“..that a boy is, in large part, hard wired to be who he is. We can’t change who he is. We can teach him how to develop who he is with confidence, and toward a direction that contributes to our world.” Michael Gurian
There is a surprising truth to the unique love that girls have for their fathers and that boys hold for their mothers. And it is through witnessing this generational love that my daughters have with their father and I share with my sons, that I have come to appreciate the meaningful differences in how we approach everything from how we communicate to how we think and make life choices. In the early years of my marriage, I often interpreted these core differences as slight, as behaviors that he was doing to me- and all of my futile attempts to make him interact like me, just made our differences worse. Over the years, relating to my sons I have learned to use these differences to build up our relationships.
In preparation for celebrating fathers and the special men in our lives –brothers, sons and husbands, I share a few suggestions that I have come to rely on to initiate wonder and appreciation for the ways that boys will always be boys….
Communicate- more is less
Male and female brains process and communicate information differently.
Many guys are not talkers. Or at least not in the way that many women are. It took me a long time (i.e. decades) to really understand how less is more when it comes to communicating with the men in my life. When I shorten the message and don’t overlay it with too many emotional layers, they can receive and process more effectively. This experiment in communication began around household help which happened less the more I talked about it. When I shifted to the single sentence request, suddenly the boys heard.
This shift in talking less contained another unintended, yet profound benefit which was that the less words I offered, the more space there was for them to talk. Learning to appreciate this and to listen better to my guys was a game changer in all of the family dynamics. Not only did they become more bold and adept in expressing emotions, but they also started seeking me out to problem solve.
Learning to love the fixer
Men want to fix things. Its one of the reasons we love and depend on them in so many ways. But their drive to make it right also often creates another big stumbling block in trying to communicate. Instead of patiently listening to all of the emotional gory details of a story that I sometimes need to tell, their tendency is to want to move quickly into a problem solving mode, even and maybe especially with emotionally complex experiences. For me this was an experience of not feeling heard, and for them a frustration that I wouldn’t listen to how to solve it. As I began to understand that they weren’t deliberately not listening so much as they were invested in relieving my discomfort, I softened. We now have a code word built in- when the women in the family don’t want problem solving – just an open ear which can be a remarkably simple yet effective solution.
On the go
One thing that characterizes boys of all ages are that they are always in motion, even most grown men tend to seek out activities through which they use their bodies to build physical tension-like sports and even now, with on line competitive play where they have the experience of tension and release. Understanding how the innate male impulse towards tension and resolution can make life for everyone more fun for everyone will keep balance not only for the boys in your life but for the whole family. Recognizing the need for movement and encouraging active play actually does make life more playful even for grown up men.
Building more activity into daily routines also speaks to the male proclivity towards instant or at least quick gratification. Combining their desire for quick results with chores or other things that need to get done is a win for everyone. When my boys were growing up, I learned early how to connect one chore to a favorite snack or game. And like Mary Poppins sang “Snap the job’s a game…” Likewise it became clear that access to the deep intimate conversations I wanted were easily paired with sexual intimacy.
Appreciating the way that boys will be boys makes them better men. And makes for a happier woman too. Happy Fathers Day.