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Volume 8, Issue 2: Childer

Tough All Over

Douglas Wilson

Um . . . boys and girls are different. As parents bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the ethics of child-rearing remain constant. But the differences between the sexes require that parents govern their children with wisdom. Not only are these children different from one another, these differences reflect the wisdom of God, who intends for them to serve Him differently.

The purpose here is to outline some of the common pitfalls which face mothers as they deal with their sons . Of course, the father has the responsibility to see to it that the relationship between his wife and his sons is what it ought to be. Nevertheless, trouble often arises between mother and son which he needs to be aware of. Sometimes this trouble is visible to a mother, and sometimes it is not.
Boys need to get knocked down. The first "blows" they receive should be right at home during their first several years of existence and delivered by those who know them best. This is the time when parents must establish the lines of authority, and the father must see to it that the boy's mother is respected and honored by him. Unless this is done when the boy is two to four years old, the trouble for mom later on will be considerable.
As the son grows older, and if mother has a hard time maintaining a good relationship with her son through parental discipline, she may attempt to compensate for it though developing an emotional closeness with him. "I know he can be a real pill, but we have had some really good talks. I think he is really opening up to me." What may actually be happening is the son is learning how to manipulate his mother. In other words, if he tells her how his day at school went and talks with her just a little bit, a great deal of disobedience and disrespect will be overlooked.
When mothers face this temptation to mollycoddle their sons, they should know that if they give way to it, they are destroying their sons. Any Christian family should, of course, be characterized by kindness and by "good talks," but there is a counterfeit kindness which kills. Emotional closeness or intimacy which ignores sin is not a sign of better things to come; it is a disaster ticking.
By the same token, there is a type of toughness in discipline which builds. And we must remember that discipline is not just limited to responses to disobedience and sin on the part of children; discipline also includes patient instruction when the child encounters some of life's difficulties.
A family with young sons was recently in our home, and in the course of our meal together some hot food hurt one of the boys. Gently, and without any harshness at all, the father stopped his son, who had started to cry, and taught him. "What do you do when this happens? You smile and keep on playing." Such lessons, delivered in this fashion, are worth mountains of gold.
This can ,of course, be easily misunderstood. No one is saying that a boy with a severed limb should be yelled at -- "Don't bleed on the carpet!"
Nevertheless, instilling toughness in boys is extraordinarily important. A masculine toughness is the only foundation upon which a masculine tenderness may be safely placed. Without a concrete foundation, thoughtfulness, consideration, and sensitivity in men is just simply gross. So mothers must take particular care against allowing some of their feminine strengths to be the occasion of stumbling for their sons. Three things are necessary as mothers consider this.
The first is that she should talk regularly with her husband about her sons and her relationship with them. (Of course they should confer about daughters as well, but mom is receiving something additional in her talks about the boys. She does not initially know how boys think and respond, and her husband does.) Any number of things may be happening which she does not see and concerning which her husband's advice would be invaluable.
Secondly, she must have the respect and obedience of her sons. The older and bigger they get, the more obedient they should be. A son who is a foot and a half taller than his mother should hear her with respect. Of course she should be careful not to issue needless requirements, but when she requires something, it must be cheerfully done. If it is not, then she should immediately involve her husband. The central issue is not the thing to be done, but rather teaching the son to honor his mother, as the commandment says, and to respect women.
Third, she must never subsidize her sons' laziness. Masculine inertia is difficult for anyone to deal with, and the aversion which many boys have to academic rigor is renowned. But educational laziness is the mother of poverty and sloth. Whether it involves homework from a Christian school, or the schoolwork supervised at home by a homeschooling mother, the word which should characterize the academic activity of the home is industry . Homeschooling mothers, in particular, have to check the work being done against an objective standard. Boys can work much harder than they say they can.
In all this, under the father's supervision, the mother can equip her sons to rise up and call her blessed.

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