I have to remind myself of these things all the time. I am not perfect. Not in the least…But these are things I have learned on my own journey through motherhood, whether it’s from trial and error, or the wisdom of mothers before me.
- Teach him to shower daily…with soap– In the hopes that he will do it at least once a week when he’s older. Yes, I had to add a qualifier because little boys (and many men) are gross. They seem to think that going under the water means they have bathed. EVERYDAY, I have to ask the Kid, “Did you soap your skin? That includes your pits, butt and balls!” No one likes smegma. NO ONE.
- Teach him all around hygiene- Brushing teeth correctly. This includes the tongue! White tongues and halitosis are Ewwww. Just saying. It puts the lotion on its skin so people don’t get hurt touching them. Hair maintenance, fingernail maintenance, changing his underwear. These are things I didn’t realize I would have to repeat to the Kid. Yet here we are.
- Teach him that no means no…not maybe– This is in all aspects of life. Not just when it comes to sex. Giving in after he’s begging only lets him think that he can get his way no matter what. If it’s no to the cookie, then it’s no to the cookie. It’s not “Fine, here’s the cookie. Stop begging and annoying me.” Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Teach him that you’ll always have his back…except when he’s wrong– When he stumbles and falls, he knows you’ll be there. But, there is nothing I can’t stand more than someone being wrong and strong. It’s ok to have your son’s back when he’s doing the right thing. But if he’s done something wrong, whether or not you know for sure, get all the facts before you defend him. Even the best kids do stupid things. Let him know his wrong doing is a reflection on how you raised him. It’s a little thing I like to call “putting the fear of God into a child.” It has worked for centuries and will continue to do so long after we are gone.
- Teach him accountability– There are consequences to everything. Words and actions. They can be good or bad. It’s all dependent on what he puts in. Study for the test or don’t. Steal the candy or buy it. Speak up or allow something to remain. He has a choice in everything.
- Teach him to be contrite, honest and fair– Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be a bully. Saying sorry and meaning it, has a power all its own. Honesty will get him further than lies. Being fair, even when life isn’t, will sit well in his soul. Sharing even when the other kid refuses to…that’s the right thing to do. Golden rule and all that.
- Teach him faith in something bigger– Whether it’s God, Allah, Buddha, Brahma, Science or the Universe. Everyone should have a sense of something bigger than they are. It doesn’t have to be religious or spiritual, but an understanding that there are things that cannot or have yet to be explained.
- Teach him to question everything– How things work, where they come from and what does that mean? Children are innately curious beings. We take that from them when we get tired of their incessant questions. (Ever heard why a thousand times?) The age old answer of “Because I said so” can work for certain situations like when you’re asked “Whyyyy do I have to read AGAIN?” However, when you are asked how do volcanoes work, don’t stop at I don’t know. Go further and find out. When you go back and explain to your kid how a volcano works, what’s the difference between magma and lava, and you can talk about the layers of the earth..trust me those shining eyes are total hero worship.
- Teach him to try new things– This includes food, music, places, and people. The world is big and small at the same time. Something unknown is an adventure not yet had.
- Teach him to accept people as they are– They may not have as much money. They may actually have more. They may look different, or speak another language. They may have different priorities or interests. Everyone is the same because everyone is unique. Don’t judge people and simply take them as they are. It’s ok to not be someone’s friend, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to estimate someone else’s worth.
- Teach him to fall down and get up…without help– This lesson will take him far. I adore my son, but I was never a mother who over coddled. He knew I was there (See #4) but I always encouraged him to dust himself off and stand on his own. I may not always be around. There is strength in numbers but an even greater strength in self assurance. Do not do his homework, projects or shoelaces for him. He has to learn that life is hard and you have to push until you get through it.
- Teach him to ask for help– It’s ok to need help. But teach him to ask when he truly needs it and not simply because of laziness. Knowing your limitation and asking for help is a sign of strength. And one day when he’s on a road trip, he may actually ask for directions!
- Teach him to cry– Boys and men are allowed to cry. Like any other human, they have emotions. It is ok to feel and anyone who says otherwise can kick rocks. I showed the Kid what a starving child truly looked like, and I can assure you he cried and has never used the word starving to describe his level of hunger. Empathy, being unselfish and kind. Having a heart is his right.
- Teach him to listen– When he shows you his favorite toy and explains to you why it’s his favorite for the millionth time…pretend it’s the first. He’s sharing a piece of himself with you. Children learn by example. If you listen to him, he will (hopefully) listen to you. Eye contact and actual conversation can do wonders. Pay attention when he speaks, so he can expect it from others and do so in return.
- Teach him respect– Please. Thank you. Yes, Mommy. No, Daddy. Good Morning, Sir. Hello, Ma’am. Where have these gone? Teach these words by using them in front of and with your child. Showing deference is something different from demeaning yourself. Holding and opening doors, despite thanks being given, is still the right thing to do. Teach him to do the right thing without the need for a reward.
- Teach him the importance of traditions and family– These are the things that will carry until the end of time. Keep old traditions and start new ones. Celebrate a new job or the first day of summer vacation. Celebrate the A+ on the math test and the C- in gym (not everyone can hit the ball). Spend time with your child and they will want to spend time with you. It may take a while (the teen years. UGH) but they will come around. New pajamas and new sheets on Christmas Eve are a tradition handed from my grandmother, that I am teaching my son who will (hopefully) teach his own kids.
- Teach him to dream and imagine– Write stories together. Color outside the lines and fill up the empty spaces. Legos, building blocks and cardboard boxes are all just cities and towns waiting to be created. Maybe he is the dragon and he’s protecting the prince from an evil princess. Read fairytales to your sons, not just your daughters. Maybe the sky is purple and not really blue after all. Yes, he can be a scientist, and an illustrator and a race car driver. Or he can go to Mars after he creates a way to feed all the children in the world. Encourage imagination because without it he’ll just be another sheep herded along.
- Teach him love..that includes loving himself– Say you love him every day. Let him say it back to you and whomever else. Give hugs and kisses and smiles and silly high fives. When he looks in the mirror tell him he is handsome and smart. He’s not too skinny or too fat. He’s maybe not great in math, but he is a brilliant reader, and with practice he’ll be just as good in math. Let him share his food with someone less fortunate…or his toy…or say hello to someone who looks lonely.
Everything he does, starts and ends with you. No pressure.