One thing that my ex and I always had in common was a desire to have kids. Lots of kids. And for a variety of reasons — none of them particularly scientific — we always expected that we would end up having girls. Lots of girls.
So, of course, we ended up with boys. Lots of boys.
Not too long ago, on the occasion of our oldest’s birthday, Penny mentioned her observation that our first-born is already “more than halfway out the door.”
The notion caught me off guard. Wait! Wait a cotton-picking minute!
Back in the beginning, back when my ex was my fiance and our lives before us were filled with promise and hope and opportunities and boundless possibilities (ie, you know, before reality and all that), we had all kinds of ideas of things we wanted to teach our daughters. Such as: it’s okay to be smart. It’s okay to pursue your interests, regardless of how society has typically categorized them. It’s okay to have sex if you want to, and to not, if you don’t. It’s okay to be strong. And it’s also okay to be feminine. We wanted our girls to be as fluent in the languages of math and science and literature and pop culture and history and love and philosophy and self-respect and respect for others, as deeply as their talents would allow. Penny and I had both, in our separate experiences, seen how pre-conceived gender roles (and sexual repression and so many other issues, including disrespect and incivility, the growing celebration of ignorance in our country, etc.) can harm both individuals and society as a whole.
And then we had boys, and that was fine, too. Boys, like girls, are awesome.
And I always knew, in the back of my mind, that to honor what we had in mind if we had raised girls, we would need to have a corresponding set of guiding values for raising our boys. In general, I think we’ve been doing okay. We’ve nurtured our boys’ natural love for science and math and stories and history and physical activity and music and movies and so on. We’ve worked on dignity and respect and politeness and kindness and “playing well with others.” They’ve been introduced to religion and philosophy, and we’re starting to get into politics as well. We also expect, one of these days, to deal with more advanced concepts, like closing the @#$%! door and picking up the @#$%! laundry off the bathroom floor. And peeing *into* the toilet instead of all over the floor. I imagine that girls grasp that last concept much earlier than boys, for reasons that have nothing to do with brain development.
As they get older, gender roles are also starting to become a more relevant topic, as well as sexuality, romantic relationships, and picking appropriate nursing homes for their aging and decrepit parents.
I was making dinner for the boys the other day when one of them asked to help. Making dinner is a little different experience from whipping up a box of prepared brownie mix, where all the boys really do is help stir and then fight over the whisk or spoon when it’s done. And it occurred to me… there are a lot of specific things I want my kids to know by the time they leave the house. Beyond the generalities of having “a love of learning” and “playing well with others.”
With Penny’s remark about how we’ve already gone past the half-way point as far as our oldest is concerned, it’s time to get serious.
So, it’s time for me to flesh out a list of “things I want to teach my children (or make sure they learn) by the time they leave the nest.” And I’m asking you, dear reader, to let me know what’s missing from the list.
Teach Your Children Well:
Critical Thinking — using logic and assessing evidence to arrive at good decisions
Creative Problem Solving — adapting to change and making the best of it!
The Scientific Method
Character and Relationships:
Respect for yourself
Respect for others
Right and wrong
Being a good partner (business, romantic, creative collaborator) and, on a related note, being a good friend
Understanding different kinds of relationships and roles, and how they can change
Principles (integrity, dignity, kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty, self-confidence, humility)
Facing tough choices
Having a sense of humor
Balancing taking risks with playing it safe (or, “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”)
The basic academic subjects (math, science, history, literature, language, social sciences)
Popular culture (a basic familiarity with the classics as well as contemporary movies, music, dance, literature, video games, spectator sports)
Creative arts (play an instrument, compose a song, write a poem, act, orate, paint, photograph, design a page layout, sing, dance, draw, animate, script, cook)
Religion, Philosophy, Spirituality, and Skepticism — in theory and in practice
Government — in theory and in practice
Special topics: racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry — recognizing and avoiding/combating
Technology and tools
Animals — identifying, plus general care and feeding
Plants — identifying, plus general care and cultivating
How to study / how to learn the answer to an academic question
Survival skills (swimming, first aid, CPR, starting a fire, tying knots, building a shelter, mountaineering, martial arts, jump starting a car)
How to cook at least five different meals
How to perform at least one magic trick
How to drive (stick and automatic)
How to pick locks
How to negotiate
How to compromise… up to a point
How to navigate
How to recognize, handle, and use weapons (also, as appropriate, how to avoid/defend against same)
Hunter safety — even if my kids never hunt, this is a must
How to use the internet safely
How confidence schemes work, and how to avoid them
How to build a book case
How to write a computer program
How to play card games
How to pick what wine goes with dinner
How to make an elevator pitch
How to deliver a speech
How to prepare for a job interview
How to wash dishes. And laundry. And perform all those other chores that make for a more pleasant home.
How to win with grace
How to lose with dignity
Wow. That’s a long list. And I know I’m leaving a lot of things off of this list by sheer oversight. It’s also not overly specific. Just as I was beginning to prepare this post, a friend and fellow blogger posted to her site some thoughts about how boys need to be raised to treat girls/women with respect. Her points are dead-on. But if I were to get to that level of detail on every point on my list, I’d be typing for days. Still, I’d like to hear what you think. Be as specific or general as you like. I’m sure I’ve left some things off because I just took them for granted (“don’t eat the yellow snow”). But others I may have left off the list either because I simply forgot to mention them, or perhaps hadn’t even considered them. Maybe you think I should take something off the list?
My ultimate goal is to give my boys the tools they will need to be good men. What are your thoughts?