Parenting Principles from a Book on Nurturing Boys

As I go through each year, I try to read in a variety of fields (theology, leadership, church, preaching, history, philosophy, apologetics, biography, family, fiction). Books are an important way for me to continue learning and growing as a follower of Christ. Recently, I finished an excellent book on parenting boys: Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, by Stephen James and David Thomas. If you are a parent of boys, I would heartily recommend this book.

It is insightful, humorous, and helpful. At times, I found myself laughing at the hysterical accounts of the wild things boys do (things flushed down the toilet, adventurous activities, becoming superheroes). You’ll have to get the book to enjoy the benefit of those accounts. James and Thomas’ humor and candor provided a healthy framework for truly beneficial insights.

Following are a few parenting principles I gleaned from the reading. While they are centered on my own responsibility being a father to two sons, there is certainly overlap for parenting in general.

What your children see, they will do. Any parent knows that self-control is a difficult virtue in raising children. Sometimes our voice volume goes too high. Sometimes we are quick tempered. Sometimes we veg out of engaging with our family by being addicted to our screens. There’s a funny insurance commercial out now about how young adults are turning into their parents. That is a reality long before adulthood. My boys raise their voice and escalate arguments because that’s what they see/hear me do. Moms and dads, what you model is what they will become.

What you see in your children, what you speak to your children, and what you draw out of your children, they will become. This principle flows out of a section where the authors argue that parents (dads in particular) should see their sons, name their sons, and draw their sons out. Parents, you have enormous power in the lives of your children. How your children see themselves is a direct result of how you see them, what you say about them (naming them), and what you draw out of them. Does your vision for your children reflect unfulfilled dreams in your own life (athletics and success) or unattainable expectations of perfection for your children? If so, then you need to evaluate your words and how attentive you are to who your children should be. Recently, one of my children confessed that he felt the need to be perfect and felt guilty when he wasn’t. Where do you think he got that idea from? Yes, he got his internal need to be perfect from me. And that is not a healthy burden to carry. It is our job as parents to speak truth, encouragement, gospel, and purpose into the lives of our children.

What you value for your children will shape them. If you value grades, then your children will judge their competency by grades. If you value athletics, dance, friends, health, character, relationship with God, those values will shape who they become. Notice I didn’t say they will become your values. Sometimes parents value the wrong things and our children react against our values (shaping a contrarian value system in their own lives). Other times we say we value one thing, but model something different and our children react against our hypocrisy. I’m not saying we need to be perfect as parents, but we do need to be aware of the tension between what we say and what we show. Here are a couple of quotes that reflect this principle:

As parents, we must decide which is more important, material success or character. Too often, parents, educators, and coaches focus on behavior modification with boys and not enough on character development.

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 175.

I make Sam go [to church] because the youth group leaders know things that I don’t. They know what teenagers are looking for, and need–they need adults who have stayed alive and vital, adults they wouldn’t mind growing up to be. And they need total acceptance of who they are, from adults they trust, and to be welcomed in whatever condition life has left them–needy, walled off. They want guides, adults who know how to act like adults but with a kid’s heart. They want people who will sit with them and talk about the big questions, even if they don’t have the answers; adults who won’t correct their feelings or pretend not to be afraid. They are looking for adventure, experience, pilgrimages, and thrills. and then they want a home they can return to, where things are stable and welcoming.

Anne Lamont, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, quoted by James and Thomas, Wild Things, 80-1.

Parents, the value systems you instill (or not) in your children (faith, character, church) will affect them the rest of their lives. If you want your children to follow Christ as young adults and parents in the future, then it is your job to instill those values by model and voice now while they are in your home.

What love and preparation you provide will dramatically influence the emotional and spiritual health of your children. Children are sinners just like everyone else. They’re going to do foolish and sinful things. They do need our correction, discipline, and instruction, but they also need our unconditional love, guidance, and blessing. Following are several more quotes that undergird this principle.

About our boys as teenagers: “You will need to pray often–for wisdom, mercy, and forgiveness–because you will likely say and do a lot of things you will later regret. You’ll also want to pray for your boy’s safety, because he will likely do a lot of things that he will later regret.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 68.

Moms, this one’s for you: “A powerful paradox of motherhood is that if you do your job well, your son will leave you completely.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 236.

Dads, this one’s for you: “A boy needs a dad who is looking ahead of him, mindful of his tomorrows.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 260.

Parents, it’s our job not just to get through today’s trials and difficulties. It’s our job to be mindful of the future of our children. We are to look out for their tomorrows and prepare them to be adults in a difficult world.

This book has been one of the most meaningful and impactful that I’ve read this year. It is worth your time and investment in reading. If you do have sons, the chapter entitled, “Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage,” is worth the price of the whole book. Parents, if you have boys, they will become men when you tell them they are men. Creating an individualized rite of passage into manhood is an important part of your role as a parent.

  • Dads, this one is on you. You are the primary voice and example for developing your boys into men. Buy this book. Read about rites of passage and develop one for your son(s).
  • Single moms, don’t lose heart. Pray that God would provide men in your community and church to invest in your boys to model manhood for them.
  • Moms, love your boys. They need your encouragement and inspiration more than you will ever know. I would not be the man I am today without the voice of encouragement and guidance from my mother who is now with Jesus.
  • Church, pray for our families. Our church will only be as strong and healthy as our families.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

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