* In response to How to Raise a Girl.
I became a mother when I was in college.
Growing up, I was the baby of the family—youngest of 4 siblings and 18 grandkids. I’d never spent any time baby sitting or playing with dolls.
But suddenly, I had a baby boy and no father to help.
Normally his father provides a little boy guidance to grow up to be a great man. Since this was not part of my son’s reality, I spent a good amount of time regretting that my two favorite guys, my father and brother, weren’t around to show my son how to be a good, kind man. No such luck, as they had died years ago. I was on my own.
I had no choice—I moved in with my mother. She taught me about basic homemaking and how to take care of a baby, plus her live-in boyfriend was a good male role model. I was so consumed with the endless chores of parenting that I didn’t consider what it meant to be raising a boy.
Six months went by and my mother decided that I’d learned enough about parenting to give it a shot on my own while I finished college.
I returned to Boulder, a place where I still had many friends and where my sister was raising a family. I surrounded my boy in a loving community—I was raising him in what felt like a tribe.
Immediately, I enlisted the help of the the solid men in my life to shine their manly light on my son. I exposed my son to great male role models: older boy cousins, his godfather, uncles, teachers and sports coaches.
I made friends with other mothers who were raising boys—we’d lend each other a hand and exchange advice while the boys roughhoused. It all felt so natural.
But, sometimes I felt utterly alone with the burden of raising a little boy by myself.
Especially when I looked at the way other boys were being raised. In big houses with nice cars, where their fathers would work at the office every day, so their mothers could stay at home and raise them in a wholesome way.
It’s what I wanted for my son.
I made the most of my circumstances and decided I would be a stay-at-home mom anyway. And do it without the daydream luxury of a man to support us.
Luckily, I was rich in many blessings. A dear, old friend just so happened to have an extra house where we were invited to live free of charge. I was awarded a grant to complete my final semester of college and I earned spending money doing chores and mending for my sisters.
Life was good. Now all my son needed were some siblings to keep him company. Quickly, I had two little girls and my son was all set. With three kids under the age of five, I was kept plenty busy as they grew up fast.
All along, I made certain to practice open dialogue with my kids. As my son grew into a young man, we kept these lines of communication open and have always been the best of friends.
All in all, I feel like I did a pretty good job raising a boy, despite my constant worry that as a woman, I couldn’t set the kind of example that helps a little boy grow into a great man. I dug deep and figured it out.
My son has grown up to be an authentic, creative and kind young man.
How to raise a boy:
Read to him everyday. Especially books about trucks and bikes. Boys love wheels. Learning the names of all the heavy equipment won me big points with my little boy. Hunting down all the construction sites in the neighborhood provided hours of free entertainment. We would hang on the fence talking about the front end loaders and bulldozers.
Teach him to garden. Let him use his excessive energy to dig in the dirt. Learning where food comes from will enrich his whole life.
Feed him a steady diet of homemade food cooked with love. Let him help you prepare it so he learns how to feed himself and his friends.
Teach him how to bake cookies, clean the bathroom, sew on his buttons, sweep and knit. Little boys love to help out around the house and have endless enthusiasm when they are cut loose with the mop or a dust rag. They love to be included and feel a sense of purpose when they help keep their home nice. Having these skills will help him be self-sufficient.
Little boys are great helpers when caring for a baby and he can supply hours of entertainment for his siblings as they grow older together. My girls grew up to be rough and tumble with a rowdy brother as their baby sitter. Learning how to play with each other provides siblings invaluable lessons for building social skills.
Teach him to entertain himself:
Raise him without a TV or video games. Books, wooden toys, art supplies, music, mother nature, friends and siblings will be his play things. Hands-on play will develop his sense of creativity and wonder. He’ll grow up to be imaginative and thoughtful.
And he’ll be socially adept because he’ll know who he is and what gifts he has to offer the world.
Provide him a physical outlet. Boys are high energy and need to move their bodies. Teach him to ride a bike or a skateboard and sign him up for a sports team.
Teach him to be a person first and a man second.
Show him that being perfectly human requires humility, vulnerability and balance.
Teach him etiquette because having good manners will help him feel comfortable wherever he goes in the world.
Encourage him to be gentle and soft. Teach him to wear his heart on his sleeve and create a safe container for him to express all of his feelings.
Teach him the skills to soothe himself. Be it through meditation, exercise, artistic expression, nature or radical self-care.
Tell him he’s beautiful.
Teach him to tie a tie and polish his shoes. Find a clean cut friend to teach him how to shave. But also, teach him how to braid a woman’s hair and tie a hair ribbon.
Teach him to care for others:
Teach him to be strong and handy, not because it will help him be manly, but because he’ll have the skills to be a valuable servant, helping others and himself.
Buy him a doll. To cuddle and provide him comfort. Having a doll will teach him how to care for others.
“William wants a doll
So when he has a baby someday
He’ll know how to dress it, put diapers on double
And gently caress it to bring up a bubble
And care for his baby as every good father
Should learn to do.” ~ Free to be You and Me, Marlo Thomas
Get him a dog. Any shelter dog will do, nothing fancy. Let him learn firsthand the joy and importance of taking care of and being gentle with another creature. Owning a dog will teach him to take pride in his responsibilities and how to be a loyal companion.
Teach him love by loving him with all you’ve got.
Set a positive example by loving everyone. Encourage him to cast away judgement and find the basic goodness in all of those he encounters.
How to Raise a Girl.
Author: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author, flickr/CIA DE FOTO
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