For all the mothers of sons out there: I recently came across a couple of these lessons and decided to continue compiling my own list – to give myself an “atta-girl” when I’ve done good, and to remind me where I need to pay attention. Please feel free to suggest other lessons if you have them.
1. Be a cheerleader for his life. As a mom there is no doubt that you are the most passionate person in the stands at his football, hockey or baseball games. There is no doubt that he will tell you to stop when you start singing along to the radio when you’re driving with him and his friends. There is no doubt that he will be embarrassed when you start telling his cute childhood stories to his friends. He will say he’s embarrassed. But he will know that there is at least one person on this earth that will always unconditionally root for him.
2. Teach him how to do laundry. And clean the bathroom, load the dishwasher, and iron a shirt. He may not want to learn, and he may never have to do it. But he will know how.
3. Read to him and with him. Emilie Buchwald said, “Children become readers on the laps of their parents.” Provide your son the opportunity to learn new things, believe in pretend places, and imagine bigger possibilities through books. Let him see you reading…reading the paper, novels, magazine articles. Even reading on your iPad. Help him understand that writing words down is a way to be present forever.
4. Encourage him to dance freely. Dance, rhythm, and music are cultural universals. He doesn’t have to be good, and he shouldn’t be embarrassed if he’s not. Just encourage your son that when he feels it, it’s perfectly fine to go ahead and go for it.
5. Provide examples of good men who are powerful because of their brains, their determination, and their integrity. The examples of men as superheros will surround your son from birth. But make sure he also knows about men who kick ass because of their brains (Albert Einstein), their pen Mark Twain, their words (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and their ideas (The Wright Brothers).
6. Provide examples of women who are beautiful because of their brains, their determination, and their integrity. The examples of traditionally beautiful women will surround your son from birth. But make sure he knows about women who are beautiful from the inside out because of their brains (Madame Maria Curie), their words (Eleanor Roosevelt), their determination (Annie Sullivan), their ideas (Oprah Winfrey), and their fearlessness (Ameila Earhart).
7. Teach him manners. Because it’s nice, and it makes him nice. And it makes the world a better place.
8. Give him something to believe in. Because someday he will be afraid, or nervous, or heartbroken, or lost, or just need you, and you won’t be able to be there. Give him something to turn to when it feels like he is alone, so that he knows that he will never be alone; never, never, never.
9. Let him ruin his clothes. Commit to staying cool about dirty and ruined clothes. You’ll be fighting a losing battle if you get upset every time he ruins another piece of clothing or pair of socks. Don’t waste energy being angry about something inevitable. Boys tend to learn by jumping, spilling, falling, and making messes that will also make you nuts.
10. Learn how to throw a football. Or how to shoot a hockey puck, or read music, or (in my case) everything there is to know about platypus. Be in his life, not as an observer but as an active participant.
11. Go outside with him. Turn off the television, unplug the video games, and put your cellphone away. Go outside with him and watch his face as he explores his world.
12. Let him lose. Losing is not fun, but everybody isn’t always a winner. Even if you want to say, “You’re a winner because you tried,” don’t. He doesn’t feel like a winner, he feels sad and disappointed. And that’s a good thing, because sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want it, no matter how hard as moms we want to fix it for our kids. Make sure he understands that sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. No one ever gets a free pass. But that doesn’t mean to ever give up.
13. Give him opportunities to help others. There is a big difference in giving someone the opportunity to help, and forcing him to help. Giving the opportunity lights a flame in his heart, and once the help is done the flame shines brighter and asks for more opportunities.
14.Remind him that practice makes perfect. This doesn’t just apply to performance-based activities, but also applies to everything in life. You become a better writer by writing. You become a better listener by listening. You become better speaker by speaking. Practice, practice, practice.
15. Answer him when he asks, “Why?” Answer him, or search for the answer together. Show him the places to look for the answers (like his dad, or grandparents, or his aunts/uncles, or his books, or internet searches). Pose the question to him so he can begin thinking about answers himself. Someday, when he needs to ask questions he’s too embarrassed to ask you, he’ll know where to go to find the right answers.
16. Let his dad teach him how to do things. Without interrupting about how to do it the ‘right way.’ If you let his dad show and teach and discover with your son while he is growing up, some day down the road he will come to the realization that his dad knows everything. You will always be his mother, but in his grown-up man heart and mind, his dad will know the answers. And this will be how, when your son is too busy with life to call and chat with his mom, you will stay connected to what is happening in his life. Because he will call his dad for answers, and his dad will secretly come and ask you.
17. Build forts. Forts have the ability to make everyday normal stuff into magic. Throw the couch cushions and a couple blankets on the floor and transform your living room into a magical place. For the rest of his life, he’ll be grateful to know that everyday normal stuff has the potential to be magical.
18. Take him to new places. Set aside time for mother/son adventures – just the two of you. It will open his brain and his heart, and the memories will live forever.
19. Kiss him. Whether he is 2 or 16, kiss him when he’s loving and kind, and kiss him even more when he’s not.
20. Be a safe place for him to fall. You are home to him. When he learns to walk, he will wobble a few feet away from you but then come back. When he tries something new, he will look for your proud smile. When he learns to read, he will repeat the same book to you twenty times in a row, because you’re the only one who will listen that many times. When he plays his sport, he will search for your face in the stands. When he is sick, he will call you. When he is grown and strong and tough but he feels like crying, he will come to you; because a man can cry in front of his mother without feeling self-conscious. Even when he grows up and has a new woman in his life, you are still his mother; home base, the ever constant, like the sun. Know that in your heart and everything else will fall into place.