I find myself in a really fun season of parenting right now. I have a sweet four year old who brings our family more joy than I can express. Over the past four+ years I’ve written many times about his cuteness and antics.
But this blog post is about my bigs, who are now 13, 11 and 10, and we’re quickly approaching birthday season. (The men in my life have birthdays in February, March, March, April, and May.) I absolutely love some aspects of having tweens/teens including the ability to have real in-depth conversations. Specifically speaking of Hayden, I can see traces of the man he is going to be, and I love it!
And because this territory is challenging in many ways, I have at least four books within my reach at this very moment to help me better understand them so that I can better parent them. Matt is obviously in on this with me, but he has so much reading he has to do for his job that I read the parenting books and then hand him specific chapters to read.
The latest book I devoured was one of the best I’ve ever read. Not only was it extremely helpful and practical, it was easy to read, not clinical or condescending. The author shared personal stories all throughout and her husband piped in for his take on many situations. His insight is incredibly helpful for this mom, a female with no experience at being a guy. This is a book that I’d recommend any mom of boys to read. It’s geared toward parents who have a boy (or, like me, a bunch of them) ages 8-12. This book is full of encouragement, explanation, and ways to help your boy remain good. Even though Hayden is already past the tween stage, it applied to him, as well.
The title is Six Ways to Keep the “Good” in Your Boy by Dannah Gresh. When she wrote Six Ways to Keep the “Little” in Your Girl, I wished with all my heart that she’d write a complementary book for parents of boys. She did!
If I were to share all the parts I underlined I’d get in BIG TROUBLE for giving away too much of her book! Here are a few of the ways it resonated with me.
Manhood: We celebrate our boys’ entrance into manhood. When Hayden turned 12 we gave him a sword to represent this huge moment. There was symbolism in the fact that the sword was almost as tall as he was. He wasn’t old enough or big enough to easily hold the weapon, but it was time to start practicing. He wasn’t a man yet, but it was time to start thinking like one. He has a few years of practicing before he is sent off on his way into the big wide world. There are lessons to learn and mistakes to make while in the safety and security of our home. By the time he leaves us, he will be more comfortable with that sword in his hands, he will have grown and he will know the strength he has and how to wield it. He will know that his strength can be dangerous if used incorrectly, but that it’s provided to him by God to be a defense for his family and those who are weaker or are being attacked. His strength is something to be thankful for but used wisely. Many men are taught to be ashamed of their strength or they’ve chosen to use it to bully others. It is our job to teach our sons why God designed men with this strength. And just behind Hayden are two more boys to train with this strength. A few years behind them, is our Parker.
Screens: We do not have video games. This book reminded me of the many reasons why. I am not mad at you if you have video games, but I implore you to read this book and see the reasons we have made that decision for our family. My parents made this decision for my brother and me, and I remember really wanting a Nintendo. When I visited friends, I loved sitting at their TVs playing Mario. My kids enjoy playing video games when they visit with friends who have a system. I am very specific about what kinds of games they can play (or even watch others play) and we will not own a system. Period. The author and her husband had video games in their home and they share tips for those of you who want to allow them, but with moderation.
More Screens: We are very protective of the boys’ eyes. We do not have cable and do not want it. We have Netflix and Hulu, and even with those we are very particular. Our boys are developing a sense of what is appropriate for our family and are starting to make decisions that impress us. Not long ago, we sat down as a family to watch something that was, in my mind, okay, but not great. I noticed Hayden quietly walking upstairs and when I asked where he was going, he said he was going to go draw. When I asked why his response was that he didn’t think that show was right for him. It didn’t take a full second for Matt and me to deem the show inappropriate for the rest of us, and we opened up one of our Christmas Presents: Duck Dynasty Season 5. Everyone was happy with that! And it’s not just the oldest one who is learning discernment. Just a few days later Bailey deemed another show inappropriate for our family, and it was one I was already starting to question.
The boys’ iPods and iPads don’t have internet access unless we specifically turn it on, and when they’re done with what they need, we turn it off again. All of our computers are password protected and they can’t use them without asking first. When they do use the internet, the boys sit near one of us. The next few sentence are loose quotes from the book:
Did you know that the porn industry makes more money annually than NASCAR, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, basketball, and baseball combined…. Hollywood brings us about 300 movies a year, while the porn industry releases about 700… per month!
I do not doubt the addictive nature of pornography and many of those addicted to it were first introduced to it in their tween years. Not in my house… not if I can help it!
Dirt: Hamrick boys play outside. They dig in the mud. Literally. As I write this my kids are down the street at the corner of our neighborhood building a bike ramp in the drainage ditch. They have been working for a week or two on this project and they keep taking two of our shovels to the “ramp.” Not surprisingly, they have made some pretty neat ramps and jumps out of the dirt ditch. Hours they’ve spent in the mud, and I love it. (And if I had daughters, I have a feeling they’d be right there with them!)
Food: Family dinners are a must. I’m not the greatest cook but we are determined to eat dinner together almost every night. The only night we don’t is the night Matt and I teach FPU. The boys enjoy that night because they get “junk” food: frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, etc. There are plenty of studies that discuss the importance of eating meals together. I found a neat website with a quick Google search of “family meals together studies.” It reports:
Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.
Check out The Family Dinner Project.
Examples: Boys need real men to emulate. We are very cautious about who they spend time with. The men we allow to speak into their lives are chosen carefully. The requirements are: they must love God first, their wives second, and their children third. Easy as that. Men who find their priorities swapped will not be around much. We want our boy to have plenty of good examples to follow and we are thankful that there are people in their lives we hope they emulate.
Talk: Conversations about difficult topics occur on a frequent basis. We believe that if we don’t have these conversations with our boys, someone else will, and we can’t trust that what they say will be true to our value system. I could honestly fill an entire blog post with all the conversations that need to be had, that we are having, but if you are an adult you know exactly which conversations I’m talking about. There are resources listed in “Six Ways” that we plan to utilize in our parenting.
Two more things: Finally we want to instill in our boys a strong work ethic and a desire to NOT be complacent about their work or their spiritual lives. Complacency will ruin lives, and I pray my boys will LOVE life and the Lord. I do not want to see complacency in their careers and their spiritual lives.
I hope you will take the time to read this book if you are raising a boy or four. Very worthwhile and, as a mom of a few of them, a very much appreciated book!
Dannah Gresh has a full website with a lot of advice and a list of her books. The link to the page that lists the “Six Ways” books is here.