The Joys of Raising Boys: The Good, the Bad, and the Hilarious: A Memoir by Diane Auten (Book Excerpt)


Relationships

TEACHING BOYS HOW to love is one of the most important jobs that we have in this world. So many boys grow up unable to express them­selves, whether it comes from societal influences, peer pressure, or parental shaming, it is a norm that as a society, we must turn around.

Without getting too heavy here, I am sure that most of us can agree that face-to-face communication skills are declining in our society today. A lot of us have become too dependent on technology, and many of us have lost some of the humanity of connecting with others on a deeper level—looking into some­one’s eyes when they talk to us, having empathy in difficult situations, and truly listening when someone is talking. This lack of connection is also rubbing off on our boys.

I don’t necessarily want to go into all of the theory behind why it is harder for (most, not all) boys and men to communicate, but research shows us that it is true. The roots of empathy start early, and when it comes to nurturing empathy skills, girls have the upper hand. If you think about it, most girls grow up play­ing games that involve communication (think dolls, house, mommy/baby, etc.). Little girls get to practice relationship from the time they can stand on two feet.

Boys, on the other hand, aren’t practicing these relationship skills. They are practicing competition. Think of the games that little boys play. Most of them are “us against them” kinds of games: cops and robbers, Star Wars, any version of “bad guy against good guy,” and of course, sports. While boys are growing up practicing skills around competition, the girls are leaving them in the dust when it comes to relational skills.

As a result, at an early age, I wanted to reverse some of this with my boys. Don’t get me wrong—the vast majority of their child­hood was spent playing competitive games. My favorite memory was when I used to walk a pack of neighborhood boys to school every morning when Bradley was in kindergarten. Every single morning they would argue about who was going to be “first leader,” “second leader,” and so on down the line.

I embraced this boy-way of relating whole­heartedly; however, I also wanted to nurture their relational skills. When my boys were little and wanted to watch TV or play video games, I would always say, “First, we need to have rela­tionship time.” They would moan and groan about it, but it became part of our daily routine.

“Relationship time” was when we sat with no technology and talked about whatever they wanted to talk about, but we had wonderful connective conversations. And they learned to have a balanced conversation; they learned to ask Dave and me questions about our day, and not just talk about themselves. That is an amazing skill, too.

Award-winning author and speaker Daniel Goleman, often talks about what makes a person have a successful life. He makes the argument that how knowledgeable we are, or our IQ, has very little to do with our successes in life.

Remember, I am an educator, so this is a hard pill for me to swallow; however, I am a professor who teaches a variety of classes on communi­cation, one of which focuses entirely on how to have successful relationships. Because of my background as a teacher, a parent, and someone who is exposed to college students every day, I have to agree with Goleman.

Don’t get me wrong; IQ is important, but as Goleman points out, think of how irrelevant it is to life success. Our IQ has nothing to do with how successful our relationships are. IQ has nothing to do with how happy we are in our marriages, and how connective our rela­tionships are with our kids. It takes something more than that. It takes an emotional connec­tion to have successful relationships—with our spouses, friends, and importantly, our children.

Now before you dive into all the funny and somewhat shocking quotes in this next section, I have to tell you that my boys are very empa­thetic. This is something that Dave and I have worked very hard to cultivate in our boys.

For example, this past Halloween, Bradley (14) went trick-or-treating with his pack of friends, and one of his friends brought her little brother (who was in third grade) along. Not long after leaving the house to go trick-or-treating, the friend’s little brother got an intense, bloody nose and had to go home.

At the end of the night, after all the kids had gone home, I went to raid some of Bradley’s candy for myself (they had been out for hours, so I thought I would have a ton of candy to choose from). I looked in his bag, and noticed amongst a few empty wrappers, about 10 little candy bars nestled in the bag.

At first, I got upset thinking he had eaten all that candy, then I got mad because there was none for me! I asked Bradley what happened to all his candy, and he said he gave it to his friend to give to her little brother; he felt bad that her brother didn’t get to go trick-or-treating, so Bradley wanted him to have some candy.

My friend…that is a shining example of empathy right there. Honestly, that was one of my most proud mom-moments with him. Bradley has had many empathetic moments now that he is a teenager, and he always amazes me with how communicative and emotionally healthy he is. He is not perfect—he can be a real a-hole teenager sometimes. But the big picture is that he is a great young man, and I believe that much of it stems from the open communication we had when he was younger.

Another example was when Nate was given a special award in his sixth grade class. The stu­dents voted by secret ballot on who they thought was the most kind, generous, open-hearted stu­dent in the class. According to Nate’s teacher, he won by a landslide. And when his teacher presented him with the award, his fellow stu­dents gave him a standing ovation. Nate was mildly humiliated over how much I cried when they gave him the standing ovation, but I didn’t care; that boy is just so sweet and loving, and it makes me feel so much joy that his peers see that as well.

Washington Irving once said, “There is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart.” For most boys, his mother is his first true love. She is the person who he goes to most often for comfort, love, compassion, reas­surance, and empathy. Mothers are often the emotional role models for young boys, and the mother-son relationship is significant.

My boys and I have a close bond, but let me say—sometimes my boys are too honest with me if that is possible. Bradley and Nate were raised in a very open and communicative home, which led them to share their opinions freely on things like when I gained or lost weight, what my hair looked like after going to the beauty salon, how old I looked, and even how weird I dressed.

This also prompted a whole discussion on how to soften a message. For example, recently, Nate asked me what a white lie was. I explained that a white lie was when someone lied to spare someone else’s feelings, like when someone falls and is embarrassed, and you tell them that nobody noticed (when they did). Or, you tell someone their hair looks nice after they get it done, even if you don’t care for it.

But, the exchanges you are about to read happened when the boys were younger and had no filter. Luckily, I have pretty high self-esteem, and I just laughed off the vast majority of these comments. As Bradley and Nate got older, they softened their comments to me. So please keep in mind that my boys do love me as you are reading the next chapter, even though some of the things they said to me when they were younger might make you think otherwise. Ha!

Diane Auten learned the importance of communicating effectively when she earned first her bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in communications studies. With over 20 years of experience, today, Diane is a full-time college instructor, author, and speaker in the area of communication. Diane consults with a broad range of clients seeking what we all want: to be heard and understood! For information about the book, visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07F4HV26H

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