Some Useful Lies About Raising Boys

A professor I knew used to begin one of his classes by saying, “Everything I’m going to tell you is a lie.  But it’s a helpful lie.”  Today’s post contains a very short poem (just a quote, really), and two useful lies about raising boys: 1) you cannot raise boys without weaponry, and 2) you cannot raise boys without meat.

Maybe this counts as one lie with two parts; I’m not sure.  And just to be clear, the weaponry and the meat are for the boys, not you, though weapons would come in handy, particularly anything with a trapping device.  I feel strongly that even if these two things are not true, someone needs to stand up for them because they seem to cause a lot of pressure and anxiety for parents who frankly, have more than enough to go around.  My advice to people who are fighting the battles of guns vs. no guns, and/or meat vs. no meat is this: give up immediately.  There are so many more important things to worry about, such as why there is never any dirty underwear in your sons’ laundry.

As the mother of three sons, I’ve found that it is helpful to think of boys as primates, perhaps one or two evolutionary steps from dinosaurs (the carnivores): they are loud, graceless and cunning, with tiny, survival-oriented brains.  This keeps your expectations low and your reflexes fast.  One of the ways you can tell boys are primitive is by their weapons–they all do the same two things: hit or shoot.  This morning, Gabe, the 4-year old came into the kitchen with an air-powered rocket launcher that is almost as big as he is and announced, “Mama, I’m the boss of you.  Yes indeed!”

At the same time, my 11-year old was doing what he does every morning: microwaving himself two slices of bacon.  Later, as I was giving the 647th “we don’t use guns, we don’t point guns at people” speech of my parenting career, the 11-year old came over and, chewing a piece of bacon, patted me on the shoulder.  His message could not have been clearer: “Good effort, but utterly futile.”  Then he finished his bacon, put on his winter coat, reached into the pocket and pulled out a fork, which seemed to surprise him.  Gabe shot at him with the rocket launcher as he was leaving for school.

Boys also have primitive eating habits (see bacon example above).  They don’t care what they eat as long as it was once alive.  The last time I saw my sons eat a roasted turkey, I felt like I was watching Henry the 8th–they just ripped off the drumsticks and gnawed at them like they had never even heard of forks, let alone carried them around in their coat pockets. 

It’s not like we don’t try.  Trust me when I say that I speak from 14 long years of experience as a recovering vegetarian pacifist politcally correct parent.  For the first year of Noah’s life, we made our own organic vegetable concoctions for him and everyone said what a “good eater” he was–broccoli, tofu, it didn’t matter.  You could puree anything and he would eat it.

Then on his first birthday, almost to the day, he refused, point blank, to touch any of it.  When he was two, my parents, who had been laughing at us the whole time, and threatening to take him to McDonalds when we weren’t looking, asked him what his favorite food was and he said, “meat!”  Then when he started formal daycare and abandoned his lovingly home-made packed lunches for snatching the processed food off of other children’s plates, we gave in.

We still wouldn’t buy him guns, or allow other people to give them to him, so he took to carrying around a spaghetti spoon–one of those spiky things that you scoop spaghetti out of the pot with.  He wouldn’t leave the house without it for years, until we got a little note in his cubby at daycare that said, “Please do not allow Noah to bring his spoon with him anymore.  This afternoon he hit a teacher with it.”

Martin, my husband, is a therapist who spends a lot of time thinking about issues related to men and boys.  Despite being a total pacifist, he recently told me that pretending to shoot guns is developmentally important for boys because it’s about “projecting yourself into the future.”  This is interesting, but to be honest, I don’t really care anymore.  I’m tired.  I’m tired of everything about parenting having to mean something, to stand for something, or to be based on the fear that it means the wrong thing.  I hate when I go to the library to look for books for Gabe and there are a gazillion lesson-oriented books (how to poop, why you shouldn’t lie, teeth are not for biting, etc.) and so few really good stories.  I hate that people tend to be afraid of boys and their energy, even though I am usually afraid of my boys and their energy.

Today’s piece of literary material is one of my favorite quotes about boys: “Every genuine boy is a rebel and an anarch. If he were allowed to develop according to his own instincts, his own inclinations, society would undergo such a radical transformation as to make the adult revolutionary cower and cringe” (John Andrew Holmes).  So as the mother of three boys, I am aligning myself with rebellion and anarchy, such as it is, even though it is part of my job to be the one they rebel against.  But for now, let them eat meat.  I will do my best not to allow what I think they should do or be to block my vision of what they really are.  And I will also do my best to stay out of the way of the rocket launcher.

And FYI for anyone who has never heard or read this, here is one of the most hysterical essays on parenting of all time: “Lamentations of the Father,” by Ian Fraiser.  You can read it here and listen to it here.

16 thoughts on “Some Useful Lies About Raising Boys

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  1. I have been where you are and came to basically the same on conlusion. I have the cutest picture of Eliza even! wearing a long dress, bonnet and holding a gun with a gritty expression on her face. All my kids now 13,15, 17 went through the weapon stage even though we were against it…(I have another pic. of Isaac using a 4 ft. icicle as a gun) I am proud to say they are weapon free now and can use objects for their original intent. They are also all loving, kind and compassionate human beings. Now, regarding your underwear comment…We are still working on that one. This is a bewildering subject. Even at the age my kids are now I still have a morning mantra…(and at one time a checklist on their bedroom doors)


    Good luck with that one Leslie!


  2. As a boy at the age of your boys I never wore fresh underwear every day. And my mother would complain if I did.
    There was no washing machine, water had to be cooked on the oven in most of the households.
    And – we were healthy and strong as your boys are nowadays.
    It’s a question of progress, but is it really an improvement?


  3. One of my two sons has been a self-declared vegetarian since he was 7. What he gains by being kind to animals is totally negated when you find yourself at the wrong end of his Nerf gun.

    Thankfully, he discovered fencing — constructive weaponry!


  4. I was at a birthday party for my nephew. Kyle was about 3. My brother had on some movie or TV program that was a bit violent and I made a point of taking Kyle out of the room because I didn’t want him to be exposed to the violence. I turned my back for a minute and the knucklehead came out into the living room where my family was dressed in full armor holding a couple guns! It was at that point I surrendered to the fact that boys will be boys.

    LOVE the picture!!!


  5. Yikes that toy gun really is as big as the kid ! My newly turned 5 year old little man isn’t into guns or swords at all so far, being so far too busy being entertained by anything with wheels. (he’s besotted with cars) However he is the biggest carnivore in the family and adores meat. He much rather have liverworst on his sandwich than chocolate spread, a fact that is totally beyond the comprehension of his enormously sweet toothed older sister. Good luck with the weapons issue… hopefully it will fade as music and other stuff become more interesting.


  6. I haven’t dealt with the weapon-experience yet – but Zoey did go through a stage a few months back where all she’d do with her babydolls is bang them on their heads (and she wasn’t copying me, I swear I’ve never done that to her!).


  7. Yes, I must admit I did not allow my sons to play with weapons or engage in fighting when they were young! We tried to “shield them from the violence” until one day we had a very special visitor. Do you remember the Super Soakers???? One day Uncle Bill decided to come down for a weekend visit. He brought with him the two largest water guns that he could find. It took ten minutes to fill these guns with water and 10 seconds to unload them on Uncle Bill! I never knew that he could run so fast! …. He was a very tired man when he left us that day! So, when a priest shows up at your door with two water guns how do you tell your kids they cannot have a gun????
    On a more serious note, I enjoyed many of your thoughts on today’s piece. Since my guys are gone I have lots of time to think about the “What Ifs” now. I sit and wonder if the decisions that we made were the right ones. I know now that it was normal to feel the frustration on a daily basis. I wish that I was able to notice the “AHA” moments in the present instead of the past. When all is said and done, I know that it was right to set the parameters and enforce the rules. This has allowed them to move on and live their lives. I also feel good knowing that my guys do have good memories of time spent with us. Both are quick to point out our mistakes but that is ok. My time to be quiet and bite my tongue is now here. It is time for me to move on as well:)))) Thanks for another great piece! Loved it


    1. I love reading your comments, Marilyn, and I appreciate the positive feedback so much. It is SO funny that it was Fr. Bill who introduced J & J to water guns–hysterical!


  8. Thank God. Someone with some sense, gained the hard way.

    Boys play with guns. They like it. It’s universal and doesn’t mean they’ll end up murderous snipers. Shame on the parents who force their hyper-intellectual hippie nonsense on 7-year-old boys.

    “You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie!”


  9. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading it and it resonated with a lot from my experience as a parent. When my boys were younger, a wise child care director told me that weapons were one of the many ways that children ‘play’ with power and learn how to wield it responsibly. Her insight made such a difference for me.


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