When my nephews were little tykes, I loved nothing more than being creative and silly with them. We loved writing goofy stories, camping in the basement, visiting every zoo and museum from open to close, and bringing home pets and toys only barely tolerated by their mother.
There was one stipulation to each of these encounters: no possible injury. They called me Safety Aunt. It was meant as an endearment…I think. I’d agree to just about anything as long as there was little chance of physical harm. Which, in the world of little boys, keeps things more corralled than they would like.
A dear friend of mine has two little lads that give me heartburn. Other than a perfectly timed Christmas card photo, I don’t think I’ve seen them without a layer of red Colorado mud splashed on their faces, wearing superhero costumes, and proudly holding something dead while standing much too deep in a stream. All Safety Aunt can see is a trip to the ER.
Children are little need machines. At the most basic, they need shelter, nutrition, and protection. The third point is where things become problematic for me. Safety Aunt wants to ensure no scrapes, bruises, or broken bones. I choose to wrap every inch of them in bubble wrap and stuff packing peanuts in their coats before letting them anywhere near that icy hill with a sled. However, little boys learn courage and compassion through a method I find less enjoyable.
So, for all the mommies (and Safety Aunts) out there who feel like I do about the perilous adventure built into the hearts of little boys, here is what they wish you knew:
- Allow me to fail and then fail again. I learn through experience.
- If you watch a movie or play with me, don’t always be busy with other things.
- The way you interact with men when you think I’m not watching teaches me more about women then any other lesson.
- Give me permission to make decisions. I need to know you trust me so I can learn to trust myself.
- Tell me directly what you need. Assuming I know what you want makes me believe I have to read minds.
- I will always need your tender affection, even as I grow and need it in different ways.
- I’m learning the importance of our differences. You don’t have to be ‘one of the boys’ for me to want to spend time with you.
- Let me struggle a bit. Conquering challenges pushes me to learn the importance of hard work and commitment.
- Share your joy. I love when you celebrate with me.
- When I’m very young, include me in all you do. Cleaning the kitchen or working in the yard shows me joy in the everyday.
- Study my personality. The more you know me the more you will know how to encourage and discipline me in ways that count.
- My courage grows naturally when you let me taste victory, so don’t do everything for me.
- Lighten up. Not everything is critical. Is it really worth breaking my spirit to force me to eat my peas?
- If you want to talk about something important, let’s do it outside where I don’t feel so trapped.
- When you’re doing a good job as my mom, I’m not going to like you everyday.
- I don’t know how to fix your broken heart.
- Support me as I struggle through things. Embarrassment and hurt are much less costly at 6 than at 36.
- Be a safe place for me to ask hard questions.
- I’m destined to fail at being your surrogate husband no matter how hard I try. I’m just a kid.
- I know you’re super busy, but I like different stuff than my siblings. It helps me to know you see that.
- As I get older I might remind you of the man that hurt you. I’m not him. Be gentle.
- I like when caring for me isn’t your only interest.
- See my value today as your little boy, not what I might be in the future. I have worth at every age.
- Try to enjoy what I enjoy from time to time; I need to know my desires have worth.
- I will hear you more clearly when we are participating in an activity together.
When that little boy is traipsing in mud and blood, remember his big heart hidden in that restless little body. Remember the imprint your femininity leaves on it. Remember the template you create for women who walk into his life in the years ahead. Never underestimate the impact of your heart on his.