Q: Help! I'm the mother of two sons, and I feel as though I've been thrust into a strange new world. Are boys always so rough? Sometimes the noise level in our house is more than I can take. Is this normal?
A: I've got both good and bad news for you - it is normal, so you'd better get used to it and learn to cope. One of my colleagues, Dr. Tim Irwin, once shared his observation that women who have not grown up with brothers are often shocked by the sheer physicality of boys - by the sights and sounds and smells they generate. Some, like you, admit they are completely "clueless" in knowing how to deal with them.
One obvious suggestion is to help boys release their excess energy by getting them involved in activities where fighting, laughing, running, tumbling and yelling are acceptable. Soccer, karate, Little League and football are a few possibilities. Moms also need to keep boys' little minds and hands busy. It's in their best interest to do so. My father once said about our energetic toddler, "If you let that kid get bored, you deserve what he's going to do to you." Shirley's stepfather, who has a South Dakota accent, once said after baby-sitting our kids for a week, "Oh, der good kids. You just gotta keep 'em out in da open." Good advice!
Q: You've often said that boys and men are usually not natural communicators. Boy, does that describe the "men" in my life! What can I do to keep everyone talking to one another?
A: Every family needs at least one highly communicative person in the home, and it looks like you are the one. Many boys are inclined to bottle up whatever frustration they are carrying inside. Unless you take the initiative to pull them out, some of them may withdraw within themselves and stay there emotionally. I urge you to do whatever is required to get into your son's world. Keep talking and exploring and teaching. Communication is the goal. Everything depends on it.
In 1991, Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi army invaded the tiny, oil-rich country of Kuwait and subjected its people to terrible brutality. Their troops were poised to attack Saudi Arabia and thereby control half the world's oil supply. President George H. Bush demanded repeatedly that Hussein withdraw his forces, but he stubbornly refused. Thus, on Jan. 17 of that year, Operation Desert Storm was launched. Several hundred thousand allied troops attacked the Iraqi army from land, sea and air. What do you think was the first objective of the battle?
You might expect it to have been Saddam's tanks, or his planes, or his frontline soldiers. Instead, the allies destroyed the Iraqis' communication network. Stealth bombers smashed it with smart bombs and other weapons. In so doing, our forces interfered with the ability of the Iraqi generals to talk to one another. They had no way to coordinate their effort or direct the movements of their army. The war ended a few weeks later.
What happened in Desert Storm has direct relevance for families. When the communicative link between members breaks down, they become disorganized and distant from each other. If husbands and wives stop talking to each other, or if parents and children grow silent, they slip into misunderstanding and resentment. Steel-reinforced barriers are erected, and anger prevails.
For many families, this is the beginning of the end.
Let me urge all mothers to talk regularly to their sons (and, of course, to every other member of the family). It is a skill that can be taught. Work hard at keeping the lines of communication open and clear. Explore what your children and your spouse are thinking and feeling.
Target your boys, especially, because they may be concealing a cauldron of emotion. When you sense a closed spirit developing, don't let another day go by without bringing hidden feelings out in the open. It's the first principle of healthy family life.
- James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.