One thing Marnie Hammar wasn’t prepared for when she became a mom to three boys was how unashamedly different they would be from her—their unfamiliar way of viewing the world often resulting in frustration and dissatisfaction. In this article, she shares how changing her perspective about being a boy mom helped her see that ‘different’ was not ‘wrong’ and enabled her to more fully embrace and celebrate her sons and the way God created them to be.
When I first heard, “Congratulations, it’s a boy,” I think I immediately pictured buffalo plaid sweater vests and tiny denim overalls (with pockets for his baby car keys, of course). I had visions of cute, pudgy toddler hands sticky with lollipops, clutching grass and dirt. I couldn’t wait to buy trucks and cars and Legos and take trips to construction sites and splash in puddles.
Then came that very first diaper change, and with it, my very first moment of the, uh, unfamiliar. Though I’d dreamt of his sweet baby boy wardrobe and our adventures to come, I hadn’t given a single thought to how different my son would be from me.
BEING A BOY MOM: THE DISCOVERY OF ‘DIFFERENT’
The unfamiliar is a thing for boy moms, isn’t it?
They live big and loud and fast. They pound things. Boys crash things. They squash and squeeze and splash. They choose to be dirty and sticky and soggy. Boys run toward risk and thrive on adrenaline. They jump, then look. They touch, then ask.
In those early, tired years of being a boy mom, I often wondered how they could be so very different from me. I knew how to get things done. I made lists and got results. Why weren’t my perfectionist ways working in motherhood? With our gaggle of three boys, my pursuit of perfection slammed me into a wall of frustration and dissatisfaction. Why did they not do anything the way I did? Why could they not focus? And why could they not stay on task? Why couldn’t they sit still? Why did putting socks on take an hour?
Battles and anger over my own blocked goals created unrest in my home and in my heart. Tired from the tension, and longing for more peace in our home, I tried something. I began to lay down the need to finish the task my way.
As I did, something else happened. I started to see their little souls more clearly. I could see the heart behind their choices more clearly. And I began to see that they saw each day not as a checklist, but as an adventure. Each errand or walk or outing wasn’t a task, but an opportunity to be curious. That’s when this boy mama journey changed. And that’s when I realized that in most of the battles, my boys weren’t really doing anything wrong.
They were just doing things differently from me.
SEPARATING DIFFERENT AND WRONG
How many times had I equated different—from me, from what I wanted, from what I expected—as ‘wrong’?
How many times had I missed the beauty and intentionality of how God created these boys, simply because they weren’t like me?
Those unnecessary battles when my boys were younger helped me to understand that as long as whatever was happening didn’t contradict Scripture, it wasn’t wrong.
Is being loud wrong?
Is being busy and active wrong?
Or is quickly changing from one activity to the next wrong?
Is not enjoying the same kinds of things I enjoy wrong?
Is their need to climb and run wrong?
No. What they were doing was different from how I would choose to do things. But not wrong.
The Frog-In-The-Bathroom Situations
Just last week, my 14-year-old son yelled downstairs (from the bathroom I don’t step foot in), “Mom, there’s a frog in our bathroom.”
Me: “A real frog?”
Middle son: “Yes. It looked fake, but I poked it, and it moved. It’s real.”
Let’s be clear. “I poked it,” is a sentence that would never come from my own lips.
Here he is, telling me there is a real frog perched on the bathroom counter, mere inches away from his toothbrush, without a trace of panic or squealing. I would scream, slam a cup over the top of it, and then run out of the bathroom without even knowing if it’s real. I would yell ask questions like, “How did this happen? Where did this come from?”
But I would never, ever, ever poke it.
(Incidentally we are still having family discussions about how this frog ended up in our upstairs bathroom. A theory that’s circling includes our youngest and the fact that he was at the creek that day, but no evidence has yet substantiated it.)
Today, as I replay the Frog-in-the-Bathroom Situation, I’m grateful for a 14-year-old son who is willing to poke a frog. I’m grateful they’re different.
ALLOWING OUR BOYS TO BE BOYS
So how do we embrace their different-from-me ways, not as wrong, but as who they were created to be? In our endeavor to raise good, respectful humans, how do we also allow our boys to be boys?
As our family grew from one to two to three boys and I settled into my all-boy family, sometimes I felt frustrated by what I saw as ‘limitations’ with having ‘only’ boys. There were no peaceful afternoons of coloring or completing crafty kits with beads and pom poms. Our truncated sessions ended with my kitchen table looking like wild animals broke in. If we went on a picnic, those little tushies had a hard time touching the blanket for more than a minute or two—or maybe four if there were cookies. For a few of those years, we didn’t even take beach chairs to the beach, as we knew there would be no sitting.
In those moments of frustration, I had a choice to make: I could dwell on what felt ‘wrong’ and frustrating. Or, I could embrace those differences and celebrate the wonder and joy of what our life did look like.
As I learned to do that, I began to see that my ‘right’ way could be altered. While we still expected obedience as we aim to raise respectful, Jesus-loving, decent humans, we learned to offer them the freedom to be boys. We chose to encourage their natural ways of experiencing things.
Making an Intentional Shift
It was intentional, this shift from living in frustration to embracing wonder. As we began the shift, our parenting lightened. We could embrace endless hole-digging in the sand, admire their willingness to pick up a crab (um, no way, thanks), or appreciate their reasons for putting glitter on dinosaurs (to make them shiny prey for the T-rex, of course…).
We allowed bath time to be rough and tumble and splash-y. And we removed having a goal for taking a walk, filling the time with running in circles and finding sticks—and yes, sometimes running with sticks. Our days were planned around outside time and their need to move their bodies and stretch their legs. Coloring and craft time was short. And messy. And short. Shopping? Unless they were buckled in a cart, just no.
Did doing things ‘their way’ make it hard sometimes? Yes. Sometimes it still does. As we planned my oldest’s senior pictures, we did not shop for clothing together. We are both still traumatized from the Fitting Room Incident at Children’s Place in 2009. Instead, I went shopping, bought a bunch of options, and he tried them on from home, which was far more enjoyable for us both.
Once we make room in our hearts to understand that their way isn’t wrong, we can celebrate how God has wired our boys. But they’ll still drive us a little crazy sometimes. So here are some strategies to help embrace their different.
1. Stop Asking Why
You know the whys: “Why is this basketball on my kitchen table? Why did you decide to run outside in your socks? And why aren’t you dressed yet? Why is the towel there?
Years ago, one of my dearest friends told me to stop asking why, and it changed everything. Asking why isn’t going to solve the mystery that is boy. I will never quite understand how their brains work. And honestly? Even if they knew why (which they probably don’t), their answer won’t fix what’s making us crazy.
Instead, we learned to skip the why and move straight to instructional redirects. Rather than ask, “Why is this basketball on my kitchen table?” shift to saying, “Please don’t bring the basketball in the house.” Instead of, “Why did you run outside in your socks?” instead tell him, “Take off your socks or put on your shoes, but don’t run in your socks.” (And, as he gets older, make him buy his own socks!)
This approach moves us from criticizing with our words to teaching and reminding what is acceptable—and limits the critic in our minds. Trust me, it’s less maddening for everyone.
2. Go With it
What if, instead of comparing their way to ours, we tried doing things their way? What if, sometimes, we just went with it? Then maybe we would lessen the gap between our polarizing points of view on how to do things—because for most things, there isn’t one way. (Though I hold sacred the one and only correct process for loading the dishwasher.)
Let’s hop on the Costco cart and ride it. Let’s paint a messy, sloppy, all-the-colors painting. And let’s taste what it’s like to live their way. In doing so, maybe we’ll discover that the ‘boy way’ isn’t all that bad. At the very least, we’re sure to be in for an adventure, and perhaps we’ll even begin thinking that their way is right.
3. Help Them Succeed
Once we better understand how our boys approach life, we can enter the spaces outside the walls of our homes from a new perspective. As my boys grew, and I better understood them, I learned to be more intentional about preparing them for situations and circumstances where they had less freedom.
For example, if we were going to the doctor’s office or church, it helped if they could stretch their legs and run first. When our school’s half-day kindergarten eliminated recess, on nice days we stopped at the park on the way to school for some ‘be crazy’ time, so his day went more smoothly. Before getting in the car for long stretches, or to help them calm down, we created a game for them to go run laps around the backyard. (They loved it.)
Not only can we celebrate and applaud how our boys are wired, we can also plan ahead to help them succeed in places where their freedom to be boys might be limited.
BEING WHO WE WERE MADE TO BE
“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t” (Romans 12:4-6, The Message Translation).
We mamas know that we’ve each been gifted with different strengths and talents and gifts. We’re accustomed to embracing and celebrating differences when we are part of groups at church, or when we’re in small groups, or when we minister together with others. We’re aware that He has created us to serve and fill different purposes in His body.
What we can overlook, though, is that it’s the same within our families. Our boys are inherently created to be different from us, each with specific gifts and strengths.
If we believe that God has created each of us for a purpose, then we will see this journey of raising our sons as a discovery of who they are. If we believe that they are created to be unlike anyone else, we’ll empower them to step toward what they’ve been created to do. And if we believe their differences are excellently formed and marvelously functioning, then we’ll choose to celebrate them.
Boy mama friend, let’s lift up these boys, encouraging them to be who they were made to be, even and especially, when that’s different from us.
Want More from Marnie on Raising Boys?
We invite you to check out the printable Marnie created, “Strategies to Help You Not Lose Your Boy Mama Mind.” You can sign up and gain access to Marnie’s Boy Mama Library by clicking the button below!
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Standing on my chair and shouting, “Hooray!”