10 Things Raising Boys Has Taught Me

by Theresa Cole
Three boys in a school posing for a photo while other kids are having a meal

Being a mom is the most stressful and rewarding job in the world, but we have to learn to accept some things before we can learn to enjoy it to its fullest. Our youngest is now 16, and I’ve figured out a few things about raising boys along the way.

1. Majority rules. Choose your battles wisely.

The toilet seat will always be up, the towels will never get hung after showers, and there will always be black handprints on your walls, doors and cupboards. Trust me when I tell you these things aren’t worth arguing over. Even if you can convince one or two of the boys to change one habit, you’ll never get them all to, so stop stressing over it. The best you can do is explain to them that they need to put the seat down when they visit someone else’s home. If they do that, you’ve won.

2. Nothing has a place, and that’s OK.

Every flat surface in your home will become a catchall. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Roll with it. If you’re looking for something, it’s much easier to simply ask one of the five boys or the husband for the location of said item than it is to stress about it not being where you left it. And forget about putting everything in its place. You could never ever ever keep up with the movement of items in your home, so don’t bother.

3. Fights are fierce, but love is fiercer.

You’re a referee. Get used to it. There will be times that you will literally have to pull boys apart and separate them. And even if they bloody each other’s lips or blacken each other’s eyes, I pity any outsider who chooses to pick on one of them. Their love is fierce, and they will protect each other to no end.

4. It could always be worse.

You’ll learn to look at life through a glass-half-full lens. Okay, so they wrote on the school bus seat with a permanent marker. At least they didn’t cut it with a knife, which would cost much more than you spent on the cleaning supplies needed to scrub the marker off. Yes, they broke a window, but at least it was a small garage window instead of a sliding glass door. I feel bad for all of you pessimistic souls out there, because boys will push you to the brink of insanity, and if you can’t look at the bright side, you will suffer through a miserable life.

5. Patience is a choice, not a virtue.

Patience is viewed as an ingrained characteristic. Something you’re born with. People are assumed to either be patient or impatient as though it’s a part of their personality. This is absolutely not the case. A house full of boys will teach you this. They choose when to be patient, and their ideal times almost never coincide with yours. There will be times when they simply can’t wait another minute, but in other instances they will hold out for months for that one certain thing. If you can manage to teach them how to be patient (for even one thing), you’ve done well.

6. They always want you there, even if they tell you it doesn’t matter.

I can’t even tell you how many times my youngest (who is now 15 years old) has said, “It’s OK if you don’t make it to my game, Mom. No big deal.” He doesn’t mean it. It’s evident in the way he scans the bleachers to see if I’m sitting in the crowd, how he texts me an hour before each game to see if I’ll be there, how his eyes light up when I tell him I will. They’ll always act tough and tell you it doesn’t matter, but it does matter and it always will. And simply knowing that will make your heart swell.

7. Blood and broken bones are nothing to stress about (unless they happen to someone else’s child).

They’re boys. They climb trees, push themselves to do the next cool trick on on their skateboards, and play contact sports. There will be blood (sometimes requiring stitches). There will be broken bones (sometimes requiring surgery). But boys are tough. They bounce back in no time and will go right back to whatever it was that led them to injury in the first place (because, of course, they’re smarter now, know what they did wrong, and are sure they can get it right this time). The only blood and broken bones you need to worry about are the ones your son inflicted on the other boy (who was most likely picking on one of his brothers). That’s when things can get stressful. If only your sons are involved, count your blessings, stand strong for your son while he’s healing (because if you act strong, they will too) and wipe him up the next time he busts his chin open.

8. You will never get your security deposit back.

Seriously. Just give up that idea now, because inevitably, there will be damage you don’t even know about until you move that dresser or couch. If they’re rearranging their bedroom, there is a reason.

9. It’s OK to lower your standards.

When they’re small, you try to keep them clean and dress them in cute nice clothes. Cool. I get it. I tried too. But as they grow, you’ll realize that letting them leave the house in ripped jeans and a faded T-shirt is perfectly acceptable because they are boys. You’ll never keep them out of the dirt. Wearing new school clothes won’t stop them from crawling under a car to see what’s making that noise they heard. New shoes? They aren’t even going to think about that before running through that mud puddle. Learn to let go of that “what will people think?” idea, because if they have boys, they totally understand, and if they don’t, who cares? That smile on your son’s face is worth way more than those new kicks you just bought him.

10. You’re raising men, not boys.

They’re tiny, precious and innocent for the first few years of their lives. Enjoy that, but once they start questioning the world, be real with them. Answer them honestly (or as honestly as you can—there are some questions that need to be glossed over for a bit). Yes, this means you will have awkward conversations. Yes, you will burst their innocence bubble a little earlier. But I can’t stress this enough. Our instinct is to protect them from life as long as possible, but we’re raising men, not boys. They need to know what life is like so they can develop the values necessary to be respectable, moral men before running out into the world. Being honest and real with your son from an early age will establish the trust you need when the real issues come into his life. When their first best friend hurts their feelings because they have a new best friend, they will come to you. When they first catch the eye of a girl across the room, they’ll come to you. Be the person your son(s) can depend on to tell them the truth, and they will come to you when life throws them a curve ball.

Bonus 11

They will always be your little boys, and they’ll be OK with that (even if they don’t show it in front of their friends). Their love for you will be more intense and fierce than you ever could have imagined. Their smiles will soothe your soul, their hugs will make your day, and they will defend you until the end of time. You may be their rock now, but that will shift and they will become yours.

There’s nothing like a mother’s love for her son, except maybe a son’s love for his mother.