Have you ever taken stock of your life and thought, “Everything is fine, so why am I so miserable?!” Your finances aren’t perfect, but you just got back from a beach vacation, so you really can’t complain. You love your church; you have great friends; you’re in good health; your job has its ups and downs, but you enjoy what you do and you get paid fairly well for it. You like your house; you have a good relationship with your parents and extended family. And yet. And yet, there’s this gaping hole, this elephant in the middle of the room, and you just can’t get around it.Continue reading
This is going to be yet another blog about my journey raising boys. I apologize that this will make the second entry in a row on the subject. I try to diversify topics, but once again, this is where my heart leads. So please bare with me! I’ll go with it and hope for something new next time.
Because I was single and dated in my 30’s, I saw how ill equipped some men are for marriage. There are lots of good guys out there, but there are also a lot of men who have not yet grown up. Before Marvin, the men I dated were not ready for marriage, financially, emotionally, spiritually or mentally. And this is not unique. Take a look at television sitcoms and movies. Many depict 35 year old men living with roommates or their parents and playing the field. They salivate over big boobs and date for recreational purposes. They are boys. They have the sex drives of grown men, but in every other respect, they are immature and hindered by emotional issues they never address. And many are enabled to be this way first by their parents and then the women they date and the culture in which they live.
It seems to me that 50-60 years ago a man was expected to be ready for a wife and children by the time he was 25. By then he was expected to have a job that could support a family and to be the man of the house. I know many of these men had issues and many were schooled to be dictatorial leaders, not servant leaders. But nevertheless, the expectation was strength, not weakness. Compare the personae of Cary Grant and Hugh Grant, for example. One dignified and strong, the other boyish, fun and weak.
By the time our sons are 25, they will certainly be physically (sexually) ready for marriage, and the challenge for me as a parent is to do my part in helping them be ready in every other respect, too.
There are many things in our culture that make it particularly hard to raise boys to be good husbands. Entitlement has to be in the top ten.
If our boys feel entitled to have every toy they want, every gadget, every convenience, it is quite possible they will grow up to feel entitled to have sex whenever they want it, a new girlfriend when the old one gets boring or worst, a newer cuter wife when the old one looses some of her luster. Perhaps he’ll feel entitled to a house he really can’t afford and newer cars which keep his family in financial bondage.
It’s hard to ward off this plague from ruining our sons, but we have to work at it. We want our sons to be men who cherish their wives and lead their families with humility and care: men who have the self-control and patience to wade through those seasons in marriage when sex is scarce (like those first post-partum weeks or the ensuing months with infants who seem allergic to nighttime sleep).
If we want them to love their wives selflessly, we have to teach them when to put the needs above their own, teaching them to honor commitments and to be loyal to their friends: teaching them the value of a promise, a covenant, a code. And we have to show them that things worth having require hard work.
Which leads me to the next thing: this pervasive cavalier attitude towards financial stability, hard work and education.
Growing up in a poor country, my husband heard the same mantra from grade school to grad school: the way out of poverty is “education, education, education.” And yet I don’t really hear this mantra in America. It’s not that America’s young want to be poor, but there seems to be, among some, a lack of planning and purpose and sweat: “Who needs college?” or “Who needs marketable skills? I’ll get money somehow… I’ll figure it out later.” Where this is perfectly natural and fine to be the attitude in younger years, it’s the thinking of a boy, not a man and it reveals an unrealistic view of the world. The number of international students always far outnumbers the Americans in my husband’s science classes and lab. And for the first time, women outnumber men in medical school. I applaud that internationals and women have an open door to the sciences, but where are the American men? Science is certainly not the path for everyone, but I fear that these stats reveal something deeper. I don’t want women to out-perform men; I want both men and women to perform the very best they can, in every field.
And so this laziness, this flippancy about work and school and money, how do we keep it away from our sons? I’m not really sure, but certainly as they grow we have to teach them how to work hard, the value of money and how much money it actually takes to own and run a home. How wonderful if they can offer their wives the same gift that was offered to many of us: the choice to stay home. I want them to have the strength of character, the positive pride and the practical abilities to take on the burden of supporting a family solo. And then if they have wives who want to work, wonderful! But I don’t want them to need that or expect that.
Another thing that seems disturbingly prevalent is emotional immaturity. I don’t at all have the key to raising mature boys, but I do know that part of the solution is letting my husband be their dad. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to step in while Marvin was correcting one of our sons. Sometimes his way just seems too harsh to me, too rough and I want to baby the boys, snuggle them and tell them it will be ok. Well, certainly boys need this affectionate maternal touch sometimes, but they also need what their dad brings to the table. Often, they don’t need to be babied, they need to take their punishment, from their dad, like a “man”; they need to cry, let it out, and then wipe off their tears and move on. They don’t always need mom’s soft touch. My boys are blessed; Marvin is often affectionate with them; he often snuggles them and tells them he loves them. But he also has a way of “cracking the whip” in a way that I don’t. And they need it. I just have to step out of the way and let him do what only fathers can do.
With fifty percent of boys growing up without a dad at home, how many of them are missing this dimension of parenting and how many of them will be weakened as a result? Women, let your husbands be the dad your sons need. And single moms, find a male role model who can bring some balance to your parenting. You may think you’re tough, but moms often find it hard to be tough in the way their sons need.
My boys are 6 and 3. Who knows if they’ll be ready for marriage at 25 or if they’ll even want to marry at that age. But I want to make life easier for the single women they date and interact with. May our sons be part of the solution not part of the problem.
This Christmas I’m especially grateful for the gift of boys. We originally envisioned at least one girl in our family with bows, pigtails and frilly dresses, but I couldn’t be happier with our boys.Continue reading
Recently I was reading a book which talked about how hard it is for millionaires to raise good kids. The author interviewed wealthy men who had all grown up in working class homes, and they learned so many valuable lessons as they worked hard, overcame the odds, learned resiliency and the value of the dollar, as well as how to succeed and fail. And then they all made it big. Now they are raising their own kids in a totally different world. They own mansions, drive fancy cars and go on lovely vacations. Their kids attend private schools and lack for nothing. And these men who had grown up with so little longed for ways that they could teach their own kids some of the invaluable things they had learned because of lack. When they were growing up they often heard, “No” to their requests because their families simply couldn’t afford them. The rich kids, however, rarely hear “No,” because their parents can afford almost anything, and many parents had not learned to say “No” for other, more complex reasons, like “No because you owning a Ferrari at 16 is not consistent with our values.” The problem is, the parents had not taken the time to figure out and teach their values, and so their kids only really value money and the toys it can buy.
These stories struck a nerve because I’ve often thought about this. Now, we are far from being millionaires! But the truth is, we have more money than our parents did and as a result, our kids have more stuff. They travel in nicer cars and experience fewer discomforts. And I actually look forward to the day when we can give them yet more. But I am sure Marvin and I learned things that they might not be learning. My husband, for example, grew up in the West Indies, and learned how to make kites out of old sheets and the veins of palm leaves. He learned the patience of catching butterflies and dissecting bugs. These were the toys. For him, family outings were an occasional treat, whereas our kids go to fun places all the time. Boredom was an occasional dilemma, but our kids express boredom almost every day.
Surely the answer is not to be less successful or to wish poverty on them so that they will learn character.
No, the answer is deeper than that. We have to be clear about our values and then pray for ways to teach them to our kids. If we fail to do this money can easily slip to the center. We cannot allow the lack of it or the abundance of it to become the engine of our lives.
So what do we want? We want them to fear and love God. By fear, I mean respect and awe, a sobriety about who He is, and knowing the importance of obedience. We want them to know that He is at the center and that He is the Creator and the Giver of all things good.
We want them to love people – all people – and to show compassion to those who are in trouble. And so this means having people in our home: people of every size, shape and color. We have rich friends and poor friends; friends with more toys and friends with fewer toys. And we have friends whose accents are so thick our boys lose most of what is said. But they hear and see that God made variety and we’re hoping they see the beauty in that.
And we want them grateful. Grateful for a piece of candy and grateful for a trip to the Caribbean. Grateful for cold water in July and grateful for an Italian soda from Starbucks. Grateful mostly to God but also to people who bless them in little and big ways. Thank you Thank you Thank you; Lord, let that be the mantra of our home.
We want them to know that money is a blessing, and it is also a tool with which to do good.
So what do you value?
I feel like I fail more than I succeed at teaching our kids these standards, so I’m depending on God’s grace to make up for my failures – and other people to take up the slack. I’m realizing we have to be deliberate about instructing them, because sometimes, at the end of a hard day, it’s just easier to say, Yes.