to explore empathy is through role-playing. We have a game we play when we’re out to dinner. I pick a person and ask the kids to tell me why he’s laughing or why she’s so serious. It gets the boys out of their own heads.
As I read their favorite book to them, The Gas We Pass, I recognize my role as their mother. I need to give them tools to guide them, but I don’t need to make them more like me. My job is to make them the best at who they are meant to be…boy and all.
Kristy Campbell is a writer and actress. Her column, “Saving The World One Teen At A Time,” is at Mommytracked.com, and her thoughts on modern mid-life are offered in her blog, “My Cape Is At The Cleaners: Secrets of an ExSupermom.” You can find her work at www.kristycampbellcreative.com.