Raising Boys

I often say that I don’t care what my kids do when they grow up as long as they’re good people. This is mostly true, but I will confess that I worry more about my boys in this respect than I do my girls. I want to raise good husbands, amazing fathers, respectful men. You’d think this would be easy, but I’m finding as they get older it’s not at all.

Pressure from Society

Recently I was shopping for some t-shirts for Eli. I had some time to kill while I was sitting at a therapy appointment (#momlife). The poor kid never gets anything new, part of the hazards of being the little brother just a few years behind your older brother.

I wandered over to The Children’s Place, one of my go tos for cheap clothes that I don’t care if they ruin with paint at school. I get about 4 emails a day from them about sales and coupon codes, did I mention they were cheap? As I was scrolling through the usual sports shirts, tv characters my kids don’t know because we don’t have cable, etc. I saw one that caught my eye. It said, “I never finish anything”.

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It bothered me. A lot. I kept scrolling through the clearance adding some matchable shorts and plain color Ts to my cart as I went. Fine, whatever, don’t like it, don’t buy it. Then, I came across this one….

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I started to get annoyed. What terrible messages we are sending our boys. They don’t have to clean up after themselves? Oh right, that’s women’s work. I kept scrolling, but I was grumbling the whole time. Until I got to these……

 

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That was the straw. I emptied my cart. Absolutely not. I will not be shopping there anymore. I sent pictures to Mark, with a rant about how we are setting our boys up for failure. I stewed about it on the drive home, and through dinner. Then I took to my Facebook page after bedtime because I was still stewing.  I was just going to post on my personal page, but after some encouragement (it didn’t take much, honestly) I decided I was going to post on The Children’s Place’s Facebook page and Twitter. I’m still waiting for a response, by the way. It’s been weeks.

When we dress our boys (or any kid, really) in a shirt that says “I don’t care” we’re sending them a message that says “you don’t have to care”. I see it all the time in the media, little boys being portrayed as lazy, video game playing freeloaders. Fathers being portrayed as someone to be waited on by their wife with no responsibility for their own children. I will not stand for that with my boys.

This is just one example of a way we’re failing!  And I know what people are thinking, girls, get it just as bad. And I totally agree that we’re also stereo typing our girls to be princesses and housewives. I’ll talk about that another time.

Same Standards

We hold those boys to the same standards we do Zoe (and eventually Bits). They’re responsible for cleaning up their own messes. Starting in Kindergarten they are folding and putting away their own laundry. (which eventually evolves to washing it) Oliver does dishes, cleans the bathroom when he pees all over it, they fix their own breakfasts, they sweep. We don’t limit the boy’s chores to stereotypical “man’s work”. They live here too, just because they have a penis doesn’t mean they can’t operate our vacuum.

I’ve said it before, it’s important to me that all of my kids are able to self-sufficient humans when they’re adults. I will not have a child that doesn’t know how to clean their house when they get older because mom did it for them. It’s absurd that right now, in 2017, there are moms doing laundry for their college aged boys. This needs to stop. Right now.

It Teaches Respect

I’m fairly certain that my boys have a lot more respect for “what I do all day” when they have to help out. They know that dinner doesn’t magically appear. They know that it takes work to have clean floors and it’s annoying when someone makes a mess.  They also see their father taking his fair share of household duties.  Mark does dishes, vacuums, and cooks, just like I do.  There is no delusion for them that men “don’t have to” help around the house.

They also respect our space more when they are made to help maintain it. I love it when Bits comes barreling through a room and one of them yells “I just cleaned that up!” It’s vindication for all the times they’ve done it. They know how much work it takes.  They also respect others peoples spaces, when they go to friends houses they help pickup no questions because it’s not optional here.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work.  I get a lot of pushback, especially from the almost 8-year-old.  And this is just one of the things that I worry about when it comes to the boys.  As they grow I feel the need to pound certain things into their head, respect for women, consent, and that because they are middle-class white boys they are in no way better than ANY of their peers.  Right now, with everything going on in the world, this is a hard job, and I worry all the time that we’re not doing a good enough.

The Division of Labor

Often times when I'm around other women, there is a lot of complaining about how their partners "don't do" certain things.  Clean up after dinner, cook, give baths, do bedtime, school pickups, sweep floors, fold laundry, the list goes on and on.  It's hard for me to commiserate with them because that's not how our household operates.  Sure, there are certain things that I don't do (lawn care) and that he typically doesn't (bathrooms), but that's not to say either of us wouldn't do those things. If I asked him he'd do it because that's how we work.

It's hard to say when exactly we started running our household the way we do.  I think that part of it is because I worked odd hours in retail management, and my hours were usually longer than Mark's.  He had to help out or things wouldn't get done.  If my kids waited around for me to give them baths, they'd be pretty smelly.  The other part is that we both grew up in a household with a more typical division of labor, when most the household stuff fell to our Moms, and I at least knew I didn't want to live with resentment I saw our mothers had.

There were also things that I didn't enjoy doing that were typical "wifely" duties. There was a long time that our friends and family thought that I couldn't cook because I never did.  The truth is Mark enjoys cooking much more than I do, so I let him take the wheel there.  It's not that I can't, it's that I'd rather not.  And why deprive him of what he enjoys? As the years have gone on, things have had a sort of ebb and flow to them, I recently have been doing more of the cooking, but maybe in a month, six months, a year that will change.

I feel that it's important for our kids to see that both of us take an equal part in the things that are needed around the house.  I want to raise the boys especially to be productive members of society.  You won't find me doing their laundry through their college years.  I am not going to perpetuate the stigma that men can't or won't do these things.  The same goes for our girls, they won't be depending on a man to unclog a toilet or fix their flat tires.  Eventually, I'd like to see each them able to live on their own and function as adults with minimal help from us.

This division of labor hasn't changed as much as I thought it would since I have become a stay at home mom three years ago.  I know that at least I was envisioning that I was going to be doing more of the house chores since I was now home all day.  The reality is that we still take a pretty equal part.  I've come to find out that somehow my days are eaten up and I often feel pulled in a million different directions.  When I look back on our week there are times I can't figure out what the heck we did all week.  Maybe that's life with four kids?  Maybe I need to be better at managing my time? I'm not sure.

One of the things that I love about our relationship is that even if I don't get all the typical duties done during the day when I'm home Mark never questions it.  He doesn't walk through the door and ask "what I did all day".   Possibly that is because he was on his own with the kids a fair amount of times when I was working weekends. Whatever it is, it works for us.

In Defense of the Early Bedtime

Every day, I can’t wait for my kids to go to bed.  I’m sure that most parents would sympathize with this, it’s not that I don’t love my children, but they require me to be “on” all day long.  Toddler’s and Preschooler’s don’t typically accept “phoning it in”. By about 5 pm, I’ve answered all the questions I can muster and I just need a minute to myself so that I can think about something other than where the “cool car” is, which transformer is the strongest, where the poop goes when you flush the toilet….. and and and….. There are days when I am counting down until they are in bed.

Our kids go to bed early by most peoples standards.   All of our Tiny Humans are in bed, lights out, between 7 pm and 8 pm.  Weekends, school nights, summer breaks, it doesn’t matter.  Bedtime is pretty strictly enforced.  Frankly, we’ve caught some flack for this, but it works for our family.

It’s not something that we set out to do, honestly, when Zoe was little she fell into her own schedule and it happened to be that she was ready for bed by about 8 pm.  Part of this was because she wasn’t a napper past a year old, she was just exhausted by that time.  She played hard all day and was so busy she was ready.  As it turned out, we came to really enjoy that time together after she went to bed.

Despite Mark’s early work schedule, he was still (and still is to some extent) a night owl, and I worked retail hours so I was up late anyway. We found this was a great time for us to hang out, watch a show, talk about our days, and connect with fewer distractions (read here about ways we stay connected).  It was nice to have that time together, just the two of us.

It seems that all our kids have gotten the Early Riser Gene ™ from Mark.  When they’re up before the sun they tend to be ready for bed pretty early.  By about 7 pm they’re starting to meltdown.  Keeping them up later leads to them being overtired and then they don’t sleep well.  Thus, tired the next day, which shows in their behavior.  It’s a pretty vicious cycle.   So, we have to anticipate their needs, because as kids, they can’t always tell us what their bodies are telling them, and enforce that early bedtime.  I know how I feel when I’m totally exhausted, imagine how that feels when you are young and can’t identify the feelings. I personally enjoy being around well-rested kids, as opposed to overtired heathens.

As we’ve had more kids, that early bedtime is even more important to us and to our relationship.  During the day even if we are both at home, the kids want our attention.  And honestly, we want to give it to them.  When we are all together, no work, no school, we try to make that time family time.  I’ve come to realize that it’s important because soon enough, they’re not going to want to hang out with us.  I want to squeeze out every bit of this time that we can.

But that time ends promptly at 7:30 pm.  Because I want to have that glass of wine without someone asking me what it tastes like, and we’re going to watch a movie that’s not animated and has swears.

UPDATE:  As I was writing this blog post, Zoe came downstairs and asked if we would consider a later bedtime for her.  She is almost eleven and in 5th grade, she is currently in bed by 8 pm, which is the same time as her sister who is two. We asked what she proposed, she said 9:30 pm.  After encountering my raised eyebrow, she walked that back,  and we compromised with 8:30 pm and we would start trying that on the weekends before trying on school nights.  We also decided that we still didn’t want to see her smiling face after 8 pm, so she had to be upstairs working on something quiet.  She said, “I know, Mom.  After we go to bed you drink wine and watch your favorite shows.” So true, Zoe. So true.