As a proud mother of both a girl and a boy, my children have taught me a lot in so many different ways. As a result, I can't help but think of what I'm teaching them. While my daughter is a whole other post, I think there's a few definitive things moms should teach their sons by the time they're 5. It's not an exhaustive list, by any means, but just a highlight of the key points boys — like my son — should know and understand, IMO.
It's funny when I think about the day we discovered the sex of our baby because, although the pregnancy was entirely different than the one I experienced while growing my daughter, I wanted to believe it was another girl. I'd somehow convinced myself I couldn't have a boy and I wouldn't know how to mother him or be interested in things he'd be interested in (sexist and unfair, I know). I thought in spending so much time with my daughter for years prior, and never being a huge fan of my own little brother growing up (sorry, bro), I didn't have it in me to raise a boy. Part of the problem? Raging hormones clouding my judgement. But the other part, I know now, was fear of messing up.
The day we left that ultrasound, I cried until my eyes puffed. Yes, I had gender disappointment and though totally normal, I felt awful. I refused to accept the truth of this amazing news because I didn't know then that this little boy would steal my heart the moment he took his first breath. Even now, I look at him and feel actual heart flutters. I don't know what I was thinking when disappointed from that visit and I'm ashamed I felt that way. Life knew what I needed before I did and I'm grateful for that. Plus, raising my girl has been 100 percent more challenging, by the way. Who knew?
Since my baby boy just turned 5 in October (and is exactly half his older sister's age), I've reflected a lot on what kind of person he's becoming. He's always been intuitive and compassionate but, lately, I'm noticing some of the things I've been teaching him have actually resonated. Like, maybe he's been listening all along and maybe I'm not so bad at mothering a boy after all. Here are some things, I think, moms should teach their sons early on so that one day you can look at them the way I've been looking at my little guy, knowing you're instilling the foundation for a future great man.
More than anything else I could practice instilling in my son, before he could walk or talk, is that of consent. With an older sister, it was important he not only understand boundaries with her, but with all women. I've tried to show him through action that "no means no" in every sense of the idea. When his sister asks him to stop doing something, I expect him to respect her wish (and likewise). I hope that no matter what he's picked up on in his 5 years, respect of woman and the importance of consent are things he's aware of, and practices.
Empathy And Kindness Matter, Too
In regards to respect, moms should also teach how to empathize with others from an early age. When my daughter gets hurt, I level with my son and help him imagine it had happened to him. If he see it from someone else's perspective, it's not so hard to reenforce kindness to those who need it most.
Take Responsibility For Your Mistakes
Boys (and girls) will make mistakes. It's part of growing up. It's important we teach our kids how to own up to those mistakes instead of denying or hiding (which can lead to trust issues). Sure, there may be consequences, but that's how we learn to be better.
I want my son to know, there's only one of him. So it's my hope that I can help him be his most authentic self (whatever that means). While it's still awhile before he comes into his own (as his sister is doing now at 10), I don't ever want him to shy away from being himself and not a just an unoriginal version of his classmates or favorite superheroes.
Trust Your Instincts When Something Doesn't Feel Right
As a woman, I know what it feels like when a situation is, well, off. Like if danger is present. Intuition is in us all, but some never really learn how to trust it. I hope in the few years I've had the privilege of parenting, my boy has picked up on learning how to fine tune that gut feeling. One day, if he relies on it, it could potentially save his life.
Think Of Others, Not Only Yourself
I want my son to start thinking outside of himself as early on as possible. It's the best way to promote empathy and kindness. Over the years, I've tried to make a point of helping him consider what another person may be feeling before he acts, hoping it translates to being more self-aware and kind.
Be A Leader, Not A Follwer
Growing up sometimes means figuring out where you fit in, how to use your voice, and what your specific gifts and talents for the world may be. I try to encourage my son to lead, not follow, and even if it's uncomfortable at times. While he's young, I can already see that in building his self-esteem and confidence, he's on his way to forging his own path.
Stand Up For What You Believe In
With all our country is facing, it's more important than ever my son (and daughter) are rooted in their beliefs and unafraid to stand up for them, even and especially if faced with opposition. I try to focus on smaller issues in our house — like opinions about certain toys or television shows — with the lesson being if my son truly believes in his cause, he should never back down.
Use Words, Not Fists
When I was little, my brother and I were violent with one another. This is because much of what we saw and heard from our parents was some of the same. My partner and I strive to use communication as our weapons of choice, hopefully teaching our children — our son — how much more powerful, persuading, and righteous words can be than losing one's temper.
Practice Gratitude For The Small Things
It's so easy to fall into the trap of being envious of things others have that we don't. It's also tempting to use the old "kids in other countries don't have what you have" guilt trip but that doesn't work because kids my son's age can't comprehend what that means.
Honestly, even as an adult, I'm still consciously reminding myself to be grateful for the little things (like being alive). So when my son gets something he isn't excited about (clothes at Christmas!), or doesn't get anything at all when we're only meant to buy groceries at the store, I try to have him remember all the other great things he has, no matter how irrelevant.
Kids should know early on, no matter how much it hurts, forgiveness isn't for the person on the receiving end — it's for them. This is another thing I still practice as an adult, but an important one I want my kids to learn early. If my daughter accidentally knocks my son down and he's upset, but she feels bad it happened and apologizes, I want to teach him to forgive (not necessarily forget) and move on because life is too short to hold onto grudges. Luckily, he has a short attention span so I can divert pretty quickly.
Family Is Everything
I wasn't super close to my parents growing up and it took some time in my adult years to develop those relationships. I want my son to know there will never be a greater fan of him, than me and his dad. Through break-ups and failed friendships, we'll always be here, steadfast.
Life Is One Lesson After Another
When you're 5, some things can feel like punishment. Chores, responsibility of any kind, homework; I want him to get into the habit of these things that teach dependability and hard work. The lessons may not be fun at the time, but when he's grown, I hope he looks back in gratitude that I was devoted to teaching him these things.
Not Everyone Will Like You
This is a hard one, especially when, as a mother, I want everyone to like my kids. Sadly, that's not how life works. It's important my son learn now that it's OK if every last classmate isn't a friend and honestly, one good one is all he needs.
It's OK To Cry
Society often tells boys to "man-up" and not to show emotion. I'd like to think we're evolving past that mindset but I've witnessed it at times. I've never stopped my son from feeling and to do so would be a disservice. If he doesn't know crying is OK by 5, he may never.
Treat Everyone The Way You Wish To Be Treated
Along with compassion, empathy, respect, and kindness, I always want my son to only treat people the exact way he'd like to be treated. A simple rule often forgotten.
You Can Be Or Do Anything
I don't care what my son wants to be when he grows up — a police officer, a dancer, a wrestler, a makeup artist — whatever it is, I want him to know he is enough and can change the world if he so desires. There are no limits as long as he's willing to put in the work and dedication, even in the face of rejection.
Looking back to those pregnancy days I was actually disappointed about the gender, I wish I could erase them altogether. That reaction is one of my greatest regrets so now, I'm trying to make up for it each and every day. There's so much I want to teach my boy; so much I want to share. Because already, he's taught, and shared, so much of himself with me. And for that, I owe him my everything.