Like every other parent in the room I was hoping that Steve's words would allay my fears of the teenage years and reassure me that if I do x,y and z everything will be alright.
But no. That's not how it works with human beings. Each one of us unique, with a different 'soul map' to reveal and live from.
Steve offered us some universal truths, the main one being spend more time not money with your children but then there are those curve balls and variables that as parents can leave us feeling unprepared and out of our depth. What to do about those?
From his first sentence Steve had the audience engaged, leaning forward in their seats, laughing at his anecdotes and reflecting on their own childhoods and relationships with their fathers. He also let us know from the word go that while people refer to him as a 'parenting expert', he isn't. Steve doesn't want to be put on a pedestal and be expected to have all the answers.
He opened the presentation with the very grisly news that one of the biggest challenges parents of boys face, is keeping their sons alive. This struck a deep chord in me having lost my nineteen year old brother to an alcohol related car accident. In his book Raising Boys Steve writes,
"By fifteen years of age boys are three times more likely than girls to die from all causes combined - but especially from accidents, violence and suicide."
Steve's talk could only get cheerier from here right?
Yes. And no.
On the upside, in the three decades that Steve has been public speaking the number of Dads coming to the talks has increased markedly. (Sorry don't have exact figures for you, but about 40 percent of the audience at the talk we went to were Dads). This can be read two ways, one that Dads are more involved in raising their sons and/or mothers are more vocal about getting their partners to step up.
Loving, present Dads who are interested in finding out who their sons are - as opposed to just trying to turn their sons into younger versions of themselves - and who are clear about setting boundaries and consequences when sons cross those boundaries, these Dads are what every son needs and deserves. But we all know that, sadly more often than not it doesn't work out that way.
When this is the case, that Dads aren't around, Steve spoke about the importance for mothers to seek out great male role models for their sons in uncles, grand-fathers and friends. He also encouraged Dads in the audience to include their sons friends who don't have their Dad in their life when they are going out with their sons.
In a letter to Steve included in his book, a mother writes sums it up,
"Put good men in the path of your son"
I think this can be done even in the stories of men's lives throughout history that you can share with your sons, be they great artists, musicians, activists. Parenting requires us to be creative in our approach.
Reflecting on Steve's talk as I write this, what I came away with was confirmation that Pete and I are doing all the things we believe will hold our sons in good stead in their life, many of which Steve covered in his talk and covers in more detail in his book.
Things such as getting our boys to contribute consistently around the house from a young age. No point in waiting until they're fifteen to start helping out, by then you've become their slave! Also, demonstrating to them the values we believe in, being compassionate, respect for self and others and the world we live in, the importance of family and friends, valuing health and well being through the food we eat, through yoga and meditation. Words spoken are not always heard, but actions and experiences are remembered and felt deeply.
One of the hardest parts of parenting for me is the consistency, especially when I'm tired. It is easier to just do the task myself or 'give in', but I know in the long run that doesn't do my boys any favours.
I remember speaking to a husband and wife who raised two sons, the sons now in their mid-twenties living great lives, I confessed my fears about the teenage years and asked for their top tips for raising happy healthy sons. The Dad talked about finding a shared interest, for him and his sons it was playing guitar. And the mum reassured me by saying "that each stage prepares you for the next".
I recommend Steve's book, and to see him speak if you have the opportunity.
I know all the answers aren't found in a book or in another person, they are in ourselves. We can ask for help, look for new ideas but we must trust our instincts as parents, know what's right for our own children by getting to know them and resist getting swept up in the tide of video games, ipads, mobile phones, processed food, alcohol and AFL. It is ok to say no.
Oh, and most importantly remember to make time to have fun and enjoy your children. The washing can wait. x