One of the things I’ve learned since having Scott is that no instruction manual is ever going to give the exact explanations of what I should or shouldn’t be doing to make sure he is healthy, happy and well rounded. I have also learned that lots of “experts” of the official and unofficial type will give parents lots of different, and at times contradictory, advice. However, I have always been slightly concerned by the “trust your instincts” school of thought. What if my instincts are wrong? What if I do the wrong thing? I am very much a person who likes to be armed with as much information as possible so that I can deal effectively with a situation. As such, I decided to seek some sort of written guide and after reading some positive reviews for Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys”, I decided to give it a go.
The overall flavour of “Raising Boys” is uplifting. It has lots of anecdotes from parents around the world about their experiences of raising boys. A lot of these stories are interesting and encapsulate the kind of parent I want to be. The key theme seems to be about creating a safe and loving environment for boys and showing them a lot of interest and affection. One of the controversial things that I knew about before I read this book is that Steve Biddulph recommends that boys under three are looked after at home. This was something that I had to reconcile myself with before I got the book. A lot of people reject the book outright on the basis of this thesis, but I decided to accept this accept of the book and acknowledge that leaving Scott to go out to work is a compromise I’ve had to make. It certainly isn’t an easy thing to do and Biddulph may even be right about some of his concerns on this, but I can’t keep beating myself up over it.
Biddulph divides the phases of boyhood into three distinct periods: 0-6 years, 7-13 and 14 – adult. In the first phase, the boy is essentially “his mum’s” in the second phase the Dad is thought to be critical in helping the boy to develop. In the third phase, outside, community wide role models are seen to play an important role. I was encouraged to know that a lot of the things that we do in terms of talking to Scott are along the “right lines.” I also read with some head nodding in agreement about some of the characteristics that are more prevalent in boys. Apparently wrestling and play fighting with adult males is something that seems to come naturally to grown up men and boys alike!
The book as a whole got me thinking a bit about what it means to have a boy. I think I have maybe always considered myself to be more of a “boy’s mum.” I had a feeling when I was pregnant that I was going to have a boy and could somehow imagine what that would be like more easily. Steve Biddulph says that a lot of mums find it a little more daunting when they first have a baby boy as males are more out of their normal realm of understanding. I can’t say that feeling was familiar with me. One of the things I loved about this book is that it celebrates the ways that boys are boys and also supports and encourages mums and dads. He emphasises how much boys love their mums and copy their dads’ behaviour. I remember in the early days when I had a little baby who cried a lot and was up nearly all night the kind of exhausted helplessness made me wonder what this little person was thinking. Did he know I was his mum? Was he somehow angry with me? What was I doing wrong? A bit of a defining moment came when I had Scott at a baby class. He was in his car seat and just woke up from a nap. He opened his eyes and turned to me with the most bright shining eyes. The health visitor remarked: “Look at his bright shining eyes looking at you. He just adores you.” The health visitor maybe noticed my bedraggled state and knew to hit me with some kind words, but it certainly sticks with me. This was just what I needed to hear and Biddulph talks eloquently in his book of this natural unquestioning love boys have for their mums.
The book also makes lots of interesting educational observations. Deferred schooling is recommended for boys as they develop motor skills later than girls and find sitting still difficult. A lot of remarks on the forgetful disorganised thirteen year old boy definitely resonate from a teaching point of view. Biddulph also promotes single sex classes in secondary schools to allow boys and girls to achieve more. I think I may have some sympathy for this. Weirdly I have tended to find teaching boys suits me more than teaching girls, although on homework I would definitely far prefer girls as they are so more straightforward and compliant! Male teachers are seen by Biddulph as really important at this time in shaping boys’ behaviour.
All in all, I think I will dip into the book again over the years. It maybe doesn’t give me the step by step guide I hoped for that conclusively tells me what to do in every difficult situation, but I guess that may be a book that is yet to be written. Maybe one day I will get round to writing the “On Raising My Scott”. Hopefully by that time I will have a lovely well rounded young man.