Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be A$%holes
My Mom is a HUGE Willie Nelson fan, so I grew up listening to this song. And yes, I took a few liberties with the title and even included an “unkind” word, which could be considered a bit risqué for someone with a kids’ brand. But I assure you, that language is meant for you- to catch your attention. It, or any words like it, are not used in any of our products for your kiddos (I promise!)- although I have to admit my son has probably heard me say it a time or two. But the message is clear, and I know you know what I'm talking about.
So- here we are, discussing how scary it is to be raising a son in today’s world.
But not for the reason that you may be thinking. It’s scary for me- because of the overwhelming responsibility I feel to raise a compassionate and empathetic little boy that treats everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, with kindness and respect.
And it’s hard.
I grew up with three sisters, so I didn’t really understand too much about boys. Of course, I heard things like “boys will be boys” and “it’s a guy thing” my whole life, but I didn’t really understand it until I had one of my own.
This is my son, Matteo, when he was 7 months old. He was sweet, even-tempered, flexible and a GREAT sleeper!
I thought, “WOW, am I lucky! He is going to be such a sweet and kind little boy.”
…and then he started walking. And everything changed, literally overnight. He became that kid that was fearless. And he’s big, he’s always been in the 90+ percentile for height and weight, so I liken him sometimes to a big puppy that doesn’t realize his size.
And now he’s 2.5 and we are in full-on toddler mode. His favorite words are “No Mama!” & “Again?”…the first usually in response to something I want him to do, and the latter in response to something I DON’T want him to do.
Of course, I’d like to say I have that well-mannered child I hoped to have after reading “Bringing Up Bébé”, but I don’t. Sometimes he communicates with his hands, in an “unkind” way (also referred to, at times, as hitting). And every time he does, I cringe. Now, I don’t want to paint my son as this anti-social, super aggressive kid, because he’s not, most of the time. He’s incredibly smart, cuddly, social and sweet- he wants to be a part of everything- just like his Mama. But I wonder where this behavior comes from, as it’s not something he sees at home or at school.
Sometimes I find myself thinking “he’s SUCH a boy!” and when he’s aggressive, I think, yep, “boys will be boys,” but I try to stop myself, as I now understand how damaging those comments can be.
Watching events unfold in the US over the past few years, I’ve seen the consequences of these types of comments and not only are they deeply triggering and harmful to many, they are simply dangerous to us as a society. And I will not let those ideas continue to apply to my son.
Even at 2.5, my son knows his actions have consequences.
I’m definitely the disciplinarian in the house and I thank my parents for raising me with very clear boundaries as to what was, and was not, acceptable. And I try to do the same with my son. I’m not perfect, but I DO carry through with the consequences that are “suggested” when he is exhibiting unacceptable behaviors. We “chill for 20” and we talk about why what he’s doing is wrong- but it doesn’t always “get through”. I just hope that, over time as we continue to work on it, that it will fade away with his toddlerhood.
I’m also extremely aware when these behaviors are directed at girls, whether it be when he snatches a toy from another girl or pushes her aside to get to what he wants. Some may think I’m being too over-reactive, as they’re just kids, but I think these types of ideas DO begin this early and I want my son to understand those things are not allowed.
I’d like to share a story with you of something that happened a few weeks ago at the playground 2 blocks from where we live. It was nothing short of amazing- and was an example of how I’d like to see things shift for the future, the future that my son will grow up in.
We were walking towards the play structure and we passed the basketball court- it’s a half court with a backboard and a hoop. There was a little girl there, about 5 years old, shooting the ball with her Dad. Now, my son is OBSESSED with ALL types of balls (sure, you can laugh here if you need to) and his attention is always drawn in their direction when he sees one. So, we stood watching the little girl shoot hoops for about 5 minutes. The little girl then came over and asked if my son wanted to play with her- which was super sweet because he was so much younger than she was.
Matteo couldn’t wait to start “playing” and soon they were passing the ball between them. At one point, Matteo ran towards her and was trying to grab the ball from her, a bit aggressively. She told him to “stop” a few times, but he was so focused on the ball that he wasn’t listening to her. Now, I never thought I’d have to have this conversation with my son at 2.5, but I intervened immediately and told him how important it was to listen to someone, especially a girl, when they say “stop”.
Of course, he didn’t really understand the gravity of what I was trying to explain, and neither did the little girl more than likely, but I found myself understanding that it, indeed, DOES start this early. WOW…it was kind of an AHA moment. And then this happened, which is, to me, the MORE amazing thing.
The Dad asked the little girl why she was saying “stop”? He explained that they were playing a game and the object of the game is for the opponent to take the ball away from the person who has it, which is what my son was doing (sort of- although it wasn’t that organized of a game for a 2 and a 5- year old). He then continued to stress the importance to her about choosing when to use that word- as in, this situation didn’t really warrant that. Double WOW. It’s not that he was telling her NOT to use the word “stop,” but was explaining why this situation may not be the time to use it.
Again, I’m sure neither kids realized the power of the lesson they were being taught, but it seemed as if her Dad and I were communicating with each other about how we’d like to see the future look for both of them- and it was powerful. And it was done in a kind and respectful way. Both kids continued playing for the next half an hour, the Dad and I exchanged a couple of smiles, but that was really it- we didn’t even introduce ourselves to each other. BUT…it was an important moment and one I hope to see more of in the future.
So…how do we continue on this path of raising kind sons, daughters, kids…people?
We have a few ideas here- and they reflect a lot of the ideas we talk about in our Toolkits. They’re simple, but not easy…but nothing ever worthwhile, is. 😉
- Start Early- like today. Don’t put it off until later and think “oh, they’re too young, they’re just kids.” Well, kids grow up to be bigger kids and bigger kids grow up to be adults, so NOW is the right time to be talking about these things- in kid-friendly language, of course.
- Choose to have the hard conversations. Whether or not we believe it, our kids are hearing the things being said in the news and in the world around them. So, talk about them WITH your kids. Talk about the unkindness they are hearing- and talk about the fact that, just because they are coming from people in powerful positions does NOT make them OK. My new favorite quote is one I stumbled upon yesterday from one of my favorite thought leaders, Brené Brown, in her new book, Dare to Lead:
“People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong. Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege, and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting change.”
YES! Although she is specifically referencing conversations about diversity and inclusivity, this can be applied to ALL topics and is especially pertinent here, in conversations with our kids.
- Lead by example. We talk about this a lot with our Champions of For Purpose Kids. Kids want to be like those they admire- and they admire you. If they see you using language that is disrespectful to others, they will want to emulate that. My husband has had to listen to a lot of “that’s not funny”, or “please don’t say that” comments from me lately, and he would probably say I’ve become the newest member of the “PC Police”. But I’m OK with that, as the bar has been lowered significantly in the past 2 years with respect to “unkind” and hurtful language in our culture and I want my son to be very clear that this is completely unacceptable.
- Hold them accountable for their actions. THIS probably should be at the top of the list, as this is the MOST important thing. Do we want to be the parents of the kids that are acting out or treating others badly…of course not. BUT- it IS going to happen, at one point or another. If we excuse bad behavior as just something that kids, especially boys, do, then we are not holding them accountable. As embarrassing or unpopular as it may be, we MUST teach our kids that they are accountable for their actions- all of them.
- Do the best you can- but do your BEST- the rest is out of your control. I’ll reference Brené Brown’s quote above again, here. We are ALL doing the best we can, but if we are choosing our comfort over what we KNOW is the right thing to do, then we are not doing our best. So, do the hard things…and then let it go. As much as I would like to say that I can control the choices my son will make as he grows up, I can’t. I will do my best to do all of the things above and instill in him those values that are important in raising a kind and compassionate child but I cannot control what he chooses to do, as a toddler, as a teenager, or as an adult. This is where we/ I practice the art of letting go.
So, where is the love? It is all around us, but we must TEACH it. We must choose to teach our kids that love is stronger than hate, that kindness towards all people is stronger than fear and that sometimes doing the right thing is hard. Are you in? We are…and we’re here to support you.
* T-shirt in Blog Post (Boys will be boys/ Good Humans!) by Free to Be Kids. We are not affiliated with them, nor being paid to endorse this product- we just liked it!