Zach and Ezra ran in the house, panting, waving their water guns high in the air, and announcing triumphantly, “We got him! We got him!”
When I could get them to calm down enough to tell me what they were talking about, they explained that they had taken their new guns to the end of our block to lie in wait for joggers. After chasing and missing a few, they finally found one slow enough to soak with water. Wasn’t that just great, they wanted to know.
It didn’t seem so great to me, actually. I thought it was mean and thoughtless and stupid.
But what do I know?
I grew up with two sisters and I thought that parenting was watching TV, playing board games, reading on the couch, and making rhubarb jam. I had no idea what to do with boys. Nine years later, and it’s not a whole lot better.
I marvel at them, and their love of dirt and legos and obscure animals. I laugh at them, and their potty jokes and exploding science experiments and wild dreams. I join them where I can, in Beyblade battles and Star Wars movie-athons. I adore these sons of mine; but I’m still never sure how to understand their behavior.
Here are the competing thoughts that fight it out in my mommy mind:
1. My mom thinks the water attack was hilarious. She remembers her brothers knocking over neighbors’ outhouses, and she thinks I overreacted when I took away their water guns for the day. Maybe she’s right that relatively harmless mischief is a hallmark of childhood.
2. Why don’t my boys have a more developed sense of empathy and perspective taking? Don’t they feel bad for the man being chased? Is this behavior related to their love of killing bugs? Are they turning into bullies? Sociopaths?
3. This is part of the reason we homeschool. We want them to have unstructured time to play outside, to wander around away from our watchful eyes. We want them to skin their knees and take risks and get bored and then figure out something to do. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it beats a sanitized, scripted childhood where nothing can go wrong.
4. What kind of mother allows her child to roam the streets unsupervised? Two innocent girls were shot less than a mile from our house just last week. It’s naive to think that my children can have the same freedom that I had as a child.
5. Boys like shooting things and that’s okay. They like running away from people who are chasing them, and that’s okay too. They like fighting and seeing just how tough they are. Somehow, God takes all of that wild testosterone and shapes it into men who are both courageous and loving. We just need to be steady and patient.
6. Boys like painting and cooking and snuggling on the couch. Don’t give in to this Boys Will Be Boys hogwash.
The hardest part for me is that I think that all of these thoughts are true. And teasing out which parts apply, and when, is so much harder than I imagined it would be. It may be true that boys will be boys, but I wonder if it’s also true that mothers of boys will always be a bit baffled.
To read more about my attempts to raise great men, check out these: