What Matters Most?
Keeping the Big Picture in mind is one of the most important things parents can do, and also one of the hardest.
—Dr. T. Berry Brazelton
As I pulled my minivan into the cul-de-sac, tears surged up from the deepest part of me, just begging a chance to escape. I forced them back, turned off the car, and got out with a sigh. Opening the back door, I lifted out the baby’s car seat and gazed down at Jonah, who had screamed through most of the playgroup and even more during the drive home, only to fall asleep as we entered our own neighborhood. Typical. Next I walked around to unbuckle three-year-old Josiah and lift him from his toddler seat. The happy sparkle in his eyes made me smile, but at the same time a single tear snuck out and slid down my cheek. I brushed it away quickly, but not quickly enough; Josiah’s smile turned to concern as he asked, “What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“Oh, nothing!” I forced a laugh and said something about the sun in my eyes, which must have satisfied him, because he turned and skipped toward the house. I paused a moment before following him and repeated his question out loud: “What is wrong, Mommy?” Then I continued the conversation in my head: I’m failing at this whole mom thing. That’s what’s wrong. Failing. I’ve got the one job I’ve always dreamed of, and I can’t get the first thing right.
As I entered the house and got the boys settled, the list of my shortcomings ran through my mind again—a list that seemed to grow each week at playgroup. On this day I’d listened to one mom humble-bragging about the baby food she had made and how it “wasn’t nearly as good as the last batch.” (I’d never made homemade baby food. What was wrong with me?) Then a boy just a few months older than Josiah plopped down in his mom’s lap with a book and started reading to her. A three-year-old. Reading! (It hadn’t even occurred to me to try teaching Josiah when he was so young.) When two boys started a tug-of-war over a toy, I watched their moms’ opposite reactions. One got right in the middle, refereeing the boys and trying to turn the scuffle into a teachable moment, while the other rolled her eyes and mumbled something about how “boys need to work things out for themselves.” Meanwhile I sat wondering which of them was right (suddenly becoming aware of yet one more thing I felt unprepared to deal with).
My head spun with “shoulds” and “coulds” and opinions and pressure. So much pressure. “What really matters?” I asked my husband hours later as we lay in bed and stared at the ceiling fan spinning above us on another humid Hawaiian night. “Every mom I meet, every article I read…they’re all telling me something different I should be doing.” I wouldn’t—couldn’t—do it all. If only someone could narrow it all down and tell me what was worth focusing on and what wasn’t. I wanted desperately to know what matters most when it comes to raising boys.
More than fifteen years have passed since that scene, yet it remains clearly stamped on my memory. That disastrous playdate happened soon after we moved to Hawaii for my husband’s medical residency training, which meant he was gone most of the time. (One night we pulled up to the hospital ER to bring him dinner, and one of the boys blurted out, “Oh yay! We’re at Daddy’s house!”) I felt lonely and tired and more than a little overwhelmed. I wanted so badly to be a great mom, but it was a lot harder than I had imagined it would be.
As difficult as I found those years, they gifted me with a humble awareness that I wasn’t the naturally awesome mom I had always told myself I would be and the realization that it would take much more than some idealistic notions to fulfill my dream of raising amazing kids.
Not long after the minivan meltdown, I found out I was pregnant with our third son, Luke. I knew I must find a new way to approach my days as a Boy Mom if I wanted to parent with no regrets. I committed to becoming a purposeful, prayerful mom, bravely choosing not to listen to every message that bombarded me but to instead focus on the few things that mattered most. I determined to set my aim on the future men I was raising and on how I might equip them to get there. I also learned to take care of myself, parenting with more dignity and less emotion.
As years went by, I gained confidence and found myself enjoying who my boys were becoming—and liking who I was becoming. Seeing the current of culture moving quickly in a direction I did not want my kids to go, I determined to be purposeful in the choices we made about our time and family life. We simplified our schedules. Our days became less hectic and way more fun. My boys were growing up to be thoughtful, kind, and hard working. We actually enjoyed one another. I knew I had turned a big corner when my husband and I began to consider having one more baby. (“Maybe we’ll get a girl this time!”) Nine short months later, son number four was born.
I started a blog that year, sharing stories and lessons from our family’s life. I met women from all over the world and realized that a whole lot of moms were seeking encouragement for their boy-raising journey. When I wrote a post titled “What a Teenage Boy Needs Most from His Mom,” it struck a chord. That post was shared all over the world, and nearly two million people read it in just over a week. The comments and emails that followed confirmed that a lot of moms want to raise boys to be great men but feel overwhelmed with the task.
People especially responded to the fact that I spoke of enjoying the teenage years with my boys. Apparently, word on the street is that all the fun of raising boys ends when they become teenagers. People tell us that as they move toward adolescence, our boys will pull away and turn to their peers for acceptance and approval. Teenage boys are expected to experiment and rebel, to spend their free time gaming and sexting. We’re told to prepare to be left in the cold then, to sit and remember the good old days when we felt so close to our sweet little boys. Ouch.
That has not been my experience at all, and I was eager to encourage moms that it didn’t have to be their experience either. I have continued over the past few years to write blog posts on all kinds of topics related to raising boys. I have covered sibling squabbles and social media, puberty and pornography. I’ve shared honest challenges, funny stories, and lessons I have learned.
But there is only so much space in a blog post. And readers have asked me to share more: more specifics, more examples, and more practical help on raising boys to be great men. Moms want a game plan for raising boys who do not conform to culture but stand strong in their convictions. They also want to know, just as I did all those years ago, what really matters most.
So I am writing this book to give you, my fellow Boy Mom, the best of what I’ve learned, insights I would have treasured earlier in my journey. I want to share my personal experiences as well as advice and ideas I’ve gathered from my readers, friends, and years of study. I want to encourage you in your relationship with your son. I want to say again (and again and again) that, yes, you can raise a great son even in today’s culture.
But I also want to say honestly that it won’t happen by chance.
In fact, without intentional parenting there is a good chance that all those things people warn you about will happen. Your son is more likely to be pulled downstream by the current of culture if you do not actively engage in upstream parenting.
You’ll see as you read the chapters that follow that I’m not suggesting we can control our sons or that their entire futures depend on us. I believe in a very big God, and I know without a doubt that He is guiding and caring for our sons every step of the way. I also believe, however, that this very big God has given you and me the great privilege and responsibility of parenting with intention and heart. My goal is to help you as a Boy Mom embrace your role with joy and confidence. I want to equip you, encourage you, and inspire you to do that upstream parenting. I promise it’s not more work; it’s intentional work. It’s parenting with purpose.
And it is the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.
In the pages that follow, I will share with you what I believe really matters most: equipping boys in twelve areas where they most need our guidance to grow up well. You’ll find stories and research, but most of all, you’ll discover a lot of practical help. At the end of each chapter, you’ll find a bonus resource that offers a practical application or specific guidelines for your son, whatever his age. Some of the principles we cover are likely to feel more natural to you than others, and that’s okay. I feel the same way. Remember, though we Boy Moms share much in common, we are each unique, and our boys are unique.
My hope is that all moms can benefit from the ideas, tools, and resources we’ll be considering. In fact, teachers, grandparents, caregivers, stepmoms, and aunties—all who have a role in raising boys—are welcome here. If you are a single mom, I know you carry an extra heavy load, and I pray this book is helpful to you. If your son has special needs, please know that I’m thinking of you too and that I feel confident you’ll find some encouragement here. I couldn’t address every family situation, but I promise I had you on my mind as I researched and wrote. I often wished I could turn each chapter into its own book because there was just so much to say. Because of this you will find a number of links to my blog, where I have written additional articles or created printable downloads just for you!
If you’ve read my blog, you probably know that I am a Christian and that my husband and I look to the Bible as our greatest guide in parenting and in life. So you will find my faith and biblical principles woven throughout the chapters; there is no way to share my family’s story without them. Whatever your faith perspective, I think you’ll find encouragement to help you in your parenting journey.
As we set out together in this book, I should mention that I have one son in college and another one just behind him. These two are growing up to be amazing young men of God—wise, independent, hard working, and a lot of fun. They’ve also maintained a close relationship with our family. This season is so rewarding! But I also have two more younger sons at home, so I hope you’ll keep in mind that I am parenting each day right alongside you. My job is far from over!
Thank you for joining me on this parenting adventure. It is my heart’s desire and genuine prayer that you finish this book feeling equipped and inspired. Whether your son is a babe in your arms or seven or seventeen, I am so glad you are here. No matter our differences, being a Boy Mom bonds us in a special way. We share the goal of giving our sons all they need to be incredible, successful, well adjusted, thoughtful, productive members of society.
So let’s dive in, shall we?