I was sure I’d be great at raising a little girl. After all, I’d had years of experience being one myself. But instead of a daughter who I assumed I’d be able to innately relate to, I had a son. And then another. Then another. And another. Four boys, and zero clue about what it would take to raise them.
As it turns out, through a combination of instinct and lots of trial and error, I got the hang of this boy-mom thing (well, as much as any mother ever feels like she’s got “the hang” of parenthood). Bringing up a brood of dudes has been unexpectedly awesome, especially once I learned a few key things about boy behavior – life hacks, if you will.
Then I polled my fellow moms of fellas to ask their life hacks. The result is this list: a carefully-curated roster of tried and verified tips from veteran boy moms.
1. It doesn’t matter what the product is – if it says “durable” on the label, buy it.
Boys are hard on stuff. All stuff. Yes, they are capable of being adorably gentle and delicate, but for the most part: durability is your friend.
2. Get a dog.
A dog will clean up the trail of crumbs boys perpetually leave behind, and also serve as a good wrestling partner (if it’s a big enough dog, obvi). Walking and playing with it will help your boys burn off some of that boundless energy, plus the care and feeding fosters a sense of responsibility and nurturing.
3. Teach them to pee sitting down.
Whose brilliant idea was it to teach boys to pee standing up? Probably a guy. But just because their anatomy makes it possible to aim, doesn’t mean they will. In fact, I’d estimate that 90% of the time, they just spray like an unattended fire hose. They can pee standing up when they’re grown enough to learn the importance of aiming; until then, encourage them to sit. And along those lines …
4. Teach them to clean toilets, and teach it early.
Even the littlest kids can wipe up wayward sprinkles (pro tip: buy those antibacterial wipes in bulk), and my sons could scour a bowl like nobody’s business by the time they were eight. This serves a two-fold purpose: first, it saves you from having to clean the “boy toilet,” which is a urine-drenched, hazmat-suit-required kind of job. Second, they don’t like cleaning it either, and they’re miraculously more careful with aim when they know they’re the ones that will be cleaning it up. Win-win.
5. Make chores into a competition.
Boys are competitive. Everything is a race to be the best: the fastest cereal eater, the first into the house from the car, the one to carry the most grocery bags in one trip. So if there’s something they’re reluctant to do, tell them to see how fast they can do it. Nothing lights a fire under a boy like the prospect of winning. Even if they’re not technically winning anything.
6. Categorize socks and undies.
If you have multiple boys, remembering whose stuff is whose can be tricky. But if you buy only a certain type for a certain son, it’s much easier to sort. If I see socks with a blue stripe, I know they’re my middle son’s, because that’s the kind I buy specifically for him; if I see boxer-briefs with a black band, they belong to my oldest.
7. Buy lots and lots of pants.
Whether they prefer jeans or sportier varieties, boys go through pants like they’re eating them (and I mean, why not? They’re eating everything else). You’ll cycle through pants all the time, so buy them whenever they’re cheapest: current sizes, future sizes, whatever’s on sale, you buy at the low price for the next time you discover yet another hole in the knee.
8. And lots and lots of snacks.
Speaking of eating: boys do a lot of it. If you have a toddler who eats only air, just wait – before you know it, he’ll be putting away an adult-sized meal and then rummaging around for dessert. Always have an abundance of snacks on hand, and teach them to prepare their own, or you’ll be doing it approximately every five minutes.
9. And lots and lots of toothbrushes.
Sometimes it’s a battle to get boys to brush, and they’ll have tons of excuses as to why: they’ve “lost” their toothbrush (how??), or don’t want to use it because their brother used it. If you’ve got a stockpile, voila! You can whip out a new one and nip their excuses for poor oral hygiene in the bud.
10. And lots and lots of batteries.
I swear, everything they love requires batteries. It’s easier to keep a stockpile than to deal with the meltdowns that ensue when their beloved toy runs out of juice. But keep the stockpile hidden, or they’ll be replacing batteries willy-nilly whether they really need to be replaced or not. Trust me.
11. Don’t assume they’ll use soap.
Or that they automatically know how to use deodorant, when the time comes. Keeping boys clean and fresh-smelling can be somewhat of an uphill battle, especially once they’re old enough to bathe themselves. You wouldn’t think you’d have to specify exactly where to wash – or to specify to wash in general – but you’d be surprised at how many boys think splashing themselves with water is sufficient.
12. Don’t assume that putting something up high, out of reach, is going to be effective at keeping them from it.
Those batteries I mentioned earlier, for example. Boys will climb any remotely-scalable surface. It’s a skill they work on from the time they can pull themselves up on things. They will also jump off of things, which reminds me …
13. Invest in a good first aid kit.
You’re gonna need it.
14. Make sure they know it’s okay to not like stereotypical “boy stuff.”
Not all boys like sports or trucks or dirt or dinosaurs, and sometimes they take flak from those who do. We live in culture that often shames dudes who aren’t deemed dudely enough, so if your son’s interests are different from those of his peers, be his biggest ally. Support and encourage him in any way you can.
15. Let them know that they’re allowed to feel their emotions.
Unfortunately, “man up” is still a thing. Let your sons know that crying is a natural response, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, so there’s no need to “stop it right now.”
16. Have older brothers teach younger brothers about stuff they’re interested in.
Not only is it a great bonding experience, but when your kids are into some of the same things, it makes playing a whole lot more peaceful.
17. Always check pants pockets before putting them in the wash.
Always. Take this from someone who has laundered a frog.
18. Give them things to take apart.
Some boys are natural tinkerers, and finding old stuff for them to dismantle is vastly preferable to them dismantling something you use because they think they can put it back together. When my oldest son received an old computer, he taught himself to swap out the hard drive and got it working again. It was one of his favorite projects.
19. Embrace the minimalist look.
You know that beautiful mosaic glass hurricane vase you saw on sale at Pier 1? Leave it at Pier 1. Don’t get all excited about your knickknacks, or bask for too long in the well-plumped lumplessness of your couch pillows, because you can’t have anything nice. At least not as long as you have boys around.
20. Have talks while you’re doing something.
My sons will talk my ear off about Minecraft or Roblox or Fortnite, but if I ask them how their day was, all I get is “Fine “ – and if I try to get any deeper, fuhgeddaboudit. The trick is to chat while you’re shooting hoops or playing video games or assembling a puzzle together. They seem to open up more when they’ve got something to do with their hands.
21. Learn how to cut their hair.
There are plenty of good tutorials online, and if you invest a couple of hours in watching some – and in a decent pair of clippers – you can save yourself sooooo much money on haircuts, seeing as they need them approximately every time you blink.
22. Carry a list of their current sizes – especially shoes – with you, and keep it updated.
That way when you’re out and you come across a good sale (or if someone asks and your kids aren’t with you), you’ve always got the info handy.
23. Put them to bed in sporty clothes instead of pajamas.
Three of my four boys prefer what they call “comfy pants” – i.e., the sporty type – over jeans. So after their baths at night, in true lazy-mom style, I just have them get dressed in their sporty pants and t-shirt instead of pajamas. That way when they wake up in the morning, they’re already dressed.
24. Hug them. A lot.
Boys are, for the most part, affectionate creatures, they crave physical touch, and they give the best hugs. If you don’t get as many as you can, you’re all missing out.
There you have it: the things we wish we had known right from the beginning of boy-raising. The things that make life with boys a little easier (and, okay, a little better smelling). We learned these things the hard way, so you don’t have to.
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