Boys will be boys

“A BOY,” I cried incredulously as the ultrasound tech waved the wand over my ever-growing belly. “Are you sure?” But there was no mistaking the fuzzy images on the screen before me. What did I know about boys? I grew up with a mom and sister, surrounded by pink dresses and hair bows, ballet and Barbie dolls. Images of a loud, rambunctious, messy son filled my mind, replacing the images of the sweet, quiet, docile, pigtailed daughter that I would never have.

I was quickly reminded of the classic nursery rhyme: “What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs tails. That’s what little boys are made of.” How was I going to parent a boy when I don’t even like frogs and snails? I assumed I was not cut out to be a mom to boys. I don’t like creepy crawly creatures, don’t appreciate potty humor, and shudder at the thought of camping. But I knew I had to figure it out, to figure out how to let my little boy be a boy despite my feelings of inadequacy of being a mom to the male gender.

But what does “being a little boy” entail anyway? In society’s eyes, boys are often portrayed as little troublemakers and destroyers and aggressors. They can be rude, irresponsible and downright disrespectful, and get away with it because of their gender. They demolish a little girl’s Barbie doll without a second thought, burp their way through dinner, jump on the furniture as if it were a trampoline, and leave a trail of dirt through the house after coming home from a long day of play. And in many homes, too often this behavior is simply overlooked. Parents excuse the atrocities, finding it easier to ignore the behavior than to deal with it. After all, boys will be boys, right?

Maybe that’s not right.

How do we let our little boys be boys without falling into these gender-typed assumptions, which often encourage us to turn a blind eye to such behaviors? Do we continue to set the bar low, condoning the misbehavior, simply to “let boys be boys”?

I think we owe it to our boys to address the deeper issues, make the tough choice to go against society’s definition of what is acceptable for little boy behavior. Why not teach our little boys manners, cleanliness, respect, and responsibility from the beginning? Does this detract in any way from their childhood experience of being a little boy? Surely boys can still climb trees, dig in the dirt, collect bugs, and be rambunctious, yet be taught to say please and thank you to adults, show respect to little girls, and clear the dinner table each night.

So yes, I eventually figured out how to be a mom to boys. I now traipse behind them looking for millipedes and snails, cheer them on when they catch a fish, and try to muster great enthusiasm with every dead frog or rodent we encounter. But I also encourage kind words and behavior, have a low tolerance for disrespect, and try to instill a sense of responsibility at an early age. And I think in the long run, my little boys are allowed to be little boys, while learning from an early age how to be a man.

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About Dr. Kristie Rivers, Bundoo Pediatrician

Dr. Kristie Rivers is an Attending Physician, Assistant Medical Director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program, and Director of Pediatric Medical Education at a children’s hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She cares for hospitalized children and also teaches pediatric residents and medical students.

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