Tuesday, October 13, 2009

West End Community Church Follow Up.

Thank you to the many great folks who came to West End Community Church in Nashville, TN to better understand boys. Here are some of the questions I didn’t get a chance to answer that afternoon.

1. What are your thoughts on holding back boys with school?

We talk in Wild Things about the importance of giving boys reprieve. We often place unrealistic expectations on them academically, athletically, emotionally, and in many other areas.

When it comes to deciding when a boy is ready for kindergarten, I would encourage you to pay close attention to your son, not the “standard” age when most boys start kindergarten in your city. Some boys are ready at five years of age. Many boys are not. You’ve got to study your son closely and consult with a number of adults who have observed and know him. Preschool educators are often excellent resources in navigating this decision. They know and understand what’s required to be kindergarten ready and have observed your early learner.

I’ve met plenty of parents who regretted starting early and I’ve yet to meet a parent who regretted waiting. When in doubt, wait to start. He’d be better served to have another year to mature and develop. I hear this recommendation from educators every time I teach at an in-service. Elementary school educators are grieved to see a young man who isn’t ready –academically or emotionally - to meet the challenges involved in today’s academic world.

2. Depression in boys may not look like depression in girls. How do you determine if it is more likely depression instead of “acting out” behavior?

It’s always helpful to consult with your pediatrician about any emotional concerns you have with your son. They will help you identify what is acting out behavior versus depressive symptoms. Your pediatrician may also recommend consulting with a therapist to assess your observations. Depression in boys rarely looks like depression in girls. Girls tend to get more sad and withdrawn. Boys can certainly go this direction, but often times boys get bravado and start acting out. They are often more angry than sad, which is why we tend to miss depression in adolescent males.

3. How do I (hippie, peace-loving mom) deal with my son’s love of pretend weapons, fighting, etc., in a way that doesn’t crush his spirit but also doesn’t condone violence?

It is astonishing to me how instinctively many boys gravitate toward imaginative play that involves weapons and fighting. They find the most creative and strategic ways to make weapons from any object. With that said, it’s normal that his play would often involve good defeating evil. He will enjoy playing the role of the hero and may need weapons to accomplish his task.

Find great and natural opportunities to speak with him about violence and weapons. Use literature and film to drive this point home as he matures and gets older. Pay close attention to video games you allow him to play. There is nothing redemptive about video games that involve anti-social violence. Use it as a conversation starter to teach your views on violence and to hear his evolving ideas about the same.

4. What can a mother do to help fulfill a father role when dad is not present?

Parenting without a spouse, or with a spouse who is not invested well in parenting, is one of the greatest challenges a mom of a son faces. I would encourage you to first extend grace to yourself. You cannot be both his mother and his father. You can be a great mother to him. Focus your time and energy on this. Acknowledge the loss and allow him to do the same. Tell him that a part of your goal is to help him find his way to many strong, trusted adult male voices.

It is important that you acknowledge with him and with yourself that you can’t be all things to him. I’d also recommend you explore some very practical ideas we lay out for single moms in the book Wild Things.

5. How do we raise our boys with all this knowledge that you have given to us?

Keep in mind that you are going to make mistakes. Be willing to own those mistakes with him and with yourself. Boys aren’t looking for perfection, just presence. Pray daily for the grace and strength to do what you have been called to do as a parent. Remember that you are equipped with what you need to do that. You were uniquely called to parent your son. He is a work in progress. You are a work in progress.

Continue studying the unique way God designed him. Keep reading about his changing development and what he needs in each stage. Ask God to give you the wisdom to attend to him and believe that He will.

6. How do we encourage our son is his masculine journey amidst 3 sisters?

Believe that he will be blessed by growing up in a house full of women. It will have its challenges. It will also have plenty of opportunity.

Allow him to be different, because he will be. Affirm those differences when you observe them. One isn’t right and one wrong – boys and girls are just different beings. Pay attention to his needs being different. Keep going back to the unique role and the unique challenges you face as a mother. Keep going back to the tasks of fathering a boy well that we discussed. You are likely encouraging his masculine journey in ways you don’t even realize.