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Many of us feel the pressure of raising kind, respectful, God-fearing boys. But exactly how to raise a gentleman in an upside-down, anything-goes culture can seem daunting. Guest writer Mary Ann Blair gives us an outline of what this task means to her as she and her husband strive to inspire these honorable traits in her boys.
When I was in my early twenties, I worked at a store with a lady named Gloria who was in her mid-sixties. When my parents were in town one weekend, my dad came by the store to say hi.
When I introduced Gloria to my dad, he took off his hat, shook her hand, and said: “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
Having watched my dad interact with others my whole life, I didn’t think too much of it. But after my dad left, Gloria gushed about what a true gentleman he was.
Gloria’s reaction made me realize the way my dad interacted with her was probably becoming more of the exception rather than the rule.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m now the mother of two lively, dirt-loving, bug-catching, always up for a wrestle, boys.
At times, it is overwhelming and downright terrifying trying to raise boys in today’s society.
Yet, being a boy mom is one of the biggest blessings and opportunities I have been given.
What Makes a Gentleman?
Honestly, the days of men taking their hats off when a lady enters the room, or rushing around the side of the car to open the door for their beloved are probably fading into the past.
As time passes, social norms change and evolve.
But that doesn’t mean as parents in the 21st century, we can’t still aim to raise gentlemen.
The lessons we focus on teaching our sons might just look a little different now.
By common definition, a gentleman is a “chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man.” I love that definition because, in my humble opinion, those traits will never become outdated or old-fashioned.
The way my husband and I parent our sons is not the same way my grandparents parented their four boys sixty years ago, and this new generation of gentlemen might not act the same as those of years past.
Yet, I still believe it is possible to raise men who are chivalrous, courteous, and honorable.
The following are some of the traits and behaviors my husband and I are trying to foster in our own sons as they grow up in our modern culture.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others—something the world seems to be starving for right now.
In our current political culture of “us vs. them” and strangers lobbing personal attacks at each other behind the safety of a screen, it seems like no one is willing to listen or try to understand another point of view anymore.
So how do we teach empathy to our children? By modeling it ourselves.
According to Dr. Laura Markham in her book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, “Children develop empathy naturally, as part of healthy human development, as long as children experience empathy from their caretakers. That’s why parenting with empathy is a double gift to your child: In addition to your empathy helping him learn to manage his emotions, experiencing your empathy will also help him to develop empathy for others.”
So what does this look like? It means saying things like “Looks like you had a hard day.” Or “I know how you feel.” Or “I understand why that would make you upset.”
It means putting yourself in your kids’ shoes and seeing the world through their eyes.
But it doesn’t just stop with your kids. You have to model that kind of behavior in your own interactions with others.
Children pay close attention to how the adults in their world are acting toward one another.
How many times have we all heard the expressions “boys don’t cry”, “toughen up” or “quit being a cry-baby”.
I cringe whenever I hear these things being said because we are doing our boys a great disservice when we send the message some emotions just shouldn’t be expressed.
Boys experience the same sort of heartaches, difficulties, and disappointments as girls.
So why as a society did we decide it wasn’t o.k. for boys and men to express an emotion associated with life’s difficult moments?
According to Dr. Markham, “Your acceptance and understanding of what he is feeling helps him recognize and accept his own emotions. That’s what allows the feelings to lose their charge and begin to dissipate. Your acceptance of his emotions teaches your child that his emotional life is not dangerous, is not shameful, and in fact, is universal and manageable.”
I want my boys to know men can be strong and still show their sensitive side. Men can be tough and also tender.
These things are not mutually exclusive.
Developing a servant’s heart
My boys are living a pretty blessed life right now, and I’ll be honest—whenever I feel like they aren’t being grateful, I kind of want to pull my hair out.
It has been important to me to not only cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our home for what we do have, but I also want my boys to be aware of the needs of those less fortunate.
They are still young, so volunteering and giving will look different as they get older, but for now, we try to do simple things to help them become aware of the needs of others.
We donate toys and clothes they no longer need. We participate in the Giving Tree at Christmas time.
We give money to our church and to causes that help the homeless in our area.
Recently at VBS, they were able to donate money to help feed starving children in other parts of the world.
I want them to grow up caring about the world and the people in it, and I truly believe it is never too early to start planting this seed.
Respect for women
As a collective culture, in many ways, we have come a long way in this area over the past few years.
And yet, there is still such a long way to go.
In our hyper-sexualized culture where there is so much easy access to media that portrays women as nothing more than objects, it is even more important that we teach our boys from a young age to respect women.
This starts in my own home—showing them how I expect to be treated, not only as their mama, but also as a female.
I’ll be honest, teaching my boys about chivalry does get tricky in this day and age.
I want my boys to learn that women are strong and capable on their own, but I also want to raise men who are willing to offer a hand (even if it is not accepted.)
Being a team player
With just a few years in between them, my boys have a knack for turning anything into a competition.
They see who can race up the stairs faster. They see who can get dressed first. They see who can eat their dinner the fastest.
I’m constantly reminding them that not everything in life has to be a competition.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in being rewarded for hard work, and a little healthy competition builds character.
But I also want them to recognize the value of teamwork.
Sometimes a team victory Is so much sweeter than an individual one, and a loss can be easier to bear when the weight of defeat is spread over many shoulders.
When the world view skews towards an “every man for himself” mentality, I want my boys to remember that we all rise when we help each other.
It is no small feat to raise gentlemen in today’s world, but as parents of boys, it is our responsibility to give it everything we’ve got.
A future generation of gentlemen depends on it.
About the author: Mary Ann Blair is a stay-at-home mom living in the Pacific Northwest with her two little gentlemen and hubs. She loves connecting with other parents who like to keep it real! Her writing has been published on Her View From Home, Perfection Pending, That’s Inappropriate, Pregnant Chicken, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Red Tricycle and in Chicken Soup For the Soul. She can be found at www.maryannblair.com and Facebook.com/MiraclesInTheMess.