Chivalry (noun): the system of values (such as loyalty and honor) that knights in the Middle Ages were expected to follow; an honorable and polite way of behaving, especially toward women.
“Mommy, do you want to play knights?”
“Sure, Son Son, how do we play knights?”
“We use our sword and our helmet, and ride on horses, and save people from the bad guys.”
In every aspect of play, my darling, beautiful boy wants to be the hero. Whether he’s Iron Man, Batman, Spider Man, or Mike the Knight, his objective is clear: save the World from evil. He is a warm, caring, loving beacon of chivalry in play, in his interactions with friends, and when following guidelines at school. Of course, occasionally he falters; he’s four years-old. He isn’t always going to follow directions. He isn’t always going to abide by my directions. He isn’t always going to be a polite, well-mannered little boy. But, my task, as his mother, is to raise him to be a man I will be proud to release in the world.
Through rules, guidelines, discipline, and structure.
Isn’t that the whole point of parenting? Being a parent? Instilling values, morals, beliefs, respect toward others, and altruism through fair guidelines and consistent discipline?
What does it take, though, to raise a man into chivalry? How do we, as parents, help guide that value system into a reality?
Teach him to say, “Yes Ma’am” and “No, Sir.”
And conversely, “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am.” This is a stepping stone for understanding authority. It may sound old fashioned, but it creates boundaries from early on in life. It is important for children, teenagers, young adults, and entry level employees to know how to defer to those in a higher position of power. We entrust our children to babysitters, preschool workers, teachers, principals, and coaches. In every situation, our sons need to know that power struggles are unacceptable. There isn’t a question whom they will respect; they will respect everyone, equally.
Talking back is never allowed.
This aspect works in conjunction with showing respect to those in an authoritative position. I have touched on talking back in previous posts. It is definitely not easy to deal with tiny humans throwing their pint-sized weight around; I know that. But I also know, and have said this before, that I am Mommy, Queen of the Household. My rules go, and I don’t have to be fair about it. Any time Tiny Tot talks back, raises his voice, or tries to argue with me, he hears, “Go to your room. Now.”
There are then apologies for talking back, or raising a voice to be heard above Mommy, or arguing with Mommy’s decision. Parenting is hard; it is difficult, but it breeds respect.
Utilize the phrase, “Boys do not hit girls.”
I’m sure everyone will agree with this phrase. But, how often is it enforced in the tiniest of humans? How often do we, as parents, let hitting slide due to age? Too often I hear mothers saying, “My son hit me today, right in the face! I wish he would get over this phase!”
Well, how will he “get over” his phase if it isn’t drilled into him as unacceptable? The very first time my son reared his little, pudgy hand back, aiming it directly at his momma, he heard, “Oh, no, Sir! You do not hit your mommy!”
He and I have never had a power struggle over hitting; it is simply not allowed. It doesn’t matter that my child was less than a year old at the time. We have revisited this rule only a few times over the years. I don’t believe in hitting phases; I believe in parenting and consequences.
Horseplay and roughhousing are done with Daddy.
Now, I know that many moms will disagree with me here. They want to play with their sons, they want to be part of the fray. To me, however, it breeds a double standard. Hitting, punching, boxing, tumbling, pushing, and shoving are all behaviors that we teach are not allowed behaviors around girls. Girls are all female. Mommy is female.
Therefore Mommy is a girl.
Staying firm and consistent is important with children. If I tell Son Son he is not allowed to hit his female cousin, but he is allowed to play rough with Mommy, does that also mean he can roughhouse with Grandma? I mean, we said he couldn’t play rough with littler girls, but does that denote older girls as acceptable?
See how that’s confusing? Children draw connections. Be firm and consistent. Keep the roughhousing away from all girls, including Mommy.
Never tell your son, “Real men don’t cry,” “Be a Man,” or “Suck it up.”
Men can cry. Men do cry. Enforcing the idea that feelings are to be bottled up leads to men who are unable to deal with their emotions. Men who are unable to come to grips with anger, frustration, and stress end up reacting in an explosive manner later on in life.
Let your son cry when he hurts himself. Let him cry when life isn’t fair. Let him cry when he is so tired that nothing makes sense. Let him cry when he is angry and frustrated. And then talk to him. Talk it out. Make him use his words to explain his emotions.
We’re trying to breed healthy men who can deal with the struggles that will be forced on them in adulthood. Learning to deal with strong emotions is part of the growing process.
Expect your son to open doors for others.
This may sound trivial; it may sound petty. It may even sound cliché. But, let me ask a personal question: how many times do you stop to open a door for someone else?
I do, all the time. I make my son open doors for me, and hold them open while I pass through. Do you know what it teaches? Aside from merely being a gentleman? Aside from that pesky chivalry word?
It teaches selflessness.
When you stop in your busy life to look behind, or in front, and open a door for another human being, you start to think beyond yourself and your own needs. You start to care about others and what they might need.
And then you don’t honk your horn, wave your fist, or zoom in front of the elderly woman trying to cross the road at the grocery store. You don’t speed ahead of the person limping on a cane, trying to beat them in an invisible contest of speed.
You start to show altruism, and you teach it to your children. You become the example you want your child to emulate, and teach your child to pass that shining beacon of humanity to others. All because you stopped to open a door for someone else.
Teach him to be gentle with animals and small children.
There is a time to play. There is a time to roughhouse (with Daddy). There is a time to jump, leap, climb, propel, and slay the dragon. However, around cats, dogs, lizards, frogs, and baby sister? That is the time to be gentle, to be careful, to be soft. Boys need to know both sides, because they need to know how to act in different situations.
It’s the same concept as teaching them to be polite in a restaurant, use their inside voices at school, and listen quietly while the teacher is speaking.
Admonish bullying, teasing, and rude remarks, immediately.
I remember the first time I learned my precious little boy was rude to a little girl. I heard crying issuing from the McDonald’s Playhouse, and no parents (save me) in sight. A little girl was crying, and I asked her to tell me what happened. She told me a little boy had been rude to her, telling her she couldn’t play with all the kids. When I asked her which little boy, she pointed to my son. Mine.
My sweet, caring, friendly-to-everyone son.
I think steel entered my voice as I ground out, “Tiny Tot, you get your bottom over here. Right. Now.”
His eyes were wide and fearful as he admitted his unkind words to the little girl. He apologized, she accepted, and then he asked her to come play with him.
And then all was right with the world.
For me it doesn’t matter who the child is, I nip it all in the bud. The boy who tried to throw mulch in my son’s face, the boy who started chanting with his friends over a petrified little girl, the child who reached out to smack his sister. They all got a taste of, “Oh, no, Sir! Do you think it is appropriate to act like that? Apologize, right now, and place nicely.”
Yes, I am that mom. I will speak up for children being picked on and bullied, even if I have to turn my Mean Mommy voice on strange children, or my own.
Rudeness is not acceptable.
Make him apologize for his wrongdoings.
Whether Tiny put his hands on the puppy’s neck, talked back to his mother, or argued with Grandma, after he serves the punishment, he will apologize.
Not only to I make him say, “I’m sorry,” but I make him tell me why. Then I make him give the person wronged a hug.
Hugs make everything better.
Encourage truthfulness in all aspects of life.
Because of Tiny’s age, I treat lying with a second chance by telling him one, simple phrase: if you tell me the truth, you will not get in trouble; if you lie to me, you will get in trouble. Then I ask him to tell me the truth.
Luckily, my son abhors the idea of being “in trouble.” I blame that on the Terrible Twos and the Naughty Chair. He spent from eighteen to thirty months of age rooted to that Naughty Chair. But, it served its purpose. Now when I mention the word “trouble” he immediately bursts into tears and apologizes.
See? Mommy, Queen of the Household, Demander of Respectfulness.
When Tiny reaches the age of six, the phrase about lying will change. It will morph into: if you tell me the truth, you will not get in as much trouble as you would if you tell me a lie.
Because, let’s face it, Mommy always knows the truth.
Let him know he can always talk to Mom.
This is self-explanatory. Even though we are parents, disciplinarians, and growers of tiny humans, we still have to be there when they need us. Every child stumbles; every child falls. Literally and metaphorically. As parents–as moms–we have to be the gentle, we have to be the truth, we have to be the respect, we have to be the altruism we need in our sons. They have to be able to turn to us, and know that we are always there for them.
Because, at the end of the day, we’re growing our sons. We’re raising men. They need to learn how to be chivalrous, and we have to guide them into those values.