Raising Pre-Teen boys can be hard enough, but the challenges of military life complicate things even more. Andrea is back this week with her second installment of Raising Young Men Amid Military life.
Oh Boy! Raising Young Men Amid Military Life
The Pre-Teen Years
This is part two of a four-part blog series about being a mom of boys amid military life. Today we’re talking about the pre-teen years–eventful ones in our home given strong personalities, stronger hormones, dad’s deployment(s), and my tendency to forget the strength of my God.
Raising young men is always an adventure, and military life adds complexity and opportunity. As I said in week one I write from a position of trusting God to redeem my many parenting mistakes. And I’m sharing “Lessons Learned” hoping to encourage you in your high calling.
My husband Todd was gone a lot when the boys were little, either training or deployed, and I too often parented in anger. I will talk about this in depth next week, but when my ONLY goal for the day was to “love well” (Matthew 22:37-39) I would inevitably see God’s faithfulness in our family interactions and in fulfilling practical responsibilities.
First, pre-teen boys are actually preteen men–important distinction in loving them well.
I do well when I make it my goal to respond to them with gentleness, respect and dignity.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Second, pre-teen men need us to stop, look and listen to them.
Jesus models this dynamic again and again in the Gospels where it says he 1) saw people 2) had compassion on them and 3) acted. See Matthew 14:14 or Mark 6:34 as examples. It was very tempting for me to be what I call an “uh huh” parent–too distracted or self-absorbed to really see our sons, feel for them, and respond appropriately with interest, instruction or whatever was needed at the moment. As one of our pastors said about the young adult years, “Just keep them talking” and this requires our attention!
Here are a few things God used during our boys’ preteen years to mature them and keep us knitted together despite our struggles:
- Activities & Competitions
- Food Fun & Family Mealtimes
- Fur & Feathers
- Meaningful Work
- True Argumentation
ACTIVITIES AND COMPETITIONS
Preteen boys typically have lots of competitive energy. And military installations are often good about sponsoring events such as cooking classes, lego-building, Nerf wars, fun runs and more.Take advantage of these morale opportunities to build strong bodies and minds through healthy competition and creative expression.
FOOD FUN & FAMILY MEALTIMES
Keeping young men fed can take a lot of work and money. One fun way we involved our boys in shopping and cooking on a budget was having weekend food competitions. Each child would get a certain amount of money (say $15) and have to make a main dish which would then be judged on appearance, taste, and creativity. The winner would hold the reigning title and then, with three boys, we would have three meals to eat from that week.
Family mealtimes are also a big deal. Studies show that families who intentionally eat together perform better in every way. It was very tempting when dad was away for everyone to simply graze and in one sense the boys really lost the regular interaction of two parents and not just one. I highly encourage you to find at least one meal a day where you turn off the devices and gather around the table and talk, even if you’re all sharing a box of cereal!
FUR & FEATHERS
I’ll just say it right up front and hope you keep reading. We have pet rats. My husband calls it “the most unexpected midlife crisis ever” and here’s how it started:
Our youngest of three kept asking for a bearded dragon, a fairly easy “yes” because they don’t take up much space, are low maintenance, and build a sense of responsibility. But “beardies” eat crickets, which means frequent trips to the pet store. And while at the pet store you fall in love with all the other animals riding around on employee shoulders. If you don’t believe me, gather the fam and watch “Amazing Rat Tricks” on YouTube–it’s four minutes of solid entertainment and education. But here’s the best part: Anytime we say to our guys, “I’m getting the ratties out to play,” they are right in the room with us…even into their teens and twenties! These little critters not only bring us together, but bring out our sons’ protective and caretaking natures. One of our preteen boys even entered them in the 4H “pocket pet” competitions.
If indoor pets are not your thing, consider setting up outside bird feeders and getting your boys into bird watching at home or on hikes. The intricacy of God’s creativity is unmistakable in these feathered creatures and vary with every military assignment!
Given minimum wage laws and the urbanization of America, it can take extra work on your part to find meaningful work for your young men. But it’s oh-so-worth-it! My advice is start early including your youngest children in the work of running your home so it’s not a shock to their systems when asked to help out later. You can also play the “Yes, Mommy” and “Yes, Daddy” game with young children, like Simon Says, training them to know and respond to your voice. While young children can load and unload the dishwasher, fold washcloths, pull weeds and more, the sky is almost the limit with preteen boys and ours enjoyed anything involving tools!
“Gigs” are the new thing in the workplace today, and gig work is perfect for preteens! Gigs are essentially temporary jobs or freelance work. Lawn mowing is a gig. Car detailing is a gig. So is dog walking, pet sitting, photo shoots, video production, and cleaning rental homes. It’s also a great experience for your preteen to register as a small-business owner in your state.
God created music for (among other things) worship, gladdening the hearts of his people, and preserving story. Music is also a great way to touch the hearts of our young men for eternity and bring us together as families! And by music I don’t mean hours of forced piano lessons and painful piano practice. Music can mean singing, playing, listening, creating, performing, soundtracking, and more.
Interestingly, studies show most people develop musical taste between ages 13-16!
Music is part of God’s intention for our lives. In Nehemiah, for example, we see the “singers” set apart as a professional community. And the Bible lists many, many types of music instruments including string instruments, wind instruments, percussion instruments, horns, bells and more! I always considered inexpensive and portable harmonicas, recorders (basic flutes), keyboards, and ukuleles to be essentials in our home and found our preteens would tinker on them daily, (some more seriously than others) and give us a mutual connection.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens![a]
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 150:1-6 ESV
TRUE ARGUMENTATION–A PREEMPTIVE STRATEGY
As preteen brains grow, they become capable of increasing independence of thought and, in fact, need to become their own person before God and man. Don’t fight this transition. Independence of thought can feel like differences and differences can feel like disrespect but, viewed rightly, it’s a beautiful thing to see these young minds develop and expand..
True argumentation is not the same as being argumentative…it’s validating truth.
In my experience, young men this age need real-world outlets for their developing logic. In fact, it’s twelve year old Jesus that we see in Luke 2 “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” The Bible tells us at this time that “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV).
Discussing the news, i.e. the choices people make in light of their circumstances, is a great place to compare and contrast the world’s ethics and activity with the Bible’s instructions. It’s like a preemptive strategy that keeps argumentation from becoming personal and petty. (Keeping preteen men well fed is another preemptive strategy that helped reduce “hangry” argumentation in our home). 🙂
REJOICE IN UPRISINGS
So far we’ve talked a lot about preemptive strategies for preteen development. Let’s take a final minute and talk about responding well ourselves when emotions flare or disagreements arise.
Raising men is a privilege, and one that requires energy, effort, intention and responsiveness. A wise mentor, Teri Maxwell, once encouraged me about kids acting up. She said to rejoice when correction is needed (!) because God is now revealing to me what is already in their hearts. Once aware, we can respond, teach, train, and pray with insight!
Like Jesus, my prayer for your young men and mine is that they increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9 ESV