“Boys are more difficult when they are younger and get easier. Girls are easier when younger and get more difficult.”
“Boys relationships with their friends are clearer. They get angry and then get over it.”
As the mother of a son, I’ve heard these sentiments before. Said them to other mothers, even. But, truth be told, as my son has gotten older, I’ve started to doubt the veracity of the “boys are easier” wives tale. Not that my son is difficult — far from it — but boys are much more complicated than they would have us believe.
Which is why I was thrilled when Rosalind Wiseman’s Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-room Tests, Girlfriends and the New Rules of Boy World (Harmony) landed on my desk.
Wiseman, who lives in D.C. and is the author of the best-selling tome on girls, Queen Bees & Wannabes that inspired the movie Mean Girls, is the mother of three sons. Masterminds is the result of years of research aided by 160 boys contributing thoughts and feedback to her writing. She begins with the following:
1. Boys are a lot smarter than most people realize.
2. Boys can have really complicated problems with their friends and families.
3. Boys usually say, “I’m fine, don’t worry about it,” when they’re really feeling the complete opposite.
4. Some boys love death and destruction. This doesn’t mean they’re crazy or mean.
5. Some boys don’t love death and destruction. This doesn’t mean they’re weak or weird.
I asked her what we’re missing. Why was this book needed? “Being an educator and working with boys, I understood that we need to do a better job of giving boys advice that was reflective of their experience, that would make sense to them. We needed a better understanding of them,” she explained.
And that’s exactly what this book provides. It’s not a “how-to parent boys” but rather an “everything your son wished you understood but doesn’t really want to tell you” kind of book. Trust me, no matter how perfect a parent you think you may be (I’m including myself here), this is a must read.
We so quickly jump on media portrayals of a woman’s body — of the damage done by a Barbie Doll. When Wiseman gives us photos of the G.I. Joes of our childhood compared to the hypermuscled action figures of today, I wonder what messages these toys send to our little boys. And she asks, “Why doesn’t Batman ever smile?”
She explains the complicated society of boys — defining the hierarchy of the Mastermind and his minions (including the Bouncer, Entertainer, Punching Bag, Fly and Champion to name a few) — and diagramming the traits that put boys in societally mandated “Act-Like-a-Man Box” and which traits (like following rules, being poor or trying too hard) will put a boy on the outside.
The rules are detailed. It’s not enough to play a sport; your son must play the correct sport. And if the Mastermind makes a joke, even at a friend’s expense, all laugh.
And most likely, parents assume everything is fine, because that’s what our sons tell us.
“What is clear,” said Wiseman, who has just completed the first week of her national book tour, is “in order to have conversations when there is a problem, you have to have the foundation first so that your son knows it’s okay to talk to you. Boys are making a choice about who they talk to when they have a problem.”
“If we freak out and micromanage and panic, the boys are not going to talk to us,” she continued. “It’s not that boys are emotionally disengaged, but rather think ‘Why would I want to talk about this with you?’ ”
Don’t connect quantity with quality. Simply because a lot of words come out of a girl’s mouth doesn’t mean they are better communicators or even more emotionally engaged.
“One of the foundations is not interrogating your kids when you pick them up,” she advised. Let him get in the car and then just say “Hi, what’s up?’ not “How was your day?”
She helps us understand this by reversing roles. Imagine you’ve just walked in the door from a long day at work. Your son asks, “How was your day? Who did you work with? Did you answer all of your emails? After dinner, do you think you should go back and answer some more? What did your co-workers think about you today? Did anyone say anything?”
And, she says, from one Jewish mom to another, when your son does talk to you, keep it brief. “You don’t need to spend hours and hours to talk about it. This is important to Jewish mothers everywhere — two minutes — but those two minutes are important.”
She wants us to know that it’s never to late to form a relationship with our son, but we shouldn’t let our fear of losing our relationship with our son be a reason to let him get away with rude behavior. “Moms need to be ethical authority figures for their sons,” she emphasized. “Our sons can love us and care for us, but they need to respect us.” She hears too often from boys who love but don’t respect their mothers. But, she cautions, mothers need to earn the respect on their own and not have their husbands or another man do it for them.
Masterminds & Wingmen is on sale now. She is speaking locally on Nov. 7 at the Family Online Safety Institute.