Growing up, whenever I got in trouble, my punishment was being sent to my room. To an introverted kid, this was a delight. I just curled up with some good books and got lost in my imagination for a while.

My oldest boy, Asher, shares this same affinity for quiet time. When sharing a room with his younger brother on vacations, his desperate plea is for Pace to just. Stop. Talking.

I wink at him, knowingly, as if to say, “I get it.” His means for recouping and regrouping are the same as mine. And because there are so many ways we are alike, it can be especially disarming when I’m confronted with the ways we aren’t alike.

Like, for instance, the fact that he’s a boy.

And I don’t care what anyone says, boys and girls are different.

So as a mother to boys, sometimes it’s helpful for me to take a step back and remember, there are things that make boys gloriously unique, and it’s my job not to make them conform to my ideal, but to embrace them in all their little boy, fast approaching big boy, wonder.

Learn their needs

I remember someone telling me when I had my first son that boys were easy. When they are fussy or grumpy, they are ever only one of two things: tired or hungry. And for the first several years, this was true. But boys are more complicated than animals we can appease with a nap and a snack. Our boys are human beings and on their way to becoming men. Which means their emotional and relational needs become more complex as they get older. That doesn’t mean they know the words to tell us this. It means we have to be a student of what their behavior is telling us. And to keep in mind, this is always about that. The symptom is a cover for something else going on. A tantrum isn’t always about a toy they can’t find. It’s about something more. Time spent learning their needs and meeting them in it will help us discover this more.

Keep the end in mind—emotionally

A few years ago, a mom of two grown boys told me about the shift that happens around the age of twelve as boys make the physical and emotional shift towards adolescence and then adulthood. During this time, there is a natural drift and distancing from their mom. She referred to a mom’s job at this time, as “receiving the wound.” It broke my heart. But she went on to say, the alternative isn’t a good one. Fighting the distancing and forcing an unnaturally close bond sets the relationship up for dysfunction later. To be healthy in the future, it may hurt now. So use the years when we have their full attention, as moms, and we still have their open admiration, as dads, to care, nurture and bombard with as many kisses and snuggles as they’ll let us get away with. Intentionally create a strong foundation for a relationship, so that when the distancing begins, the relationship doesn’t disappear completely, but transitions more easily into what comes next.

Keep the end in mind—practically

“You aren’t raising kids, you’re raising adults.” I don’t know where I first heard this, but I love it. When we got married, my husband told me he had been doing his own laundry since he was in middle school. And I decided right then and there, that was a parenting philosophy I could get behind. Kids are capable. Boys are capable. Starting when my youngest was three, our boys have folded their own clothes and put them away, unloaded *most* of the dishwasher, swept floors and cleared their dinner plates. Yes, it’s easier, faster, and more effectively done when I do it. But that’s not the point. Learning, through trial and error, so when they fly the coop, they actually thrive out there, is the point. Don’t sell your boys short.

Get them outside

It’s true. The outdoors is therapeutic. There’s just something about the fresh air that fixes things and puts things in perspective. And according the book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, its something boys need. Every day. Even just fifteen minutes of them running laps around the yard—this has been known to happen in our home—can work magic. Even if it’s raining. Even if it’s cold. Even if it’s hot. Get them outside. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, join them.

Let them be rough

After I pick the boys up from school, we eventually end up reading together on the couch. It’s perfection. But when my husband walks in the door, there is some magnetic force that draws them to him, causes a guttural growl to come from their bellies, their eyebrows to draw together, and a shot of adrenaline to course through their veins. This is my cue to take my own reading upstairs. The next twenty minutes is pure roughhousing with no place for me. And I’m okay with it. Boys need the space and the appropriate boundaries to be tough and show their strength with an adult who is able to rein it in when it gets a little out of hand (as it inevitably does), but who also is showing them at the same time how strong and mighty their little bodies are.

Raising boys has been the best adventure. And we are just getting started. They are forces of nature we’ve been gifted the profound task to shape and temper, to draw out and engage with as they discover and we discover with them, all God has created them to be. What a gift. And while we won’t do it perfectly, we can do it well.