It’s a curious thing for me, watching this brother relationship unfold between Jack & Jamison. I often sit back and marvel at the way the two of them are growing up side by side, not even realizing there was once a time when the one didn’t have the other. Each child has his own limb extending from our family tree, but the branches lengthening from those limbs are still newly sprouted and untrimmed. Some of their branches grow directly into the other brother’s and some are growing toward the wide open spaces on the opposite side, reaching for fresh air and sunlight.
I feel a little bit like a mama underdog when it comes to knowing exactly how to guide some of their boyish behavior and brotherly interactions. Because well, I’m a girl and sometimes men can be baffling. I think it’s the level of physicality from the boys that surprises me the most. I watch the boys wrestle with each other and I know this is normal, but it does make me squirm a bit. I’m all, “don’t hurt each other” and “be careful of your brother’s head” and “don’t break the lamp/toy/book/chair/etc.” Even if one ends up unhappy about the match results, they just go right back at it with a bigger smile than the last time. My husband just laughs at my timidity. Boys will be boys, right?
I watch them do the sweetest little things for each other in one moment and my heart bursts open with pride and love. And then BAM! moment over, enter what I like to call brotherly un-love.
A couple of things I’ve realized.
- They do what Jason & I do much more often than they do what we say. The good, the bad and the ugly. They mirror it all. Nothing makes me question more than when they mirror something we’ve done that is not particularly wonderful. But oh, it is so redeeming when they pick up on something that is truly wonderful by the osmosis of being around involved parents.
- My brothers are in their 40’s and they still like to poke each other. So, I’m not holding out hope that poking the bear for fun will ever completely lose its appeal for one or the other, no matter how much they love and respect each other.
- They have lots of good strong male role models in their life. Back to the do what we do point above. They have 3 work hard, play hard uncles, 2 strong and patient grandpa’s, a fun, but strict dad and a bounty of other adult male influences who live lives that promote hard work, self-sufficiency, family, faith and fun. Please God, let these things rub off on my boys.
I have read a couple of books/articles specifically about raising boys and the emotional quicksand that lies in their future. Ask many men and they will tell you they want their sons to “man up.” Ask a psychologist and he/she insists we do a disservice to young boys by not promoting the same emotional IQ skills in boys that we do such a good job cultivating in girls. We teach girls to nurture their baby dolls, hug their teddy bears and that it is okay to cry and talk about their feelings. They are taught these skills from day one. Boys on the other hand are taught to build towers and play with trucks. Once they reach a certain age, whether we teach them this or not, they obediently learn to not cry or talk about their feelings. Society is going to jump right in and teach them this lesson whether I like it or not. Unfortunately, instead of making me feel more prepared, most of what I read left me more paralyzed than prepared. The bigger, scarier argument one of the books made was that boys who don’t properly know how to handle their emotions, eventually begin to internalize these feelings, leaving them more vulnerable to acting out, becoming withdrawn and a whole host of other unhealthy outcomes.
So we walk a tightrope of knowing how to appropriately handle certain scenarios. I completely understand why boys are confused about how they are supposed to act in certain situations. We want them to be strong, smart and tough, but then we also want them to be kind, careful and empathetic. These qualities are not all mutually exclusive, but they do ram into each other enough to cause confusion. How is a child suppose to know how to react in certain situations, when he has so many different expectations placed on him that he can’t quite remember which one is supposed to float to the top in each situation? Should I “man up” here or should I tell my mom or teacher about something I need help with?
I don’t have many answers, but I can tell you each time an adult figure (including myself) in Jack or Jamison’s life tells him, “don’t cry” or “man up,” a tiny little part of me winces and questions inside. And, this is why this is so hard. I want them to be tough, but I also want them to be emotionally equipped. What am I doing more of? Toughening them up or emotionally equipping them for life?
When I fret about trying to do both, I’m comforted by the reminder that at least Jack & Jamison have each other. I think my brother Rob said it best to his boys, “Friends in your life will come and go, but your brother – he is going to be with you for the rest of your life.” I’m comforted by the fact that whatever emotional mine fields lie ahead for Jack and Jamison, they will always have the sacred ground shared with each other to come back to. No matter how old they get, they will always have branches that have grown so deep into each other, they could never be adequately reached to trim. The sunlight and fresh air will make the branches on the other side grow big and strong, but the branches trained into each other, well, sometimes it’s the things that are most difficult to see that carve out the deepest grooves in our lives.
I’m definitely going to make missteps in my attempt to guide them along the way. But, I hope when they feel like they can’t talk to me or Jason, they will always seek out each other first. The one who understands them on a level of time and experience that not even the closest friend could compete with.
Now, I’ll just have to keep reminding them of this when I feel like all I’m saying to them is, “Stop touching your brother!”