Is raising a son harder than raising a daughter? Can we raise happier boys? Dr Peter West explores.
Imagine the scenario – Dad’s sitting down after a hard day. His daughter appears. “Daddy -can I ask you something?”
“I want to go to Mary’s place for a sleepover… (sniff) but Mummy says I can’t ….and that’s not fair….”
“All right darling. I’ll talk to Mummy. Please…don’t cry…please..”
Daddy might as well give up. God (or Nature, if you like) gives little girls a special gift- this is how Dad thinks, and this is how I can get him to listen.
But what about dealing with a son?
As they grow older, boys feel they can’t plead and turn on the water-works. It comes out as things like: “I want to borrow the car” and “My mates are going to the footy so I have to go too.”
Mums don’t always understand why it’s all so hard for us.
But we have two males here, and often they are in conflict. They say we lack “feeling” words and are poor communicators. We grunt, yell at each other, slam doors.
You have a son and this hasn’t happened? Well give it time….
Now ask yourself: am I going to be a Dad who’s really present? Or will I be ‘missing in action’ in my son’s life?
WHAT DADS CAN DO TO RAISE HAPPIER BOYS
1. Show your son that you love him.
Give him a hug, a hand on the shoulder; whatever feels right. Males usually trust a man who makes contact. Some young guys do a kind of shoulder hug, pulling me towards them. See what your son likes.
Research says that boys feel adults usually “don’t ask, and don’t listen” .We’re raised as males to DO: “Thomas was a very useful tank engine”. Dad, you need to be ready for your son. As you’re driving home, get your head ready for him: you can talk about your day at work some other time. It won’t always be easy. But turn him away when he most needs you, and you’ll be hearing “bloody Dad- he never listens to me!”.
3. Talk person-to-person.
Find ways to get him talking as you interact while you- rake the lawn together, walk the dog, ride in the car. Your son does chores, yes? That’s an important part of learning to be a man, and you’re helping him as he goes.
4. Read together.
Find a book that means something to him. Let him choose. Take turns in reading. This is precious time. Make sure your partner appreciates that and you’re not interrupted. You are the role model for your son, not some big muscle-bound footballer. Be the dad you always wanted to have yourself. Someone who isn’t afraid to pick up a book.
5. Sport is a huge part of boys’ lives.
Be part of this! Sport helps guys make friends, strengthen friendships and lets guys talk in a fairly free atmosphere. Find a sport you both enjoy. Yes, I hated sport when I was growing up! They made me play boring team games. Later on in life I found things I like doing. My kids loved canoeing with me. Gym can be fun. Young guys are good at parkour. Dad- just be careful you don’t try to show off on that skateboard- you might break a leg or bust an ankle. Many dads have!
6. Give him your time.
Dad- put your life on a page. Where is your relationship with your son? In the middle, or crammed into a corner? Work on it! As we said at the start: fathers and sons is a harder road than dads and daughters. Give it thought and patience. It can be just as rewarding.
7. Be positive.
Too often as kids we were given a pile of garbage: boys can’t do this, you can’t wear pink, blah blah. Don’t be afraid to tell him what he’s done well. Forget all the “don’t’s and “you mustn’t”. Catch him doing something right, and praise him. You do praise him, don’t you? We all love a bit of praise.
8. Love the son you have.
Let other people struggle with their sons. They might be some big-name athlete; but often these shining stars crash and burn. Be the person who believes in your son’s potential. Have faith in what he can do.
9. Be prepared to fail sometimes.
This is one of the most challenging things you will ever do. But you enjoy a challenge, right? And the rewards are fantastic.
About the author
Peter West was a difficult boy who would not keep still, said the nuns at St Declan’s, Penshurst, south of Sydney, Australia. Many years later Peter noticed something odd. In their first two years, we teach children to walk and talk. Then, for the next 16 years, we tell them to sit down and shut up. Peter teaches part-time at the University of Technology, Sydney and gives workshops on educating boys. He wrote Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Sydney, Finch) and What is the Matter with Boys (Choice Books, Sydney).