I read an article in Esquire that a friend shared on Facebook. It was about the uptick of boys in America diagnosed with ADHD, and put on medications like Ritalin. I’m including a link to the article at the bottom of this post so you can read it for yourself, because I am about to get all sorts of off track here, because I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Not the article, I get what they were trying to say, misdiagnosis is prevalent and our boys should not be medicated like they are. What I took a bit of offense to, I guess it was offense, was the part about how “Boys are just more rambunctious than girls” and that’s that. That’s also why boys are diagnosed and medicated more. I get that too, I see the correlation. Or maybe it’s causation. But what hit me hard, and always does when I read about “Boys being boys” or hear someone say, “Boys will be boys” because I just don’t think that is true.
I’m a #BoyMom. Is that hashtag still a thing? It was for a bit in the early teens, and I’m always a little behind. That is to say that I have an 11-year-old son. I was also raised alongside lots of boys. By the time I was in high school I had seven nephews that all lived within walking distance of me, and trust, they were rotten sometimes. Like when they would hit each other, or ride their bikes into car doors, or scream at the top of their lungs for no reason, my sisters and my mom would says things like, “Boys will be boys” and “Oh, that’s just how boys are.” They woulds say these things, instead of correcting them. They might yell, “Hey stop hitting your brother,” but they never consistently did anything to change that behavior, hoping instead they would “grow out of it.”
But the thing is, boys are not inherently more destructive, obscene, carefree, or ludicrous than girls are. Let me stop for a minute, cause I can already see you getting all upset. Yes, there are real differences between an X and a Y chromosome*. And yes, those differences make boys and girls different, but here I am talking about mainly toddlers, preschoolers, elementary school kids. Pre-puberty stuff, and how living by the whole “let boys be boys” will not do right by them when the real shit hits the fan during puberty. And trust, with an 11-year-old I’m fast approaching this and I am seeing changes in my son. But he is still not “crazy” or a “Little Monster” and he never will be, why? Because my husband and I don’t ascribe to the prevailing attitude that boys are “little monsters.” Because we think it’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I have a boy. And yes, he was rambunctious as a toddler and even a preschooler, because most toddlers and preschoolers are. But he was not a rambunctious, grab the dog’s tail, laugh when someone is hurt, throw toys at his friends, kinda kid. He could have been, he showed signs of it by the age of two, he was around other kids that were (friends’ kids, neighborhood kids, preschool classmates), but we simply didn’t allow him to be like those other kids. It’s not rocket science, y’all. It’s not even math. If it was, I’d suck at it. It’s just consistent, consistent, consistent parenting. Let me repeat that again, consistent. Nothing in parenting is more important than consistency, well except showing love, but that’s a whole other post. Consistency and patience. And we found out how important this was early on.
- Then there was the weening of the bottle. We did it in one day. How? Consistency. On his first birthday we filled his bottle with water at bedtime. We gave it to him. He took a drink, screamed, and threw it at us. Then we handed it back to him. He took a drink, screamed, and threw it at us. This went on for about four hours. We would intermittently offer him a sippy cup. Until finally, he accepted the sippy cup, and the next day I donated all the bottles.
- What about him sleeping in his own bed? Every, single, time he toddled into our room as an adorable, little, two-year-old with his blanket and tried to climb into bed with us, we walked him back. We took turns. We put a gate on his door. He climbed over it. Were took him back. We closed his door. He flipped his light on. We took his light bulb out. We took turns sitting outside his door, sometimes all night long, just to open his door and put him back in his bed when we would hear the patter of his feet on the carpet. I’m not kidding.
- He pulled the dog’s tail. We put him in time out. Explained, yes explained, to a two-year-old that it hurts the dog. He got out of timeout and pulled the dog’s tail. We put him back in timeout and explained, yes explained, to a two-year-old that it hurts the dog. He got out of timeout and pulled the dog’s tail. Two days later he stopped pulling the dog’s tail.
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. We never backed down. You can’t back down with a toddler, it’s like negotiating with terrorists! If you want your own damn bed you have to fight for it. You want them to potty in the toilet, fight for it. And yes, walk them to the bathroom 38 times a day. Does it suck? Oh fo sho, but if you don’t you will have a “Little, cover stealing, pooping in his pants in preschool, pulling the dog’s tail, screaming for no reason mess” on your hands. Regardless of gender. Trust. I HAVE SEEN THEM!
Jackson had a little friend who legit just walked around and screamed. No reason whatsoever. Her dad would go, “I dunno, she just does that. A lot of pent up energy I guess. Weird, huh?” No, not weird for a toddler, but annoying as hell. That don’t fly with Missy. As soon as Jackson started to pick up on that behavior we squashed that shit. Squashed it, like it was beef with Biggie and Tupac. Oh no, I won’t have a little one who walks around screaming at Target for no reason. No, no. Cause that shit leads to screaming as a child. Then screaming as a teen. Then screaming as an adult. Screaming when they are frustrated, screaming when they are tired, screaming when they want attention. Oh nay, nay! There are consequences to your actions, and bet my two-year-old figured that out real quick. How? I beat him. NO I DIDN’T, YOU ASSHOLES. I never once spanked my son. Neither did his daddy. But we were some “timeout” motherfuckers.
Guess what happened to screaming girl when her mom got tired of the screaming? A spanking. Guess what happened to Jackson when his mommy got tired of him yelling at her because he wanted milk in his sippy cup, but he knows he doesn’t get milk in his sippy cup, because you only get milk from a damn glass like a big boy? His ass went to timeout. A minute for every year of his age. Those were some of the longest three minutes of my life, y’all. LONGEST THREE MINUTES. “How do you get him to stay in that chair for three minutes?” Screaming kid’s mom would ask. Simple, I spent four days in a row walking his ass back over to the chair every time he got up. Now he knows. Magic! Nope, just CONSISTENCY!
Look it, I know I sound like I am tooting my own horn here, and it’s cause I am. Every time we go somewhere with Jackson, since he was a toddler, we get compliments about his behavior, his demeanor, his attitude, his pleasant nature. People are actually SURPRISED that a young boy can act like a civilized person. My own family thought something was wrong with him. They were all, “Why is he not trying to stuff pancakes into the DVD player?” Uhh, cause he tried that a couple of times, and then he learned. That’s a damn problem, y’all. Not the pancake in the DVD player, they come out pretty easily if you just hold it upside down and shake it, it’s a damn problem that people in society don’t know how to react when they see a well-behaved boy.
Now listen, this took me years to figure out. In fact, as recently as six months ago when someone would say, “Jackson is the sweetest kid, how did you do that?” I would smile and say, “We just got lucky!” That’s BULLSHIT! WE WORKED OUR ASSES OFF, EARLY ON, FOR THIS KID TO BE THIS WAY. Parenting is the HARDEST job I’ve ever had. It’s also the hardest job you’ll ever have. And if you don’t look at it like a job, like a requirement, like something you have to be part of, a working relationship with your partner, your extended family, your caregivers, your children, you will fail. FAIL. You will end up with a Little Monster. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter. You have to take parenting seriously. It HAS to be your number one priority to raise a healthy, happy, adjusted, kind, child.
So how do you do it? Consistency, consistency, consistency. You have to show up, every day, sometimes all day, sometimes all night, for your kids. You have to be willing to change tactics. You can’t rely on the same old tricks you were raised with. You have to be willing to GASP! tell grandma that no, it is not okay for her to swat at his hands when he touches something she doesn’t want him to. Because swatting is hitting, and hitting begets hitting. It’s learned behavior. You have to be solid in your parenting foundation, in your choices, in how you want to see your child being raised. You have to have a plan, share it with everyone who has a part in their life, and you have to follow through. Bottom line.
And yes, I know, I know. Every child is different. I know this. In fact, I know that some of these kids that are on Ritalin should be. That it helps them. Calms their minds because they can’t calm them alone. They don’t know how yet. Their parents can’t help. And I also know, and maybe you should too, that I come from a place of privilege when I say all of this. I am the parent of one child, who had my full attention. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it happened. I also had the privilege to quit my job when Jackson was a baby and devote myself full time to being his mom. And that helped me and him. It allowed me to focus solely on him (kind of, I was still in college most of his toddler years, and in grad school by the time he was in kindergarten), but Jerimiah and I made a choice, a choice for me to be home with our son, a choice that has probably, definitely, financially burdened us at times, but it was a choice we were capable of making. And I know some do not get that choice. But good, consistent choices can still be made. You can still envision how you want your kid to be and make it so. You can still try new tactics, still be open to new ideas. You can read about parenting topics you don’t know about, you can take parenting classes, for real that’s a thing! “Love and Logic” parenting class survivors right here! We were the only ones in the group who weren’t court-ordered to be there, but that’s okay. We learned so much about parenting that was never shown to us either growing up, or watching people raise their children around us.
I know it seems like I got off topic, I told you I thought I would, but I promise I didn’t. You see, parenting shows itself, good and bad. There are a million reasons why it might have happened, but most of them lead back to you as a parent. And man, I know that is tough to hear, but right or wrong, we have to take responsibility for our parenting, and stop blaming other people and things. And no, it’s not because he’s a boy, or she’s a girl. Boys are not inherently “bad.” More energy does not equate to bad behavior. I think what ends up happening is that we subconsciously play rougher with boys, lean them into more physical play, and expect them to be all-around rough-housers, which leads them into that behavior. Likewise, girls are not inherently “good.” We make them that way by expecting shyness and dependency from them. By leaning them into less physical activities like coloring, dolls, or ballet. (My son played with, and actually owned, dolls and Barbies! That’s a whole other post about gender stereotyping though…) But I know plenty of girls who are being raised to speak up for themselves. And I know plenty of boys who are kind, and helpful, and gentle with people. And I have hope that it will get better, not worse. But it absolutely starts at home with us as parents, and shaking off the views of the people before us.
*I’ve been looking into the science behind why people say “Boys are different”, help me out if you can. I’m not finding credible stuff about boys actually being “different” at a young age. I’m interested in finding how/if hormones factor in before puberty.