As boy moms, how do we raise our expectations for boys in a world that so often expects less of them? In this article, Marnie Hammar discusses how we can start by reframing the common narrative “boys will be boys” into a good thing, reminding us to lean into and enjoy God’s unique design and purpose for our sons.
He grabbed the rungs on the ladder for the big slide when another boy started to pull on him, pushing him down. My firstborn son, maybe 5 years old at the time, looked confused, as this other boy was being plain old mean. I redirected my son to the monkey bars, but the mean boy pursued him. I redirected again, to the tire swing. The other boy’s mom saw what was happening, and instead of correcting her son, she explained his behavior—and without realizing, also her expectations for boys in general: “What are you gonna do? Boys will be boys.”
Though I’d heard this phrase before, it landed altogether differently that day. I felt sad and confused. And maybe a bit angry. Offered up as an excuse for poor choices or behaviors, these words allow for lowered expectations. Sitting under those four words lies resignation.
But there was more here—and I’ve carried that realization with me ever since. What this mama at the playground was expecting, and what I knew in my heart about my boys didn’t match. God’s design and her expectations don’t work together.
Boys Will be Boys?
Now, I admit I lament over some of the things that happen in the Hammar household. These dear sons of mine are oblivious to muddy shoes on carpet. They are proud of their stink. And will they ever outgrow the wrestling? I don’t know how many times I’ve rolled my eyes and uttered that one-word explanation for their choices.
Empty Doritos bag in the bathroom. “Boy.”
Shoes abandoned in front of the kitchen sink. “Boy.”
Fifteen empty cans (not joking!) of Fresca sitting next to the Xbox. “Boy.”
These ‘boy things’ can drive me nuts. But that day on the playground revealed a gap: Who culture expects these boys to be, and who God has planned for them to be doesn’t line up.
As Jesus-loving mamas, how do we raise our expectations of our boys in a world that expects less of them? I think it starts by reframing “boys will be boys” into a good thing.
WHAT CULTURE SAYS ABOUT EXPECTATIONS FOR BOYS
The earliest version of this phrase is recorded in English, back in 1589: “Children are children and do childish things.” I don’t know how this phrase, which began as an observation about the immaturity of children, degenerated to a commentary about the behavior of only boys. However it happened, our culture now says “boys will be boys” to excuse behavior that’s aggressive, disrespectful, and inappropriate.
I think back on that playground moment, and remember my confusion. It took me a minute to understand this mama embraced a cultural mindset that my heart rejected. Countless times I’ve sat in wonder, studying how each of my three boys approach life. I see their sweetness, curiosity, desire to please, and their need to experience things to learn. I watch as they take risks and learn the outcomes for things I wouldn’t even try. They are a marvel to me. What I see doesn’t measure down to what culture says.
Fighting the lies
But, as my boys grow, I can see how our world pulls at their innocence. I see headlines and Hollywood excuse the poor choices of celebrities, athletes, and leaders. Perhaps it’s no wonder that our culture expects so little? Our culture accuses boys of being too loud, too physical, too mean, too messy, too aggressive, too inconsiderate, too insensitive, too selfish, too lacking in self control. And then culture assigns that poor character to gender. If we begin on the playground with “boys will be boys” as the excuse, instead of “jerks will be jerks,” we leave little room for the reality that boys can be kind, caring, and thoughtful humans.
If I’m not vigilant, our culture’s lies can still seep into my own thinking. Before I was a boy mom, I might have even bought into some of these beliefs myself. Even as I marvel at these boys of mine, I too have mistakenly assigned my own reactions to trivial things (like wet towels on carpet) to gender instead of maturity or character.
Mama friends, let’s not believe the lie that our boys are “less than.” Let’s not believe what our culture says. Let’s choose what Jesus says.
WHAT JESUS SAYS ABOUT EXPECTATIONS FOR BOYS
1. I Created You in My Image
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:27-28, 31).
To quiet culture, perhaps the best place to begin is at the beginning. When I find myself tempted to rant about my boys, I remember that we are all made in His image. All of us. After He breathed His holy breath into us, He called us very good. We are His prized possession (James 1:18, NLT).
If God is good, and we are created in His image, then my complaint about my boys is a statement against His creation—a statement that aligns with what the enemy wants me to believe. But the truth of who we are is that we’re all “very good.” We are His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10, NLT).
2. I Set You Apart
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Jesus didn’t buy into culture because He wasn’t mired down by it—His Kingdom isn’t of our world (John 18:36). As such, throughout His ministry, He challenged cultural views. He ministered to the poor, the lowly, the untouchable. He sought out women and children. In Mark, when the children approached Jesus, “so that He might touch them,” the disciples stopped them. But Jesus corrected them, saying “Let the children come … for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). He saw and welcomed those children, in the middle of a culture that didn’t.
When we choose Jesus, He sets us apart. Our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Let’s not settle for the world when we were made for more.
3. Be Like Me
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Jesus is our model for how to love, how to serve, and how to connect with God. Jesus is the ‘How.’ He is how we do the good things that God has planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10). How we love (Ephesians 5:2). How our minds are transformed, instead of conformed to our world (Romans 12:2). And He is how we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
It doesn’t really matter if 15 cans of Fresca are consumed in the process (or in one weekend!). Nor does it matter if shoes are abandoned in front of the sink. What matters is that the feet that fill those shoes learn to walk with confidence that comes from a mind transformed by Christ.
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO THE PHRASE “BOYS WILL BE BOYS?”
So what, then, should our expectations be for our boys? Knowing who Jesus says we are, “boys will be boys” can be a positive. Here are three ways we can reclaim that phrase as a good thing.
1. Let’s Enjoy Them
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I can still remember the time one of my sons came out of the bathroom howling in laughter. While he was going “number one,” he sneezed and out came a toot. He was so proud of how his little body did those three different things simultaneously! I laughed so hard that I cried as he celebrated that silly convergence of bodily functions. Maybe it feels wrong to use this example after citing how, “for those who love God, all things work together for good,” but I’m sure Jesus was laughing too.
The truth is, these boys do think differently than I do. They react differently than I do. They value different things than I do. I have learned so much about joy from these boys. In each of these differences, I want to be of the mindset that those differences are opportunities to embrace and enjoy and celebrate them.
2. Let’s Teach Them
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).
Our boys will not know that we expect more of them than our culture does unless we teach them. Poor judgment and bad choices happen because of our sin nature—because we are human. And most of the choices our sons make, the ones that really frustrate us, are because they’re still learning what it means to be a good human, not because it’s a ‘boy thing’. Let’s keep teaching them.
Let’s teach the truth. Together let’s teach them, correct them, and train them in righteousness. Let’s teach them how to walk in the Spirit, not the flesh. Why don’t we be examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24). Let’s teach the good treasure, so that their hearts bring forth what is good (Luke 6:45). Together, let’s equip them for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17), so that our culture’s claims fall dull and quiet.
3. Let’s Love Jesus With Them
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
One of the most unexpected lessons I’ve learned as a mama is that we’re on this journey together. I don’t know why, but I thought I’d have more answers than I do. Here I am, still learning to be like Jesus, right alongside my sons. How beautiful is that, to learn and grow and love Jesus together! To see my sons as not done yet, in the same way that I am (thankfully) not done yet, is a gift to all of us.
Yes, they aggravate me, they challenge me, they wear me out, they make me not ever want to clean because, why bother? But then I remember: He has begun a good work in each of us that He will bring to completion. In His timing.
Mama friend, if that’s what it means when we say “boys will be boys,” well, then I’m all in.
Have you ever used the phrase, “Boys will be boys?” If so, how might the points raised in this article make you think differently about what message this is inadvertently sending or reinforcing about your expectations for them? How might God be prompting you to lean in and enjoy the unique design, purposes, and personalities God has given to the boys in your life?
Want More from Marnie on Raising Boys?
We invite you to check out the printable Marnie created, Raising Expectations for Boys: Scriptures for You and Your Son. You can sign up and gain access to Marnie’s Boy Mama Library by clicking the button below!
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