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Boys will be boys

If you follow my blog, you might have read my post, "Mom to all boys." In it I say:
Why does it bother me so much hearing "boys will be boys?" Because, in my experience, people do not use that expression in regards to positive behavior demonstrated by my children.
To be honest, most of the time when I hear boys will be boys, parents are using it to justify their children's bad behavior. It really bothers me.

I come back to that expression time after time and each time it just makes my skin crawl. Why are we teaching a future generation of men that their behavior is okay or justified due to their sex? It makes me think back to various jobs I've held when men touched me inappropriately or said inappropriate things, once to a point that I had to report a guy. What if the manager had said, "Boys will be boys"?

I am not under some illusion that males and females think/act/are exactly the same and we need to drop all gender references. As our boys have grown, I have noticed our playdates with girls and boys have changed. In truth, our playdates {not everyday play in our own home or for our friends' everyday play in their homes} have only really changed this past year. The boys and girls-- through no direction from the parents-- tend to split off or assign various roles to each group. The boys say, "We are knights and are defending the castle! The playground is the castle!" and they are off roaring around the playground with sticks and swords and imaginary bows and arrows. The girls say, "We are the princesses!" and they go in the castle, assigning bedrooms and nurseries and describing the imaginary dresses each of them are wearing. But this extreme division is only starting now. The younger siblings are following suit with the older siblings. When our oldest was 3 years old, he happily joined in on the game with whatever the boys or girls were doing. Now that our oldest is 6 years old, his little brothers trudge along after him, waving swords and occasionally wandering over to check out what is happening in the castle.

My problem is not with boys preferring one game over another or boys playing differently than girls. Our boys spend a lot of time sword fighting. All day long we have wrestling, sword fighting, bloody noses, fat lips, questionable injuries {"Is it broken? Is he fine?"}. Every thing that enters into our house is literally made into a weapon: stuffed alligators are swords, paper towel rolls are swords, paper folded round and round is a sword, pencils are swords, really short pencils are guns... Everything is a weapon. Even our 3 year olds grab long strands of grass and try to tie them to sticks to make bows and arrows. If you know me, you know I am not a fan of weapons. When I take our boys to play with other boys their age, they seem to all do this. They want to protect, to serve, to fight, especially these military children of ours who hear military talk all day {Soldiers! Sailors! Airmen! Marines! Duty! Honor! Courage! Commitment!}.

My problem is when all of the above behavior is immediately dismissed, justified, or permissible due solely to gender. Our oldest is 6 years old; our twins are 3 years old; our baby is 6 months old. We are still in the realm of "little kid play." Why is it okay for big boys to tackle our little boys to the ground as they're crying and beat them with a foam sword? Why is it okay for big boys to chase a 3 year old down pelting him with Nerf bullets as the 3 year old screams in terror? Why is it okay for little boys to chuck rocks at our stroller with the baby inside? Why are we-- WOMEN-- justifying this behavior in front of our future generation of men by saying "he's all boy?" Since when is it okay for men to throw rocks at babies????

As a woman, that makes me angry. Why are we using our roles as influential women in these men's lives {because our boys will grow up to be men} to ingrain gender stereotypes in them?

Our boys are allowed to explore their creativity to the full extent. Our oldest has started playing Destiny {in small doses} with his dad and grandfather, an activity beloved by the men in my family. He plays Minecraft and revels in his successes. Our boys do wild sword fights where they make tents in their room and battle all afternoon. When we watch Lord of the Rings, they make K'Nex swords and reenact all the battles they see on the screen. Our 3 year olds are constantly on an Orc hunt. They are given the freedom and space to behave in the way that they wish.

However, we still have house rules. Older children must watch out for younger children. All children must have respect for babies. Respect is very big in our home. It is never acceptable to point guns or weapons at adults or babies, with the exception of adults who are willingly and knowingly joining in their game {such as a Nerf gun war}. We do not allow wild horseplay in our family room, where we have guests and babies, but we have a playroom and their bedroom for such activities. We feel that, especially indoors, they need to find appropriate ways to channel their behavior.

Don't get me wrong, our children do their fair share of far too rough play at home and at the playground. They do their fair share of hitting instead of using their words or sword fighting with unsuspecting friends. What I do is help teach and guide them on how we play with friends. "Why don't you ask her if she wants to play battle with you?" "When you pushed past him to go down the slide, you hurt him. Would you like it if someone did that to you?" "When we don't get our way, we use our words not our hands. You need to say that you are sorry and then take a rest with me for a few minutes."

Last night our boys were playing wildly with stuffed animals and one of our 3 year olds took it way too far. All the stuffed alligators {aka alligator swords} were taken away. We have rules for indoor play. "Do we play like that in the house? Is it okay to hit your brother when he's asking you to stop or not playing your game?" We have outlets for them. Our boys are allowed to play on our back porch where I can supervise them and they can get a little wild. We have games they enjoy doing, like puzzles, K'Nex, trains, cars, Legos, coloring. When they get too wild all together {as sibling groups can easily do}, we break them up and have them do some quiet activities on their own until they can play together and follow the rules. When it has gone so far down hill that they all just need a rest, I either send them all to sit on their beds {which means they took it way too far} or I have them take a break and watch a movie or read stories.

When we discuss their behavior with them, we do not make them feel that they are destined to be a certain way because of their gender. How would it make them feel being put in a little box due to their gender? And how does that make them relate to others based on their genders? We talk to them based on the incident, just like how we do all areas of our parenting-- not dragging in far past incidents, not heaping more and more trouble on them-- but discussing what happened then. "Do you think that you treated your brother fairly or unfairly?" "It is never okay to behave that way towards a baby. That was far too rough of play for a baby." There are definitely behaviors that we have constant issues with that we are continually working on. For instance, our oldest lately is playing way too rough with his brothers when they all go into their room {aka the coliseum}. We are really working on that because he views them far more as peers than as younger children-- when there is just over 2 and a half years between them in age. "If you want to go play in there with your brothers, you will follow the rules or you will have to find something else to do."

Why is this so important to us? Because we aren't raising boys to be boys; we are raising boys to be men. We don't want them to be limited in their views or the future generation of old men to make racist/sexist/bigoted comments towards young mothers in Target {which I have had my fair share of}. Right now, being so young, they obviously don't have any bias regarding race or gender. We are starting to hear comments like, "This is the boys' table, Momma," but our boys still happily play with all their little girl friends. One of our 6 year old's best friends is a little girl who trudges through our front bushes finding weapons with him one minute and then the next is teaching him all sorts of cool gymnastic/dance moves, which according to our oldest are very useful in battle.

As for race, our boys are still blissfully unaware of skin color-- or, rather, experience of racism. Our oldest is really drawn to Martin Luther King Jr right now {actually wants us to throw a birthday party for him}. When we read stories about him, he gets emotional that anyone would treat someone badly based on their skin color; I think it is hard for his little 6 year old brain to fathom tolerating or practicing racism. So far we have stuck to picture books on Martin Luther King Jr and the book "Pink and Say." We feel that equality is a conversation that is worth starting now, to get the vocabulary and understand that we are all people, that Christ died for us all.

Picture books are a great way to initiate these conversations and to help bridge any gaps that our children may encounter. As boys, they have encountered far more "bully" behavior than anything else. They get frequently told that behavior inflicted on them is okay because they are "boys playing with boys," mostly in playground situations where we are playing with strangers. For bully behavior, I love "Llama Llama and the Bully Goat." That book is great at pin pointing behaviors that our children frequently encounter and also helps outline a great way to help diffuse bully behavior. In the book, the bully goat has to sit next to the teacher through recess and for the rest of the day so she can help navigate his interactions with the other kids. When our boys have "bully goat behavior," as we've come to call it, I explain to them that they need to take a break for awhile with momma, mostly applicable to our 3 year olds who are still figuring life out. It has been a great resource for our oldest to recognize behaviors that he previously had a hard time processing. It upset him to have kids treat him in a way that hurt his feelings {or his body} and then have their parents tell him to suck it up because he is a boy. Now he's feeling far more confident in telling a child that he doesn't want to play with him anymore and moving away from him or alerting an adult of what is going on.

For gender issues, we focus on modeling the attitude we expect. They hear positive things about girls at home and do not hear gender stereotypes from either parent. We read books and encourage open play. Our boys have baby dolls and a variety of toys. The book "Just Like Me" actually sparked a lot of conversation regarding girls and boys as well as interaction with siblings. The twin girls talk about their similarities, but also their differences. All of our boys, twins and singletons, talked about how they are like that-- the same, but different. They also talked about how they are a lot like the girls in the book, which then evolved to how girls and boys have a lot of similarities and differences as well. This topic has been one that we try to let naturally penetrate our interactions with peers because we want them to see it in action, to respect males and females alike, and to recognize we are all people, despite our differences.

We have taken a similar approach with race as we have with gender-- that we model the attitude we expect. For our 3 year olds, we have followed the same path we took with our oldest at that age. We focus on the Bible, how Christ loves all of us, we are all people. As our oldest has grown, the conversation has changed, mostly due to his questions. We've talked about how sometimes appearance and skin color is an indicator of your culture and different regions of the world. We've talked about how America is a melting pot and we've even dove into some of the more sordid aspects of our history. A hero is always welcome to a 6 year old and so we've introduced him to Martin Luther King Jr, a hero he has really taken to. While with gender we have really tried to just let the conversation be without pushing any agenda, race is something that we have focused on introducing. We want them to be aware and conscious of how they treat others, as well as biases that they will need a response to.

In our house, "boys will be boys." We are proud of our boys. We love parenting boys and we want them to embrace who they are: young men. But we are going to do our best to raise these boys to be Christ following, conscious men who exude love, peace, faithfulness, and self-control.

To quote the movie Little Women:
Marmie: "Feminine weaknesses and fainting spells are the direct result of our confining young girls to the house, bent over their needlework, and restrictive corsets."
Meg: "Marmie, must you speak to everyone about corsets?"
Marmie: "Oh, Meg. Do I?"
Some things are worth talking about.
 

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