I am a mother of men. I have been now for about 22 years. I have one sweet daughter, whom I love dearly. But the truth be told, I parent boys. My natural woman always reverts to talking to boys, disciplining boys, motivating boys, working with boys, training boys. When I am working with my daughter, I often parent the boy way until it backfires and then I consciously remind myself this is a girl. Oh, right, girl parenting....let's see, fingernail polish, social engagements, hair, clothes, right....girls...... (That is a post for another day. This post is about boys.)
I do not remember when it started, but sometime in my parenting journey, I decided I needed to know what the prophets want my boys to know and do so I could help make sure they were doing it. Since then, I have anxiously awaited for the General Conference (click here) Edition of the Ensign (May and November of each year). I open it directly to the Priesthood Session and read the talks.
This month I began with Elder Christofferson's address. I was floored by these statements:
Brethren, much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles, for example, includes Why There Are No Good Men Left, The Demise of Guys, The End of Men, Why Boys Fail, and Manning Up. Interestingly, most of these seem to have been written by women. In any case, a common thread running through these analyses is that in many societies today men and boys get conflicting and demeaning signals about their roles and value in society.
The author of Manning Up characterized it this way: “It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.”1
In their zeal to promote opportunity for women, something we applaud, there are those who denigrate men and their contributions. They seem to think of life as a competition between male and female—that one must dominate the other, and now it’s the women’s turn. Some argue that a career is everything and marriage and children should be entirely optional—therefore, why do we need men?2 In too many Hollywood films, TV and cable shows, and even commercials, men are portrayed as incompetent, immature, or self-absorbed. This cultural emasculation of males is having a damaging effect.
In the United States, for example, it is reported: “Girls outperform boys now at every level, from elementary school through graduate school. By eighth grade, for instance, only 20 percent of boys are proficient in writing and 24 percent proficient in reading. Young men’s SAT scores, meanwhile, in 2011 were the worst they’ve been in 40 years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college. … It is predicted that women will earn 60 percent of bachelor’s, 63 percent of master’s and 54 percent of doctorate degrees by 2016. Two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs are guys.”3
Some men and young men have taken the negative signals as an excuse to avoid responsibility and never really grow up. In an observation that is too often accurate, one university professor remarked, “The men come into class with their backward baseball caps and [their lame] the ‘word processor ate my homework’ excuses. Meanwhile, the women are checking their day planners and asking for recommendations for law school.”4 One female movie reviewer expressed the rather cynical view that “what we can count on men for, if we’re lucky and we choose to have a partner, is to be just that—a partner. Someone who stands in his own space even as he respects our standing in our own.”5
As I read these statements, I was grateful that my boys do not seem to be heading in that direction. Then I consciously thought, what are we doing at our house so they do not become those men? Now, as I go through some of our decisions, please understand that some of them have come out of economic necessity, meaning, if we had the means, we would be making different choices. (Which I realize may be a huge blessing from our Father in Heaven that our children do not have access to some of the list below simply because we do not have the economic means to provide those things for them.) Also, please understand that I do not believe these things are bad, in themselves. Most of them I find enjoyable and with moderation can be used without a problem. But I definitely believe that our lack of them in our home contributes greatly to the kind of men we raise.
Here is my list:
- We do not have a gaming system. My children have begged and begged for one. We have had people offer to give them to us for free. I considered purchasing a Wii when they first came out. Luckily, when one parent is seriously considering the offer or the purchase, the other parent is unwilling. I believe this has been a huge blessing to our family---mostly because we have so many boys who would waste so much of their time on trying to beat the high scores even if we didn't have violent games. Also, as we have considered this idea, we have had some children who my dear husband said to me, "You know that child is going to get unapproved games from his friends and he will be up playing them in the middle of the night while we are all sleeping." I knew his words were true. I don't think we will ever have a gaming system in our home.
- My children do not have cell phones while they live here. Mostly, this is an economic choice. But I have to say, I believe they interact with each other better, they are kinder to one another, they have to actually talk to each other in order to communicate---no texting or leaving messages for each other. There are no midnight conversations with people who do not live here. There is some down time in their day. There is no internet access through their phone that they do not have.
- We have one computer in the middle of the family room that all can use for their entertainment, socializing, homework. We all have to share it, which makes us all take turns and learn how to cooperate and to be patient, and to plan our activities.
- Our computer is locked. Only the parents have access to the code. This is not about not trusting our children. It is about protecting them. Lucifer knows who they are and knows when/where they are vulnerable. It is irresponsible of us as guardians to allow them temptations that could spiritually damage their soul and future to happen here in our home, a place where they should be safe. The same goes for the television---most of the channels are locked.
- We have one television, no TV's in the bedrooms. Entertainment is a family experience. We all have to watch it together, which means sometimes we cannot watch a show/movie we want to because it would not be appropriate for smaller children in the room. It requires compromise and team work to find stuff we are all willing to watch.
- We are super selective about the entertainment we view. All movies/shows are previewed by parents before they are watched at all. If we do decided to watch something with the children without a preview, we have to be willing to turn it off at the first sign of anything off-color. If they do it once, it will usually happen again. Don't wait hoping it will get better, it probably won't. We also read reviews if say a teenager is going to watch a movie with friends and we do not have time to preview. Discussion is had about the rating and the various aspects of concern: language, violence, or sexual content. Discussions are had of willingness to walk out of the movie/theater/performance even in the case of peer pressure. I think because we are so selective about our viewing, my children have all become avid readers (in which we teach the same selectivity, though we cannot keep up with their reading---we have had to leave their reading choices to their discretion, with obvious veto's from the parents.)
- Even movies shown at school are previewed. The teachers are aware of how selective we are. The elementary teachers are extremely good about working with us. High school teachers? Not so much. Our children know if they choose to walk out of class because something is morally offensive to them, we will support their decision and they will not be in trouble with us. We applaud their decision making and courage.
- We do not let them go to friend's homes where gaming is the primary activity. We try to host get-togethers at our home. Friends are always welcome and we will do what we can to have a fun activity in line with our standards. Besides, with boys, it really is about the food, right? We have plenty of that.
- Our children are expected to babysit, cook, clean, change diapers, and provide service to others all because they live here. Period. When I need something of them, I try to be respectful like I would if I were calling someone else. I let them know with plenty of warning. I ask. I work around their homework, personal desires, and social schedules. We try to accommodate everyone involved. When that cannot be done, we ask for sacrifice and we try to spread that around so one person is not always saddled with the burden.
Some of the children's friends, when they learn of some of the 'rules of the house' so to speak, talk about how strict we are and how they would hate to live here. But our 17 year-old, the other day, said, "You know Mom, I can't help but notice that my relationship with my parents is very different than the relationships some of my friends have with their parents. One friend will always make the opposite choice of the one her parents want her to make, just because she doesn't want to do something if they want her to." How sad.
Teenagers, children, all of us, really, need limits, need guidelines, need boundaries. Guard rails along the road are not to inhibit our freedom to drive off of the cliff. They are to keep us on the road to our destination, to help us safely return. Likewise, we have to place our own guardrails up to help our children be successful and guide them along the road to their destinations, that they can arrive unharmed and prepared.