For this month’s series, Andrea shares with us some lessons she learned while raising young men amid military life. This week’s post focuses on the younger years. Don’t miss her hacks for proactive and reactive parenting!
Oh Boy! Raising Young Men Amid Military Life
The Younger Years
by Andrea Plotner
This is a four-part blog series about being a mom of boys amid military life. Our young men are now 23, 19, and 16 and my husband retired eight years ago after twenty one years of service. We also had an infant daughter who died of anencephaly and is buried at Ft. Riley. I’ll share more about her life in week four.
My parenting highs during our military years were very high and my lows very low. I was an awesome proactive parent (creative, intentional, fun) yet struggled to react well, becoming angry, fearful, anxious, inconsistent and controlling in times of stress (which were all too frequent). When I am tempted with regret regarding my parenting–particularly my anger (more on this in week three)–I meditate on the truths of 2 Corinthians 7:10 and Romans 8:28.
I found raising young men amid military life equal parts adventure and challenge.
An adventure story: Arriving at one new assignment, the housing office handed us two sets of house keys and told us to pick (that almost never happens, I know). We never made it to the second house because the street of the first was swarming with little boys brandishing light sabers.
A challenge story: During one deployment, our oldest son was struggling a lot, probably because I was struggling, too. One kind friend, recently retired, offered to take him running to help him burn off excess energy and emotions. Game changer, and we discovered he was fast!
If I had to narrow down to ONE PIECE OF BOY-MOM ADVICE, I’d say this:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39 NIV
I chose these words of Jesus for two reasons. First, because my children are among my closest neighbors. And second because most of my parenting malfunctions are due to selfishness, not just foolishness. When Jesus said these words, he was repeating an Old Testament prayer known as the Shema. Shema means “Hear, O Israel” and was another way of God saying, “Listen up, people!” We want our kids to listen–and really hear us–when we give life-giving instruction, and we want to be people of faith, and parents of faith, who set this example.
Since I said proactive parenting came easier than reactive, here are a few lessons learned in both arenas:
Proactive Boy-Mom Hacks for the Younger Years
Read Early, Read Often and Read Aloud
Especially the Bible! Ask your young men whether the characters you’re reading about made good or bad choices and why. Even if you don’t like reading or don’t think of yourself as a good reader, your boys will cherish hearing your voice and struggling together. I can still hear my mom’s voice reading The Three Little Pigs – such a sweet memory. And Charlotte’s Web got a lot of belly laughs out of our boys as well.
Let Your Boys Get Dirty
We used to give the boys shovels, let them dig holes in the backyard, and then let them fill the holes up with water and play. Funny story, but at one military base all the parents and kids would trickle out to the community park around 3 p.m. each day. One girl mom only brought her daughter out every other day because she didn’t want to bathe her that often. I wondered how they filled all their time because parks & baths helped keep our little guys busy, out of mischief, and away from screens!
Not all our boys loved toy cars, but they all loved costumes (and Legos). I think it was a solid four-year stretch for each of them with plastic swords stuck into their waistbands.
Channel That Energy
Little boys have a lot of energy to be expended in both work and play. It’s a lot of work to train children to work but we have the privilege of shaping our boys attitudes and abilities to serve…and earlier is easier! Two favorite read-aloud book series that inspire work are Created for Work by Bob Schulz (devotional) and Little Britches by Ralph Moody (fiction). After hard work comes hard play. Yesterday I saw little guys on mountain bikes at the pump track in town just racing their hearts out with the biggest smiles of satisfaction on their faces. Look for opportunities to burn energy in wholesome ways that build skills and confidence.
Food & Sleep Matter
Last but not least proactive tip for boys of any age that I’ll call a preemptive strike: Keep your boys well fed and well rested. This way, everyone feels the love.
Reactive Boy-Mom Hacks for the Younger Years
- Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19b)
- Consult God in Tense Moments. God tells us to hear and do his will (James 1:22) and that his sheep know his voice (John 10:27). Who better to consult than the Good Shepherd as we shepherd our sons? We can consult him both in in-the-moment prayer and by saturating ourselves in His Word so that we better know His ways.
- Respond with Consistency and Love. Consistency and love provide our children the stability they need, especially in the midst of military life which varies a lot. Besides which God responds to us with consistency and love, always wanting discipline to build us up, not tear us down. Consistency also leads to better overall behavior.
- Confess and Change Direction. If you sin in parenting, confess it to God and apologize to your child, thus righting the relationships. But don’t stop there! Be diligent to do all it takes to turn from patterns of wrongdoing for the good of you and your children (now and into their future) and for God’s glory.
Oh boy! So much more to say, but I’ll save it for weeks two, three, and four. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences on the Planting Roots pages and keep this conversation going. May God bless you, your family and your children as you sacrificially serve our country and honor God in the midst of military life. Thank you and your family for all you do.
For more tips on parenting, visit our Planting Roots Parenting Resources page.