Mary, mother of three boys, has shared the incredible learning she has received from raising her boys.
To set the scene, Mary and her husband have a business which requires a lot of international travel. While this may sound glamorous, to raise three boys while dad is away at least 30% of the time, was a challenge. Mary was confronted with certain behaviours when she was parenting alone compared to when their dad was home. But both dual and single parenting brought its different flavours of challenges in raising the boys.
Below, in her own words Mary talks with great clarity and insight about her experience.
‘When my eldest son was born, he introduced me to becoming a mother. As he grew, he pushed the boundaries in every direction, as did his brothers when they came along, especially when I was parenting on my own. We grew up together really, I learned so much and so did they. I think boys are pretty transparent; I knew what was going on most of the time, they were upfront and obvious most of the time. With parenting, it’s easy to take things personally; on reflection though, I don’t think it is a personal thing. Children are here to explore and test their world and to learn how to be in the world - we just happen to be one wall they have to push against within their learning process. Their early years were always active and busy, but it was the teenage years that brought the biggest challenges, when their exploration included alcohol, fighting, hospital admissions and scrapes with the police. This tested me to the hilt, but I never backed down, I was always ready to respond. We consistently treated the boys as our equals, knowing we were always learning as much as they were. This extended to the children they hung around with. We felt we had a duty of care to all children, no matter if they weren’t our biological children. We believed that parenting can’t be isolated to just our own kids, but for all the kids they hung around with too. There was one incident when the boys and their friends were staying on a sleepover, which was pretty common. On this day, we’d gone to bed and were woken by loud voices from the school next door, they had snuck out and were drinking in the school grounds. We brought them all back to our home and talked to them about consequences. We presented the boys with a question – would you like to tell your parents about what you have done, or would you like us to tell them? They boys were stunned with this, with some of them upset and worried at the trouble they would get into at home. Despite this, they all opted to tell their parents themselves. Not only did we learn a lot that night, all the boys involved learned about consequences and facing up to responsibility for their own actions. The boys were experimenting all the time and repeatedly I talked to them about consequences. I would often explain the consequences of the options available to them and leave them to make their own choices. We always followed through on consequences though, even if it was difficult to do; we knew we had to show them that their behaviour choices always had one consequence or another. You can’t control kids, they have to be able to learn for themselves, so giving them the space to make mistakes and mess-ups is a part of parenting, it’s a part of the growing-up process. One time my middle son told me he wanted to go to stay with a friend. I knew from the urgency and excitement in his voice that he was up to no good. I told him ‘you can go, but if I find out that there has been any drinking involved then there will be hard consequences for you.’ I left it up to him to decide what to do. It stopped him in his tracks and he learned that disappointing his friends was not as bad as having to pay the consequences for messing up. To implement a consequence is what I consider love to be. I wanted them to be safe, to grow up feeling confident and at ease with who they are; that’s more important to me than being popular or letting them get away with behaviours that serve no one. Another time, I had a phone call from my son, he was on his way home and had a bunch of boys with him and wanted to know if they could stay the night. He told me the names of the boys and I said yes to all of them but there was this one lad who had been getting into all sorts recently, damaging property, using drugs and so on. I said no, he could not come and stay. My son pleaded with me saying ‘but he’s here with us now.’ I explained that was not the point, I would not have him in our house. I knew my son had got himself into a predicament and he now had to face up to it. It may sound hard, but I had a standard of behaviours I would accept and those I would not, and this lad had crossed the line with his behaviour, so it was a no-go for me. It would have been tough for the boy, but it was a consequence of what he had been choosing for himself. Three years later this lad came up to me and told me that he’d learned a lot from me saying no that night, that he understood and respected my decision but that he’d changed a lot and wanted to know if I would give him a second chance. It was so touching, I was near to tears, of course I gave him a second chance and yes, he had changed, it was quite incredible really. I always wanted to know what was going on for the boys, what was happening underneath it all. They all had such an innate sensitivity, I learned to give them space with this and learnt from them. My son talked to me about one of his friends, saying that they didn’t trust adults because adults made judgements on kids and their families without knowing the whole story. My son continued on by telling me how parents gossip and judge and had no right talking about things they knew nothing about. Embellishing the facts and leaping to conclusions that are not true gave people really bad reputations that were then very hard to change. This made me stop and think and he was right, this is what parents do all too quickly and is one of the reasons why kids don’t talk - they don’t trust us. Giving my son the freedom to talk about this was huge for him, it helped him express and deal with all the frustration he felt around it and show the protection he felt towards his friends who were going through difficult times. Responsibility, consequence and accountability have been the biggest features in parenting the boys. They had opportunity after opportunity to learn this, and they need the repetition to learn, as we all do. None of us are perfect. One time, my son was picking on one of his friends, making fun of him. When I called him out on it later, he said ‘he doesn’t mind, it was only a joke.’ He didn’t get what the impact of this was until he spent time in another country and was picked on and made fun of himself, the whole time he was there. When he came home, one of the first things he said to me was that he would never pick on anyone ever again, it had been an awful experience to be ridiculed and made to be the butt of someone else’s ‘fun’, he really learned first-hand how bad it was and how much it crushes you. Our boys are so caring, they are not born ‘tough-nuts’ at all, they are as sensitive as the most delicate girl - we need to respect that and treat each other accordingly. We are all very different people and boys are no exception. Each child is different and has unique qualities that make them shine, to support them to learn consequences, responsibility and accountability is to encourage our boys to feel this for themselves. The boys have told me that the most important thing for them in their childhood was the family dinner time. Every day we sat down together to eat was time to talk about what was going on, allowing the space for everyone to share their opinions and learnings. They have and still do value this the most, especially when they had friends over, we still sat and ate together, their friends participating and learning along with the rest of us, for each meal was a learning, an exploration in living together. They have loved it, loving the feeling of acceptance that their voices matter.'