I have three amazing children – two girls, whom I write about often, and a beautiful teenage boy. All of them are an enormous blessing to our family and I am endlessly grateful to have them. My girls – Sophia (16) and Ella (9) – make the world a better place every day, and my son Gabriel (almost 14) is bright, cheerful and adds spark to our family.
For me, raising a boy has been interesting. Being a girl, I get girls. I understand the complexities we can bring to the table. The emotional highs and lows that we experience. The pain of not having the right shoes to go with your outfit or the wrong bra or perhaps the girl drama in the classroom, sports field, online or anywhere else. As a woman, I understand these challenges, whether they are small and seemingly insignificant or downright life-changing. I am a girl and I understand girls.
Raising a son has been another journey entirely. I have two brothers so I understand the basics of boys. The sights, sounds and smells. From the nightmare bedroom, perhaps laboratory might be a better word, to the hollow legs that have them rummaging through the fridge for leftovers late into the night. Boys are definitely different and for that we should all be grateful.
As a mother, I began noticing those differences a few years ago during a holiday at Yosemite National Park in the US. We had travelled from Australia to our family holiday home in Lake Tahoe and decided to take the kids to see Yosemite. It was an exciting trip. They wanted to see El Capitan, which rises more than 3,000 feet above the valley floor and is the largest monolith of granite in the world. We had told them all about this huge rock and they were ready to explore.
As we soaked up the atmosphere of this stunning location, one particular experience showed me clearly that my son was made very differently from my daughter (I only had Sophia at the time). As we walked and hiked, it became obvious to me that I needed to understand him and who he was, as a boy, in order to raise him well.
It happened like this:
We were out for a cliff walk. The view was breathtaking and not to be missed. As the mother of two young children, I was on edge. Taking stock of the lack of barriers and the sheer drops below, I was well aware of what a jumping, running and over-excited child could mean. I was a little tense and possibly a bit ‘barky’ at my husband. After all, my children were jumping around like popcorn in a vat of hot oil.
The cliff walk featured a clearly defined path. It was safe, secure and provided the confidence I needed to relax and soak up the incredible views. It was bliss. Phil took the lead as our guide with Sophia safely behind him, followed by Gabriel and myself. I recall watching Sophia as she walked confidently behind her father, staying on course, trying to step in his footsteps. For Sophia the path made sense, it was secure, it was where we were meant to be and it was the rule. She accepted it and followed it. There was no drama and she was enjoying her adventure.
But a few steps behind, it was a different story. Unlike Sophia and her sophisticated approach to the hike, Gabriel was going off like a firecracker. He was darting, jumping, pushing boundaries and hiking ‘outside’ the designated path. He was heading off the beaten track and it was there that he found his freedom to explore, his joy of learning and his innate desire to be challenged. For him, the path was restrictive. It didn’t offer the experience that he wanted nor, I understand now, that he needed. My son was created to push boundaries and chart new courses. His DNA demands it, his heart wants it and his spirit needs it.
Needless to say, my stress levels were high. I tried, multiple times, to get that boy back on the path. I yelled at him, his dad and I’m sure his sister. I was that mum, at the end of the chain gang looking like a lunatic, wishing I had harnessed my son to something, anything. I was sure he was going to end up on the valley floor; that one awkward jump would end up being his last.
I needed him on that path for my safety, comfort and security. Yet Gabriel needed to explore and be who he was created to be. I realise this may all sound very dramatic, and some may say undisciplined, but let me assure you, my boy was safe. The problem was that his pioneering spirit was in direct conflict to my mother’s desire to shield and protect.
I wish I could remember what happened when we returned to our hotel. Did I head straight to the bar for a drink or collapse on the bed for a rest? I’ll need to ask Philip.
I share this story today to remind you to let your boys be boys. Society, for some reason, has decreed that boyhood must be refined and that we should encourage, or even demand, that our boys stay on the path. They must play it safe and leave reckless behaviour behind. I’m not saying that we should encourage our boys to do anything they want, rather, I’m suggesting we let them spread their wings and explore, learn and live the way they were created to do.
Today, my son loves surf and ski. The ocean waves are wild and it scares me, the mountain highs, although much more palatable are at times cause for concern as he now ventures out on his own. We teach, we guide and we spend time helping him to develop the skills he needs to understand the risks involved and the decisions required. I love seeing him grow in these areas. I love that we have allowed him the space to fall off bikes, to barrel down a hill on his skateboard and suffer the pain and agony that accompanied such a decision. He has broken a few bones along the way. He has found himself stuck on a black diamond run negotiating his way down, he has hurt the ‘family jewels’ on a crazy rope swing over water, he has felt electrical volts through curiosity, he has held the hand of his crying friend, he has said no when he desperately wanted to say yes, and he has said yes when he should have said no.
Through venturing off the beaten track, he is becoming the boy he was meant to be. I can’t wait to see how the next few years pan out, but I thank goodness for prayer, hair dye and a red wine because along the way I have needed all three – and no doubt I’ll need them again!