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Speaking of the Nature of Boys
New Mother of Baby Boy Looks to the Future
Q: This may sound like a stupid question, but I am an expectant mother,
and we know it will be a boy. I've never had any experience around little boys. I never had any brothers and my sisters never had boys. My only experience is in seeing other people's little boys, and to be honest, they look like a handful. I'm just wondering if you have some simple (so I can keep it in mind over the years!) advice for raising a son to stay out of trouble and be a good man?
MGT: First of all, congratulations! You are in for an adventure, a learning experience, and a lot of fun. All you need is a loving heart and an open mind. As for boys being a handful, all children are a handful!
I have a friend who says, "All human beings are more or less impossible."
I think that is true (it certainly describes me). That's why we all need families who love us. As I have traveled around the country talking to parents about boys, I have had many mothers come up to me to say, "Take it from me, boys are easy. It is girls who are tough!" I have had just as many mothers testify that boys are so hard to read, so competitive, so mysterious, and so cruel.
Why do some mothers find boys difficult and others find them to be a delight? Certainly, being raised with brothers or having nephews is a helpful experience, but I don't think that is the crucial element. I have known some wonderful mothers of boys who were not raised in families with brothers. To me the two things that I would wonder about in the mother of a boy are: (1) whether she likes men, and (2) whether she will be able to adapt to her baby's rhythms and temperament.
In some ways, you have to want the end product of boyhood in order to raise a son with a sense of full acceptance. He is going to turn into a man. As our son, Will, has grown up, from time to time my wife has said,
"It doesn't seem possible that he is going to grow up to be large and hairy." But he is, and I can see she is practicing in her mind,
transforming this sweet, beautiful child into a large, bearded man and still recognizing him. Practice thinking about the man your son will become. Who have been the admirable men in your life? Did you love your father? Did your grandfather dote on you? Do you have a good relationship with your husband? Think about what you have liked in men and how you would like to see your son grow up to be like that. If you have a picture in your mind of the way you'd like him to be, it will help you to guide him.
Please don't think about boys as a problem; don't brace yourself for their energy or their competitiveness. Think about what your loving grandfather must have been like as a boy. Does your grandmother or mother have any stories about him? Ask your husband about his boyhood. What was he like?
What did he do? Ask your husband enough questions so you get beyond the polished family stories about his bringing the frog to the table or throwing a football through the window. Families tend to hold on to gender-stereotyped stories that do not really illuminate the nature of the child. Ask your husband how it really was for him when he was a boy. What scared him, what was he passionate about?
May I suggest that you read books about boyhood? How about Angela's Ashes? You'll read it with new eyes, now that you have a son. It will teach you something about boy grief, boy endurance, and boy humor. Reread Tom
Sawyer. Read some autobiographies of admirable men. It will be helpful to discover that Mahatma Gandhi got into fights at school or the Dalai Lama and his brother were so boisterous and competitive that his brother was sent away from the monastery.
Of course, you are going to be reading books to your son at night. The books that he loves will be an education for you. He will identify with the angry Max in Where the Wild Things Are, and he will admire the elephant, Horton, who steadfastly hatches the egg while balanced on that little tree, and you will both marvel at the imagination of that boy fishing in McElligot's pool. You will see your son in all of these characters, and you will be introduced to things you had never spent much time thinking about, such as what occupies a boy's mind when he is fishing. Reading to children is as much an education for parents as it is for children.
As for my second point, adapting to a child's temperament, that is the crucial thing for parenting any child, boy or girl. You are going to have to get on your son's wavelength without his being able to tell you what channel he is broadcasting from. You will get that from the experience of knowing him as a baby, holding him, responding to his cries, calming him during a plane ride, and holding him back as he is about to run into the street. He will make you stretch your personality and your limits, and you will become more adaptable than you ever thought possible. That's parenting.
For a mother to raise a boy means she gets as close as one can get to crossing the lines of gender. She will see the world through her son's eyes, and the world won't look the same. Mothers get to be adored by their sons, and that is really fun. She'll get to celebrate everything she has loved in men and help her son to become a good man. She will struggle with everything she has found regrettable in men, and at moments she will despair and say, "They're hopeless." It will be an amazing trip, just as it is for fathers who have daughters. Your son will open your eyes,
broaden your knowledge, and help your sense of humor. I guarantee it.
From the Trade Paperback edition.