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Monday, February 27, 2012

Raising Real Men in the Suburbs

Last week I read this post, and it stirred my heart.  You see, I've had this quandary for awhile.  I contend that boys were not made for suburban life.  Yet this is where God has us right now.  Though we long for more space and opportunities for our boys to grow with physical labor and "doing hard things," such is not on the immediate horizon.  Bear with me as I process some thoughts here.  This is just the outworking of my own struggle to raise godly men for the kingdom of God and to also encourage my husband in his pursuit of godliness.  Maybe you will have some ideas to chime in here?

I believe it is critical now more than ever to raise our boys to be chivalrous and strong---to borrow the term from the Harris boys, to "Do Hard Things."  We are caught in a world that wants to drag them down to desire nothing more than mere entertainment.  And soon, if the tide be not stemmed, we will have men gladly stepping out of the way to let women take their places.  This is already happening.  Kevin Swanson calls it the "gender blender."  Sadly, we are now a nation that thinks nothing of putting its women into combat roles and expecting men to "just deal with it."  It is grievous.  It does not cause our men to rise to higher standards when the women want to compete with them.  It desensitizes men to their God-given role as a protector and defender of women and children when they are placed in situations where they must treat a woman as a "fellow man."

In Bill Mouser's "Five Aspects of Man," he refers to the male archetype of "Savior."  The ultimate example of this is Christ.  Because men are made in the image of God, they bear an image of the role of savior.  This is why men are traditionally drawn to heroic callings like law enforcement, fire fighting, and military service.  These places have traditionally allowed men to be men.  And just to make myself clear.....godly, manly men do NOT exploit women in any way.  So I am not saying that men should be allowed to do any of those stereotypes you might see in World War II movies and the like ---these have nothing to do with being a "manly man."  I'm not going to delve deeper into this at the moment, or I will digress too much.

So I am constantly pondering what it looks like to raise our boys to be manly, godly, dominion-oriented men.  I well know that it is not only possible for those who live on the farm or in rural areas with lots of manual labor to toughen them.  I believe that would be quite a great help.  But I DO know that manly men rise up from cities and suburban lifestyles as well.  I think it's just harder.  I think as parents we have to be intentional with our boys no matter where we live.

So I asked Ann Dunagan of Harvest Ministry, writing a guest post over at Passionate Homemaking, my question:  How does one raise godly, manly sons in the suburbs?  She seems quite experienced in the raising of "manly men" doing dangerous work.  She was so incredibly gracious to answer my question with some great ideas.  Some of these are ideas I've already contemplated and some of these are things that are obvious to me, though I know she doesn't personally know me so her answer is likely geared toward other families in similar situations as well.  Rather than paraphrase her answer, I am going to let her words tell the story themselves.  First, I'll share my question as I worded it directly to her:

Ann, I am so grateful for your encouragement here! It can be very difficult not to have our wife-and-momma-heart be full of worry for our men and boys doing dangerous work and we can smother them by it. I have one other issue I wrestle with and am hoping you might be able to address it some in part 2: How do you raise manly men in the suburbs? We are hopeful to someday be in a place with more space and opportunity for our boys to explore and have more physical work, but it isn’t on the immediate horizon. My husband does an amazing job providing work opportunities and bringing our son alongside him in work around the house and even at some military functions. But in everyday life we still find it challenging to keep boys occupied when you live in a suburb. I contend that boys were not made for suburban life! But this is where God has us for now and there must be ways to help our men where we’re at! Any thoughts here?
And here is her gracious and wise answer:
Sherry, I really appreciate your question, as there are likely a LOT of moms in this same situation of living in the city or the suburbs.
On the “no” side, I would really guard against the typical empty-activities that are molding and shaping the majority of young guys. For our family (and this doesn’t matter where you live) we have completely avoided network TV, almost totally avoided video games (either no video games, or only a few hours of selected non-violent or evil games a week), and we have really guarded our boys’ (and our girls’ for that matter) in their close friendships. Whenever kids or teens just “hang-out” with nothing to do (whether in a mall or a park or out with rebellious-looking kids) it’s not usually a healthy situation. Kids need to be active and around good people. I tell my kids, “The friends you choose do not only influence your life, but they TELL me where your heart is, right now!” This is huge.
On the “yes” side, I would encourage some sort of SPORTS or ATHLETICS (which may or may not be a time-consuming team sport) and HARD WORK. I grew up in a large city, with a sister and 4 brothers. Although there is definitely a more intensely “rugged” influence on everyone in my husband’s family (who grew up on an old dairy farm with 9 kids, including 6 boys who were all wrestlers), my brothers are also quite active and adventurous. Suburban/city activities that “toughened-up” my brothers, in a good way, were cross country running, long-distance biking, and making money by doing hard-working jobs like painting or yard work. Even today, my brothers and nephews (who live in a suburban area) are active in sports (such as basketball, biking, tennis, racquetball, soccer, and running). They compete in triathlons and enjoy summertime camping, rock-climbing, and world traveling.
COMMUNITY SERVICE and being a hard-working volunteer is also a great use of time (during high school, all of our boys put in over 1000 hours of community service).
Anything that takes DILIGENCE and CONSISTENT effort is great (even schoolwork, extra-curricular leadership, reading good books, or learning a musical instrument, like playing the guitar or piano). Although music might not seem as masculine, being a man who can WORSHIP and lead others in worship is powerful for the kingdom of God!
 I love how her emphasis in the article is on being full of FAITH and not afraid!  This is something God has been good to refine in me.  Having a Warrior husband twice-deployed has been just one instrument He has used along the way.  Her answers also remind me a bit of this book--a most highly recommended read:  

Future Men

And...after reading Ann's article, I was extra motivated to pick up this book that I've been so eager to read:

Raising Real Men has been a highly touted book.  At my favorite bookstore from which I purchased it, Eli was quick to tell me how highly he recommended it.  In fact his words were something to the effect of , "This book is most excellent in application, while Future Men is excellent in theology."  I did not purchase Future Men on that day (I'd done so and read it a few years ago), so his words were strictly from his own opinion.  Yet they do match mine.  So far I am gleaning great wisdom from Raising Real Men!

"And what are the manly virtues? 
In many cases, they're the same things we complain about in our boys:  competitiveness, aggression, a desire for adventure (commonly called recklessness?).  We may admire the independent spirit of a man but grind our teeth when exhibited by our son.  How about messy, scary ideas like heroism, courage, endurance, fortitude?  Real men should be protectors, persistent, honorable, intrepid.  There's precious little that's neat and nothing that's quiet about those things. 
Those virtues are present in seed form in our boys.  Will we cultivate them and help bring them to fruition?  Or will we trade the opportunity for a little more peace and quiet, and hope their future will take care of itself?" (p.27-28)
I'll admit their words about peace and quiet hit home with me and it's something I'm having to train my daughters in understanding as well.  It's true that girls are bent toward liking peace and quiet...and boys are not.  Boys do need to know and be trained in respect and when it's proper to speak up or hold their tongue and even to stand or sit still.  Yet we need to be cautious not to be expect them to act as girls.  I am making it a point to recognize the times and moments where my sons exhibit a seed form of a manly characteristic and to praise them for it!

I have some other books I am looking forward to as well in the journey to raising hard-working Tender Warriors.  This is quite a journey and a challenge.  I pray that God will raise up a generation of "mighty men" and will equip their parents (and especially us mamas) to be full of faith and not afraid as we do so!

A-Wise-Woman-Builds-Her-Home***And now that you've read Part 1 of "Training Our Boys to Be Men" from Ann, please be sure to go and read Part 2!  Excellent wisdom from the Word for our boys and men!


  1. This is a very interesting post. I've been reading The Nature Principle the past few days and (while I absolutely do not agree with much of it) I've been thinking about the value of boys exploring the outdoors and working in it. I'm still working through my thoughts there and will add this post (and the article you linked to) to the ideas rolling around my head.

    Ouch on the comment about wanting peace and quiet vs. them needing to make noise. This is a very, very hard one for me. I sooooo like quiet!!

    1. Carrie, I hear you on peace and quiet! Not easy for me either, as I mentioned. Certainly there are appropriate times for peace and quiet from our boys. I think the challenge to me is to not put them in a "feminine box," but to bend in this area toward helping them mature as boys becoming men--and that seems to entail some noise in the process :)



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