ON BOYS – 4 December 2019

Middle School Matters on MONDAY MOTHERHOOD MATTERS. We will have two boys in middle school, at the same time, in the next two years. And these two boys are already changing and pushing and questioning, and sometimes they’re just really negative and discontent. Almost the only time throughout the day that I get to see these boys genuinely content is when I sing to them and scratch their backs before they fall asleep at night. I see it in their eyes. Their masks, their pretenses, their fears, their egos, their frustrations melt away. Their eyes are, in that moment, bright and soft and genuine.

This is part of development. I believe that. They need to push boundaries and decide what they believe about themselves and about the world around them.

“I would start to worry when you kid stops pushing back. Because when you’re kid is arguing with you, when your kid’s pushing your buttons, they’re learning … let them experiment and make mistakes, and be there to help them recover and help them build that resilience, so that when they’re 30 and you’re not by their side, they know what to do to pick up the pieces. They will know how to make amends, they will know how to regulate their emotions.

Constantly look at it as skill-building.”

I am all in.

But. I am not sure about my part yet.

When do I correct them, when do I let others outside our home correct them? What can I say to reassure them that they’re “good enough”? When am I coddling them, and when am I reassuring them? When am I being too hard on them, and when is it appropriate?

“We need to increase our understanding and compassion.”

And I think those two go hand in hand. As I understand my boys better, my compassion for them can increase. And not only compassion, but my ability to walk with them through middle school increases.

“When we don’t take the time to consider our boys’ perspective, we often over-react, and alienate the very children we’re trying to help.”

Do you remember the interview I held with my 6th grader, Liam, back on Day #77?

“I feel like a trait of a good parent is that they’re going to listen to the kid’s point of view and hear the story from their side. Ask about their point of view. Always ask before sharing your own point of view.”

And that is a good place to start, right? Listen to the kid, in his words. Ask questions to better understand, before sharing my point of view. Good tip.

What else?

The question all middle schoolers wrestle with is, “Am I good enough?”

“These boys are looking all around them for reassurance that they’re okay. And, with boys, the way they try to get that reassurance can sometimes seem obnoxious. They might yell something out. They might push someone. They may use humor in ways that others think are rude. They’re doing everything they can to make sure they’re good enough and funny enough and well liked enough, but they may not yet have the socioemotional skills and experience to avoid unintentionally harming or even humiliating others… We have to cut them a lot of slack while they’re developing those skills.”

I have seen this! And I am not sure when to correct – you know, help them along that path in learning those skills.

So I asked my sister. She has teenage boys, just a few years ahead of mine. And she is absolutely one of my favorite moms to watch and to learn from. She said, “You know what, I’ve really stopped correcting them. I mean, I tell them to put their shoes back on when their feet stink. But I let them learn for themselves. I think that confidence has a lot to do with learning those skills, and maybe that is my job – to love them in a way, and accept them in a way, that will help them feel confident about who they are, no matter what.”

Love them. Accept them. Meet them right where they are at. Approach issues that really do need to be handled, with curiosity, and within my own mind before I open my mouth, and once I’ve opened my mouth, if I decide to discuss the issue with the boy.

What is different about that class? He normally likes school.

What is different about this meal time? Why is he angry about what I am feeding him? What else could be going on?

What is different about this show we are watching? What has he picked up on, or what scenes made him feel uncomfortable?

What is different about today? Why is he acting this way today when yesterday he was fine?

“When we put our own lens on what a boy is doing, without talking to them about it, we can get a whole narrative. And if we start reacting based on that narrative, then we create misunderstanding and distance and anger… Middle school boys love hard, care hard and mean well… When you understand that fact, parenting middle school boys becomes a whole lot easier. (And more fun!)”

It serves me well to believe that, and to show up with my middle school boys as if that is absolutely true – they love hard, care hard, and mean well.

Not shame them when they make mistakes. “I can see why you made that choice.”

Talk about what they can do to make it right, or what other options they might have had in that moment.

“Help them think critically about what they’re doing so that when they do make those kinds of errors, it’s a one-time error.”

And maybe he will listen. And maybe he won’t. I want to close with this last thought:

“And if those children are unresponsive, maybe you can’t teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.”

So, I will keep singing to these boys, and scratching their backs. One night they thought they were so funny. As I was singing and scratching their backs, they were passing gas. So funny right? And so I left. I felt underappreciated for my efforts. But as I walked away from their room, I stopped. This gift was always meant to be unconditional – they didn’t have to behave a prescribed way for me to sing to them and for me to scratch their backs, and for me to show them that they are loved, right where they are at, right now. And I turned back, and I sang to them, and I scratched their backs. And they talked to me. And they hugged me. And their eyes were filled with light.

I can love them today.


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