book review: how to raise a boy
Let’s just get it out there - I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging while processing a lot of emotions that came up with the anniversary of the boys’ somewhat traumatic birth and NICU stay and re-negotiating my daily schedule now that the boys are extremely mobile, want to be near me at all times and eat lots of big people food that I inevitably have to prepare. We’ve also transitioned largely to cloth diapers, made baby steps toward eliminating single-use plastic from our lives and weathered a busy season of work for Papa Moose that left me largely responsible for household duties that superseded blogging.
I recently read How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men and have since been submerged in thought about the many iterations of maleness society inadvertently imposes upon our boys from a young age. The book presents troubling research suggesting that young adult males who subscribe to a traditional masculine identity experience depressive symptoms and even suicidal ideation at alarming frequency. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some young men’s social isolation devolves into horrific acts of violence, as we have bore witness to time and time again. Addictions to substances, pornography and video games (and I might add career performance in our current city of residence) are posited as both cause and effect of said social isolation.
One remarkable undercurrent of the book is how frequently the quality of a boy’s attachment to his mother was predictive of later life outcomes including the health of his future relationships. The book argues that invisible societal pressures encourage mothers and fathers to pull away emotionally from their boys as early as infancy but often later in childhood out of unconscious beliefs that boys need to be “toughened up” and that too much coddling will produce “soft” boys. On the contrary, Dr. Reichert argues that as a boys’ parents start to pull away, the boy is left emotionally unmoored, psychologically alone during turbulent transitions and more subject to pressure from peers to conform to aggressive and self-destructive masculine stereotypes and behaviors.
He exhorts parents and teachers to see rifts in their relationships with their sons as the adult’s responsibility to overcome, explaining that every relationship goes through cycles of disconnection and reconnection and that children and adolescents cannot be expected to be managers of of adult-child relationships given the power dynamics at play. I should note that I have raised sons only to the tender age of one and am exploring these ideas, not recommending them or assigning blame to parents in any way.
I first started to think more deeply about the complicated task of raising boys in 2019 after coming across the NY Times article The Fear of Having a Son several months ago. The article states that adoptive parents disproportionately prefer girls, and when parents undergoing IVF decide to choose their child’s gender, they choose to implant female embryos 80% of the time. When I found out I was having two boys, I confess I had some qualms related to the fear of “losing” my boys as they grow into adulthood in a way that might not happen with daughters. But I also felt afraid of the world of aggression, behavioral issues and disdain for school that boys seem to so frequently inhabit. Was I up to the task of raising Toby and Theo to become good men? How do I integrate the gospel into the way I parent my beloved and precious boys?
Thankfully I am not alone in this daunting task - I am a co-parent with the Holy Spirit Himself and the Bible is full of countless examples of imperfect-yet-made-righteous men. I pray that my boys have the emotional expressiveness and capacity of King David, who poured out his heart in countless psalms and had a deep friendship with Jonathan. I yearn for them to be as brave as Daniel in the lion’s den, not because society tells them that men should suck it up and bury their emotions in difficult situations but because their hearts’ foundation is the Rock of Ages and they are filled with the peace of Christ. I hope that they will find in Jesus an example of a true man, who reserved his anger for righteous causes, had compassion for the poor and the sick and was simultaneously gentle, authentic, courageous and self-sacrificing.
I wholeheartedly recommend that parents of boys read How to Raise a Boy as a starting point to think about the ways different corners of our society impose broken versions of maleness upon our sons. It has caused me to draw closer to Toby and Theo, to be with them in their tears, to intentionally strengthen my individual relationship with each boy and to be less afraid of their wide range of emotions that ultimately make them human. I am humbled by the profound importance of the mother-son bond demonstrated in the book’s pages time and time again. I know I will make countless mistakes as a mother and most days I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing but I am comforted by the fact that love covers over a multitude of sins.
What challenges have you faced or do you anticipate facing that you view as more prevalent with raising boys? Do you have advice for parents like me who are at the beginning of their journey of raising sons? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Running after joy, one family giggle session at a time - Mama Bear NYC