Mother of a Man-Child

My life with teenage boys

Mother of a man-child: It’s a mans’ world May 28, 2010

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I am sure many of you have read parenting books over the years.  Let’s face it, we start buying up the expert literature when our precious first-born is but a mere dot, and we continue to buy them into their teenage years.  Once you get past the baby stage, the books actually get gender specific.  So we started with “Raising Boys” by Steve Biddulph about bringing up boys aged 5-12 years, and then “The White Water Rafting Years” (A common sense guide to parenting teenagers) by Ian Grant & John Cowan.  My sister-in-law gave me this book when the boys were 11 years old and said read it immediately so you appreciate how easy they are at that age – in other words just wait until they are teenagers!

My latest read is “He’ll be OK” by Celia Lashlie.  As it explains on the cover it’s a book about “Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men”.  I read it about a year ago and I must admit as a mother of teenage boys I found it incredibly enlightening and insightful – and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own role versus that of my husband, specifically that I really needed to take a back seat and he really needed to take a forward one.  Or as the author so aptly describes it, Mum needs to get off the bridge of adolescence, and Dad needs to get on it.

This was borne out on a holiday last year on the Gold Coast when we finally did the theme parks.  We all had fantastic fun, with the boys off on their own to do all the scariest rides (including hideous water funnel things) and my daughter delighted with the younger kids rides, and water play areas etc.  All the boys were interested in was getting their father onto the rides with them.  They didn’t once ask me if I would do one with them, and nor did I offer.  But they nagged my husband for two days, until finally he capitulated (I actually think he was slightly terrified).   I’m sure their key motivation was having added ballast on the rides, so they got even more “air”, but it was most definitely a bloke thing.  They were actually impressed for one nano-second when I explained I had done the Big Drop and the Blue Ringed Octopus water slide at approx. 80 kmh, but  really it was all about Dad.  The differences between the sexes (in their eyes) and our role was really evident to me on that trip.

There’s a great analogy that the author of “He’ll be OK” uses in her book to describe the role of parents in setting  boundaries.  She suggests that in years 7 & 8 when boys are typically focussed on having fun and learning, ideally both at the same time, the metaphorical boundary needs to be very evident, and have a small electric current running through it, which they will test and of course discover is real.

By year 9, when you see evidence of the “man-child” species on mass, the boundary no longer has a small electric current, but now requires that we run the national grid through it!!!  I absolutely love this analogy, perhaps because I already have one “man-child” (yes I am convinced he’s at least 12 months advanced in this regard) and I am hell-bent on helping him stay safe and moderating his social life (or in his eyes severely cramping his lifestyle), and at the very least I can use the book to rationalise my own behaviour if need be.  🙂


Mother of a man-child: Etiquette – a thing of the past? May 22, 2010

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It was interesting to see the recent article about the rise of “finishing school” classes for modern-day kids.  Apparently some of them are so lacking in old-fashioned manners they are being taught it by professionals.  One would hope that we can impart such lessons to our own children by example, but alas it may be I need to send my boys to finishing school also.

Take for example their approach to present giving.  My boys have been brought up always taking a birthday present with them when they went to parties as youngsters.  But suddenly as teenagers, all memory of this simple but meaningful tradition seems to have been erased.  On some occasions, I have enquired about whether a present is appropriate and been told CASH is the preferred choice, as the birthday girl/boy is looking forward to having $1500 cash to spend after their party (meanwhile their parents have probably spent $5000 to throw the party).  Call me old-fashioned but I am not a fan of this approach.

The alternative is that they/we will buy a present (normally after some initial prompting).  One evening Man-Child had indeed organised to purchase a very nice bracelet for a friend.  As we walked out the door I asked where it was – I kid you not he had it on his wrist!!!!  I explained that it might be a little nicer if it was gift wrapped, and a personal card was written to his friend for the occasion.  That way it would look like the thoughtful present that it was, rather than some second-hand bauble he’d found lying around.

The etiquette of gift giving extends to weekends away with friends.  I am a reflection of my parents, and was brought up to believe that you should never go empty-handed when you stay with another family.  So I will always ensure my boys take some food, either snacks/drinks for the kids, or maybe some chocolates for the parents.  Even better if it’s something home-made, but in this day and age I think we’re all more forgiving.   I was therefore mortified one day to see Man-Child arrive home with the soft drink and chips I had provided to him, half-eaten/drunk and still in his bag.  When I asked why the host hadn’t been given them, he looked at me blankly.  It had not even occurred to him to present them to his host – he just assumed it was for the boys to enjoy as they saw fit.  You will be pleased to know we have now completed the lesson on gift giving,  so hopefully my boys will be a little wiser in future.


Mother of a man-child: The art of discipline May 16, 2010

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One of the key challenges for parents of a man-child, or two in our case, who are now bigger than me and almost as tall as their father, is how to discipline them.  When once a good whack might have served to deliver the required response (OMG – what sort of parent am I?), it’s a little difficult now.

So we have found other means, that seem to satisfy the fury of a parent, and rile Man-Child I and Man-Child II sufficiently to make them realise we are 1) very angry, and 2) not going to take it any more.  Ooh, them’s fighting words aren’t they!

For your general amusement, and perhaps inspiration, here is a handy list of disciplinary actions we have taken on occasion:

  • Slam laptop shut and whisk it away mid Facebook chat or update (and don’t return it for the rest of the night)
  • Eject PS3 game without any warning, or turn it off at the powerpoint
  • Confiscate the PS3 games or laptops for a week – that WILL hurt them, trust me
  • Disconnect the cables from the sound system, thereby rendering it useless but reducing the doof doof noise substantially
  • Throw them out the front door, or back door, in whatever they’re wearing (I don’t care if it’s boxers on a 5 degree night!)
  • Send them to their rooms, or to bed – yep, early night, don’t care what time it is
  • Tell them they’re grounded for a month, or 2 months, or even a year (yep, you’re sure to follow through with that one)
  • Cancel their pocket money for the same period of time (again, yep highly likely to follow through)

Okay, so we’re not perfect, far from it.  But it does feel good when you slam that computer shut.  Any other thoughts or successful tactics welcome.


Mother of a man-child: Nurture vs Nature May 9, 2010

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The role of nature versus nurture is a well researched and documented topic, borne out most especially amongst the twin population – the perfect case study if you like.  You need look no further than my own teenage twin boys to see that nature very much plays a part in their different personalities and behaviour.

My boys differ quite significantly, not just in looks but in personality traits – after all they are non-identical twins.  One is an extreme extrovert (hence his incessant appetite for social activities) and one is more introverted, and quite content with his own company.  They are also different in appearance, one having a more solid build as per the fraternal line and one more wiry as per the maternal line, coupled with different eye colour, skin tone etc.  Many people would probably be surprised to learn they are brothers let alone twins.

From day one their personality differences were apparent.  Man-Child was a typical high-demand  baby, desperate for attention and to be the first on the breast (once we’d got past tandem feeding – yikes!).  Teen-Child was far more patient and placid, happy to play second fiddle to his impatient sibling.  As developing toddlers, Man-Child seemed to lead the way in everything, and sure enough about one month later Teen-Child would follow.   Now as teenagers I think Man-Child was probably about six months ahead of Teen-Child in developmental terms as they entered adolescence.

In terms of how these differences manifest themselves in teenage lives, here’s a classic example of their Saturday afternoon activities about a year ago (just going on 13 years old).  Man-Child was off at the cinema with a couple of mates and some girls to see a movie.   Trammed down there, saw the flick, probably went to Maccas and generally “hung” with the girls, testosterone no doubt surging through his veins.  Teen-Child meanwhile was off at a mate’s place.  When I casually enquired how he had filled his afternoon he told me that he and his friend had spent their time hiding in the piles of autumn leaves on the footpath, and jumping out of them to startle innocent passers-by!!!!  Apart from a great example of the role of nature over nurture in determining my twins behaviour, I was actually delighted that my early teenager could still have such simple and innocent fun (thank God they didn’t give any elderly people a heart attack)!  I am confident that Man-Child wouldn’t do this sort of thing in a million years, then or now.  I think he’s just to “cool” (in his own mind) to do something like that, sadly.

Wind the clock forward a year, and both of my “man-childs” are now actively social, out and about constantly each weekend with friends (of both sexes of course).  The only thing they seem to come home for is to change their clothes and refuel.  And whilst their personalities remain quite different, their general belligerence and teenage attitude is actually very similar (much to the angst of their parents)!!