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October 10, 2012

12 Steps to Raising Strong Sons

Mindful of the impermanence of the Internet, the blog princess is in the process of collecting up various essays she has written over the years. This one was originally written for Rightnetwork.

When I was young, masculinity was a one-size-fits-all affair. Men defended the weak, brought home the bacon and kept the world running smoothly while maintaining a stiff upper lip and a heroic reserve. Women had their own carefully prescribed role to play. We were caretakers, teachers, tenders of home and hearth. If men built the world, women connected it. As volunteers, bakers of cupcakes and holiday feasts, keepers of time honored rituals and faithful recorders of birthdays, anniversaries and the names of maiden aunties; women bound families and communities together. Our world offered fewer choices than the world of men, but in some ways it was indescribably richer.

The days of rigid gender roles are gone, but so (for the most part) are the restraining influences of morality, social convention, and taste. Today’s world has little use and even less respect for manly strength and character. Too often we confuse maleness with manliness, defining masculinity down to an uninspiring collection of barely controlled biological urges.

This is a grave mistake, for a world with diminishing standards and few enforceable rules needs men more than ever.

What is the essence of masculinity and how can we cultivate and honor it in our sons? Harvey Mansfield once defined manliness as “a quality that causes individuals to stand for something”. If men have a salient quality, surely it is strength of body, mind, spirit and character. Is it still possible to raise strong, adaptable sons in a society that views manhood as a debased currency? The good news is that with a bit of tweaking, the old standards still work:

1. Challenge your son to find and develop his own strengths. In an era of expanding choices, masculinity should not be a straitjacket. Not all boys love to fight, make noise, or play football - they need freedom to discover their abilities and the discipline to develop them. Confidence flows from achievement, not empty praise. Whether your son excels on the baseball field or in the computer lab, challenge him to become good at something.

2. Don’t make excuses for bad behavior. Being male is not a handicap. Boys shouldn’t be expected to behave like girls, but they should be expected to behave well.

3. Teach responsibility by delegating responsibility. Children whose parents do everything for them rarely develop the habits and discipline needed for independence and success. Masculine forcefulness is an admirable quality. Channel your son’s natural urge to take command of situations and people by putting him in charge of small jobs he can master with reasonable effort.

4. Sometimes, reality is the best teacher. Boys are usually far more impressed by actions than words. If you find yourself repeating the same warnings, stop talking and let him experience the consequences of his decisions. You can’t protect him from every danger. Let him take a few risks – that’s how boys learn.

5. Give him unconditional love, but not unconditional approval. Boys need love, but they also need firm limits. Insist that he treat others with respect and consideration.

6. Boys need heroes. Books are full of them. Teach him to love great books and they will inspire him to be a better person.

7. Speaking of heroes, give him time alone with his father. As boys mature, it’s normal for them to pull away from their mothers a bit. Wanting time with Dad is a sign that your son is beginning to see himself as a man – and an adult.

8. Teach him how to love. A mother’s relationship with her son prepares him for the relationship he’ll one day have with his wife. Older boys may need less mothering, but you can help him in other ways. Teach him how to talk to (and more importantly, handle conflict with) women as people.

9. Respect the father of your children. A boy raised in a home where men are honored is more likely to become a man worth honoring.

10. Look beneath the surface. Despite outward appearances, boys can be infuriatingly indirect. Many can’t – or won’t - admit they need attention or want to talk. One of my sons loved to provoke me when something was on his mind. Years later, his wife tells me he still does that. Now that’s a smart woman!

11. Teach him to believe in something, defend something, serve something. Don’t neglect his moral education. The noblest expression of manhood occurs when strength and courage serve some larger purpose.

12. Hold on… but loosely. No matter how old he gets your son will always need caring, engaged parents. But he also needs space to take risks, make mistakes and most importantly, chart his own course.

If men are driven to stand for something, it follows that the world will be a better or worse place depending on what they strive for. Help your sons find worthy goals and then step back and watch them move mountains.

Posted by Cassandra at October 10, 2012 06:24 PM

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I am so printing this out. With your permission, of course.

Posted by: Mother Of Sons at October 10, 2012 06:48 PM

I'd be honored :)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2012 06:52 PM

A post that needs to be in every father's (and mother's) brain. You know it well, give a boy responsibility and let him grow, worked for me and it worked for every man worth knowing that I've met. Thanks, Cassandra.

Posted by: neenergyobserver at October 10, 2012 06:54 PM

Excellent advice, but I don't see a single rule that doesn't also work for girls.

Posted by: alwaysfiredup at October 10, 2012 06:55 PM

Excellent advice, but I don't see a single rule that doesn't also work for girls.

I agree, actually. I've always wanted to write a post about raising daughters but since I never had any, that's not my area of expertise.

I once thought of listing the things my parents did right with me, and perhaps adding a few observations of my own. Perhaps one day I'll do that :)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2012 06:57 PM

alwaysfiredup makes a great point. I think the same general rules work for boys or girls, but I do think that, just as we marry because partnership with the opposite sex rounds both men and women out as people, there may be some general differences in what girls need to be more well rounded adults and what boys need.

I will have to give that some thought. Thanks for the kind words.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2012 06:59 PM

OORAH! Cass. Great post. My son (the Sheriff) is getting this one from "Pop-Pop" for refernce--though he pretty much gets it already.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at October 10, 2012 07:04 PM

...there may be some general differences in what girls need to be more well rounded adults....

I do have a daughter, so I do have some (in)expertise here. Your 12 points apply to girls, say I; the differences, I think, are in degree, relative emphasis, and the mechanics of teaching them.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at October 10, 2012 08:19 PM

Echo the above M'lady...

Wonderful insight/advice for all parents. Especially for the young'uns who one day find they have to assume the position as a mom or dad, when it seems like only yesterday life was but one endless toga party.

And yes, the sage advice is applicable to girls too. Walkin' Boss said so. ;-}

Posted by: bthun at October 10, 2012 10:22 PM

Mindful of the impermanence of the Internet,...

Well, the internet (like my mom's attic) *is* forever, but (also like my mom's attic) just because you know it's up there, doesn't mean you can find it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 11, 2012 09:07 AM

I would agree that the strategy works for both genders, but the tactics could very well be very different.

Both boys and girls need heroes, but the types of heroes they need may be very different.

We are buying a new home that is going to need quite a bit of yard work. If my boys were a bit older, I'd be getting them out in the yard to help build some stuff with me. They would hit #1: Confidence from achievement, #3: be responsible for some aspect of the work, #7: time alone with Dad all in one activity.

I think my boys would love it.

My daughter? In as much as you can tell with a 2 year old, probably not so much.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 11, 2012 09:27 AM

Well, the internet (like my mom's attic) *is* forever, but (also like my mom's attic) just because you know it's up there, doesn't mean you can find it.

Having lost several months of posts on an old Blogger site, I wish that were true! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2012 09:34 AM

I think my boys would love it. My daughter? In as much as you can tell with a 2 year old, probably not so much.

I hope, nonetheless, that you will give her the same chance, Yu-Ain.

Some of my very fondest childhood memories are of working with my Dad in his shop, or learning to change spark plugs or air filters or polish chrome on his car. As the young girl, I very much enjoyed physical work of any kind and I do to this day.

My favorite summer camp ever was the one where we chopped down trees, cleared a road, and built cabins. I also have good memories of painting people's houses (and even a church) with my youth group. Those experiences served me well as a young wife living in a town with no jobs. I made money doing work for my neighbors and never had to put my boys in day care.

There is a dignity in hard work and learning to perform tasks well and I believe girls need that just as much as boys do. Can't think of a better preparation for either motherhood or a career.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2012 09:39 AM

Oh, if she wants to, absolutely.

I'm just afraid it'll take different activities with her.

But like I said, kids change a lot in their desires from age 2, so there is still hope. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 11, 2012 10:31 AM

I have to say that at first I had no real interest in automobile engines or cars or building things in my Dad's shop. But my Dad was interested in those things, and I loved spending time with him.

And over time, I did become more interested and I'm sure glad he included me :)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2012 10:39 AM

It depends on the man. While my father was spot on in teaching us about cars, etc., when it came to self-defense, he truly believed wimmin were addle-pated ninnies who would shoot their feet off, and needed to have a man to protect them, or a safe place to stay while he sallied forth to battle wolves for the family bacon.

It wasn't until my late teen years that I learned that it was not a Cardinal Sin to shoot, and to know the difference between a revolver and an semi-automatic pistol.

The Engineer has allowed the Family Princess to work on the cars, the house, the yard, and whatever else needs to be done. She is a confident and poised young lady.

Her enslaved siblings (known collectively as brothers) have taught her to shoot. She loves it almost as much as they do.

I think, in using Cassie's points, that that is where true equality lies. Raising both boys and girls to be confident, sensible and independent is the ultimate goal.

Posted by: Carolyn at October 11, 2012 11:27 AM

Yagette will be learning all about self defense (armed and unarmed) whether she enjoys it or not. Just like the boys will.

They *will* know how to operate a firearm safely and effectively even if, as an adult, they choose to never own one.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at October 11, 2012 11:57 AM

The Family Princess has a green belt, as does the Male Collective. They are working towards their black belts.

Posted by: Carolyn at October 11, 2012 02:48 PM