Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bringing Up Boys

I first read Dr. Dobson's Bringing Up Boys when my oldest son was small - not quite ten years ago. I didn't remember much about it, except learning to allow my boys to play guns, be loud, and run a lot. That information was helpful as my boys went through the toddler, preschool and elementary school stages.

Now that my oldest is in junior high, I felt I needed a re-read of this classic.

It was a good reminder of the previous lessons learned - keep my boys active, allow them to be loud, send them outside as much as possible.

But this time, the thing that resonated with me the most was the idea of feeling isolated as a parent. For those who know me, I am not isolated. I have good friends, near and far, and a supportive family, both in my hometown and out. Then why do I still feel isolated?

Dr. Dobson quotes an essay by Ellen Goodman which, I think, nails it perfectly. It's too long to quote here, but you can find it on page 202 of the edition pictured here. It's worth a read - even if you just read it in the aisle of the local bookstore.

In it, Goodman talks about (in Dr. Dobson's words) "this battle to protect children from the harmful influences of our day."

Goodman says, "it occurs to me now that the call for "parental responsibility" is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. Parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment."

I cannot count the times I've had this conversation with other parents, shocked over the stories we hear on the news. "Kids these days," one of us says. Another says, "No, it's the parents. Parents have the responsibility."

Yes, we do. I agree. However, protecting our children in today's world is exponentially harder than it was for my parents when I was a child. As Goodman says, "Americans were once expected to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition."

And then, in Christian circles, we have debates over 'sheltering' our children from the dominant culture. So-and-so shelters their children too much. Such-and-such family allows their children too much freedom and doesn't shelter them enough. So much judging of each other instead of supporting and encouraging each other in an increasingly hostile world.

This whole discussion is not the focus of Bringing Up Boys, but one for which I obviously needed some clarity. It's especially important in raising our boys because of the wide variety of unhealthy, violent or just plain - dare I say it? - stupid role models for our boys today (what sit-com today doesn't spend most of its time poking fun at men?).

I am very careful what kind of TV my boys watch, video games my boys play, and encourage them to spend time with their dad, grandfathers and other men who I see are real men. Men who know being a man involves responsibility, hard work, caring for others, treating women with respect and gentleness. Bringing Up Boys gave me the vision for starting down this path, and reading it again has helped me to refocus on it again.

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