You know you’re a fully fledged Mother of Boys when you find yourself alone at home on a Friday night – your kids are in bed, your husband’s out – you ignore the mind-improving book on the arm of the chair, you flick on the TV, scroll past the worthy documentaries, the hospital dramas and reality soaps, then completely voluntarily choose to watch the rugby … the whole game, including the captains’ interviews. The following day you’re able to offer useful commentary on the match along with predictions for your team’s overall chances for the season, as well as an informed opinion on who’s on fire and who has to go.
It happens – a lot more than you’d think. And it’s happened to me.
Like most mothers of boys I started with very little idea of what was ahead. I was just a mother of two beautiful children, determined to help my sons achieve their potential with as few trips to Accident and Emergency as possible, and preferably without stockpiling an arsenal of plastic weapons. But somewhere along the way things changed. Not them. Me.
The ‘no guns’ policy lasted a couple of years – until I realized that the boys were improvising with sharp sticks and feeding their addiction at other people’s houses. I gave in to the inevitable and added a couple of water pistols to the toy box. And before you accuse me of being too quick to relinquish the moral high ground – a note of caution: A friend of mine held out longer on the ‘no guns’ rule. But one day, son number four came into the kitchen asking for a glass of water for his older brother. She went to investigate what was making the boys so thirsty and found them making weapons with scrap wood and a bench saw. Two things come out this. Bench saws should be kept well away from children and most boys really, really like guns. As a mother of boys that’s something you have to manage.
Mothers of boys have a whole host of things to endure that mothers of girls might avoid completely – the constant noise, endless fighting, comedy flatulence and an aversion to basic hygiene. The difference between girls and boys is a well-worn topic. But what does this mean for mothers?
Once a year mothers of boys gather in Brisbane for a lunch to celebrate their ‘special’ status. It’s a fund raiser and an awareness raiser. Over the years, speakers have highlighted some of the key issues that young men face – bullying and road accidents are a couple that come to mind. But if you do a pink wash, you’re not welcome. This is just a gathering of mothers of boys. A founding member was famously booted off the committee when (after three sons) she had a girl. At first I thought this rather excessive. But the older my sons get, the more I realise how different it is – just having sons. No one in my house is likely to need a dress for the school formal, heels and some bling to match. And I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it makes things different. It also means that to avoid feeling like a stranger in my own home, I’ve had to embrace some of my boys’ interests.
Apart from an unnatural interest in rugby, I have developed an inappropriate sense of humour. I laugh at toilet stories. I even made up my own orifice-related jokes for my kids’ adventure series, Hazard River. It was hard not to. I inhabited the mind of a ten-year-old boy to write the series – a few vomit and bottom anecdotes were inevitable. I’ve considered following this up with a series for older boys, but the idea of invading the mind of a teenage boy has me worried. It’s dark, scary and mysterious in there.
I’ve just opened Steve Biddulph’s book Manhood for some direction on what lies ahead. Now I’m really scared. While we’ve been busy empowering girls, young men have been drifting along in an underfathered parallel state – getting drunk, getting violent, getting arrested and taking their own lives at an alarming rate – because they don’t know how to be good men.
Sadly, the one thing mothers can’t do, according to Biddulph, is teach boys how to be men. We can nurture them, support them, remind them to take a shower, and laugh at their silly jokes. What we also have to do is make sure we’ve got good men around to help teach our boys the right way to live.