Raising boys can be both challenging and incredibly rewarding. What's more, being a boy in today's society can be equally challenging. In Letters to Our Sons, author Yolanda Conley Shields presents no-nonsense insight and humor along with impactful faith-based, take-away tools to help mothers shape their young boys into successful men of godly character.
Entertaining and motivational, Letters to Our Sons offers scriptural support as well as practical steps to encourage mothers facing life's challenges. Through a selection of diverse stories, Shields captures the struggles and victories mothers face raising their sons, and she offers helpful and relatable words of wisdom and inspiration.
Letters to Our Sons encourages all mothers with sons to write a letter to their sons communicating their love and support in order to create, grow, and mold the unique mother/son bond. Shields believes mothers should partner with God to shape and move our sons to live out the purposes God has designed for their life.
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Letters to Our Sons
A Mother's Journey—Raising Sons to Become Men with Character and Courage
By YOLANDA CONLEY SHIELDS
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Yolanda Conley Shields
All rights reserved.
Hope for the Next Generation
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
~Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)
People ask all the time if there is hope for the next generation. It's tough being a boy in America today, but there is still hope. As I look at the statistics for males, especially African American males, it saddens me. I do believe there is hope for the next generation. IF we don't invest time in our sons and let them know that they have a purpose and destiny, they will not have a future. We have been so consumed with work, making money, and ourselves that we have forgotten we are supposed to leave a legacy. Not just the fathers, but mothers as well. Some boys thrive in school. There are more "boy geniuses" than "girl geniuses," and there are more boys in the top one percent of the IQ scale than there are girls. Many boys don't fare as well—and for the majority of them, school may not be as good a fit as it is for girls. "There is no single boy experience at school because there is a wide range of boys—and some take to school and some don't," says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author, Raising Cain. "But for the average boy, school is not as good a fit as it is for the average girl. More boys have problems with attention and focus than girls. Because of their higher activity level, boys are likely to get into more trouble than girls. And they are not given enough opportunities to move around—both in actual physical activity and in how they learn—because they spend too much time sitting and not enough time learning by doing, making and building things."
The statistics tell an alarming tale. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics:
Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school;
When it comes to grades and homework, girls outperform boys in elementary, secondary, high school, college, and even graduate school;
Boys are four to five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD);
Women outnumber men in higher education with 56 percent of bachelor's degrees and 55 percent of graduate degrees going to women. According to the U.S. Department of Education:
Boys make up two-thirds of the students in special education and are five times more likely to be classified as hyperactive. According to the U.S. Department of Education
Parents of boys—stay calm! While the statistics are disturbing, they don't describe every boy—or necessarily your boy—but they do raise concerns about many boys' school experiences. "The odds are that if you come from a family that values education, your boy will be successful in school and will go on to college. Most boys do. However, the average American boy is struggling in school," advises Michael Thompson of Public Broadcasting Station (PBS).
We cannot depend on the school, the church, and community to raise our sons; we have to make sure we are doing our part. It is only hopeless if we give up and not invest the time needed to make a tremendous difference. We need to look at what several young men have been able to accomplish during their young lives. We don't hear enough about it. The media spends more time talking about the negative statistics of young men. Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them. I know that God can protect their hearts and help them to feel loved and cared for even in the midst of the many changes that they experience growing up. Many boys have a hard time expressing their needs to us, especially emotional ones, and we don't want to harm them in any way. There are many things we should do to prepare our sons, such as:
1. Show unconditional love with an emphasis on character and effort more than outcome.
2. Encourage boys to live up to their potential while having reasonable expectations.
3. Love them regardless of whether they make it into Harvard or become a star quarterback.
When my son Roland was just a little boy, I began to pray for God to give him a bright future. I only expected the best for him and was sometimes maybe too hard on him. Being a boy and an only child, I have always felt I had to try and protect him from the cruel things in this world. He has always been very confident and sure of himself. He started his own business when he was just 10 years old. I remember his teacher calling me to let me know that he would not be able to bring his products to school and sell them. I had no idea that he was setting up shop at the school. The students would be waiting on him to see what he had to sell for the day. I knew then that he would have a bright future. He has always been interested in business and how he could make money.
When we see a gift in our children, we have to try and nurture it and help it grow. Your child may not be interested in what you are, but whatever God has gifted them to do, help them to move in that gifting.
I always feared letting him go off to college. As mothers or parents, we sometimes feel they will not make it without us. But many young men have done it for years, so we have to trust that we have imparted great things in them and that they are ready to take on the world; it's good and bad.
During Roland's first year of college, he was attending a gathering at one of the fraternity houses and a shooting took place. A total of 14 students were shot that were standing in the room with Roland. He was the only student who was not shot. I heard about the shooting on the news and immediately called him. When he answered the phone, I knew he was there without him saying a word. I could hear it in his voice. All of my fears that I had about sending him off to college returned. He said, "Mom, I'm okay." I knew he was physically okay, but no one can be mentally okay after something like that. He was lying near the young man that died during the shooting. Even when we see all the negative things that are going on with our sons, I am encouraged when I look at such young people as:
Jerome Boykin, Jr., owner of JB Sweeping Service in Houma, Louisiana, started his company at the age of 23 after Hurricane Katrina left him jobless.
Timothy Richard "Tim" Tebow, born August 14, 1987, was a Heisman Trophy-winning American football quarterback for the Florida Gators, as well as quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
Matthew Charles "Matt" Mullenweg, born January 11, 1984, is an online social media entrepreneur and web developer. He is best known for developing the web software known as WordPress.
E phren W. Taylor, II is the youngest African-American CEO of any publicly traded company ever—City Capital Corporation. Taylor started his first business venture at age 12, when he began making video games.
Amos Winbush, II is a musician who didn't let a Smartphone glitch leave him down and out. Instead, he turned it into a lesson learned—a profitable venture, at that. The CEO of CyberSynchs, a company that allows consumers to sync data between their mobile device and computer, started his multi-million dollar company at the age of 24. He was awarded the Innovator of the Year Award at the 2010 Black Boldness Entrepreneurs Conference.
Mark Zuckerberg, one of the co-founders of Facebook, became a billionaire at the age of 23. When he showed up in Palo Alto, he had no car, no house, and no job. Today, he's the chairman and CEO of Facebook, and his personal wealth is estimated to be 16.8 billion dollars.
Alexander Levin, founder and head of ImageShack, created this image sharing site when he was only 17 years old.
Akil Bello is co-founder and Vice President of Educational Development of Bell Curves, a test-preparation company which he started with his brother at the age of 27.
Dr. Farrah Gray was named as one of the most influential black men in America by the National Urban League's Urban Influence Magazine. At 21 years of age, he was recognized by Ebony Magazine as an entrepreneurial icon, business mogul, and best-selling author. He was raised in the impoverished South side of Chicago. Dr. Gray defied the odds and became a self-made millionaire by the age of 14. At the age of 21, he became Dr. Farrah Gray, receiving an Honorary Doctorate degree of Humane Letters from Allen University.
There are many more, but sometimes we only hear about those that are struggling or when they have done something illegal. Don't tell me there is no hope for our sons. Don't just look at statistics; look at what young leaders of this next generation are accomplishing. The next generation of young men with character will need:
Courage: Courage, also known as bravery, will, and loyalty, is the ability to confront fear, pain and uncertainty.
Clarity: Clarity is clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
Competence: Competence is the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity.
Coachability: Coachability is the ability to take direction from others.
Character: Character is moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character; qualities of honesty, courage, or integrity.
"Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn't have anything to do with it."
"It is easier to raise boys and girls than to mend men and women."
~S. Truett Cathey
"A mother is someone who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take."
A Life Well Spent
Raising your sons is not a waste of time but a life well spent. Think back on the time or the day that you were so exhausted after a long day of bathing, tutoring, feeding, reading, or disciplining your son. Even though it was tiring, you woke up the next morning to do it again. The investment pays off years later because of the accomplishments or achievements they have made because of your time invested. I know we sometimes say, "I cannot wait until they are in high school, college or move out." When it gets closer to that time, we begin to worry and want them to be little boys again. If sons or children come from a home background that left them with painful memories, they will find it hard to think kindly toward you. When this happens, many young men grow into bitter men that are not sure how to treat women or people in general. In the hard times of communication with your son, make sure that you are not damaging long-term relationship in order to have things go your way or to be right. Remember not to sweat the small stuff. I am sharing with you things I had to learn over the years.
A life well spent takes patience in the seasons of change for your son. Patience is all about whether you want to get it now or in God's timing. Many of us have been raised without being taught to wait on anything. We live in a microwave society. We want to RIGHT NOW or never.
I look back with gratitude that I have imparted into my son the importance of legacy. He has seen many men in our family do very well and some struggle. He has seen the fruits of both and now understands the importance of making the right decisions. Even when he didn't think my way was cool or out of style, he trusted that I wanted the best for him. He would definitely say the word "cool" is out of style.
As we raise our sons, we need to understand that there will be push back or resistance to our suggestions or decisions. We have to make sure that the decisions we make are not for us, but for the benefit and success of them. We cannot go back and try to live our lives through them. We need to focus on what God has in store for their purpose and destiny. We have to look ahead with faith and know that God wants the best for them. We are to be the teacher helping to guide them into their destiny, not the police demanding that they do what we think is best, even when that doesn't line up with their talents and giftings or what we think they should do. Don't be so hard on yourself if they decide to take a detour and hit some bumps in the road. If you have trained them, they will come back stronger from the experience. Raising your sons is not a waste of time but a Life Well Spent!
I asked my son Roland what he remembered about our time together and he said, "I remember spending a lot of time with you being a single mother and me being an only child. I was glad you put me in different activities. I know you did your best and I always knew that you loved me and wanted the best for me. When I was younger, you were somewhat over-protective and that sometimes frustrated me. Being an only child can be hard because there is not another child to be given some of that over-protection. Overall, I had a good life growing up. I am a young man now and the best is yet to come! Thanks for being a great mom to me and the other children you served in the community."
Being a parent is a gift from God and should be a life well spent, not a burden. Can you remember a time when your parents told you how special you were? Didn't it make you feel good? Well, it's the same for your sons. When they think of their mother, you want it to be good thoughts and memories. I'm not saying everything has to be perfect, but there should be good memories that appear before the hard times. My mother disciplined us all, but I still have great memories growing up in my home as a child and love when I am able to go back.
"The future destiny of a child is always the work of the mother."
Pointing the Way
"There never was a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him asleep."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
We want to make sure we always point our children in the right direction, speaking life to them and not negative words. What mothers impart into their sons influences who they become as adult men. I see many men walking around hurt and confused, and when I ask them about their relationship with their mother, I always find heartache or confusion. While guiding them, our motive should be based on their gifts and talents and not what we would desire for them. If they are confident in who they are, and are encouraged in their gifting, they will find their way. I have seen parents push their children to be what they desired and their children end up resenting them.
Faith is also a great part of pointing them in the right way. Mr. Webster defines forecasting as "to predict a future condition or occurrence; to calculate in advance by forethought and foresight in planning." These are not just descriptions and duties of a meteorologist. It's also the responsibility of a parent with their children. Are you accurately assisting your sons in predicting their future by advance planning and careful forethought? Here are six leadership steps to point your son toward God's path for his life.
1. Help them create tangible goals. Dare to dream. Habakkuk 2:2 tells us we need more than just a vision; we need to make it plain. In other words, be specific.
2. Know where you are. We must evaluate everything, from the needs of our sons, their skills, and even our own thinking.
3. Know where you've been. What's your son's history? What has he enjoyed in the past?
4. Pray for God's plan for them. Here's what I know: God's plan always works. There is a difference between "Thus sayeth the parent" and "Thus sayeth the Lord!"
5. Develop the plan. God doesn't lead us in leaps and jumps; He leads in steps.
6. Give yourself a test. Stop and evaluate. Are you assisting or coaching your child to achieve his or her goals?
Letters To Our Sons
I remember when you were conceived and growing inside of me. As a young girl at the age of 17, too young to know anything about being a mother, I took care of you as best I could. I can't say that I made all the right decisions, but how many of us do? Raising you alone was not what I wanted for you, but it's the way things ended up. I prayed that you would be the young man that the lord formed and ordained while in my womb. I knew as soon as you started to talk that you were a leader—someone who would lead other young boys to be examples to their peers and making sure that the next generation would please the lord. I remember you trying to be like the other boys in the neighborhood making negative choices and you not really fitting in. The Walmart incident keeps coming to mind. You couldn't do those things and get away with it because you were covered in the blood of the lord and would be exposed when doing things out of the will of God. I believe the lord honored this because of my prayer when you were born. Yes, you got several beat downs because I didn't want to have to come to the jailhouse or the cemetery to visit you. I know that you rebelled against a lot of my rules because you thought that I was being strict on you, but it was to mold you into that mighty man of valor that could lead people in the right direction.
Excerpted from Letters to Our Sons by YOLANDA CONLEY SHIELDS. Copyright © 2013 Yolanda Conley Shields. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Hope for the Next Generation.................... 1
A life Well Spent.................... 11
Pointing the Way.................... 15
Reflections from Mothers.................... 73
Advice from Mothers.................... 81
Time to Write the Letter to Your Son.................... 161