Thursday, August 21, 2014
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11 tips for surviving–and thriving–with boys in the house

When people hear I have four boys, they often exclaim, “How do you do it?” as if raising and living with a pack of boys is a feat akin to rafting down the Amazon. They picture non-stop activity and fighting and wonder how anyone can remain sane in a houseful of boys.

I assure you: it can be done. (My boys might not agree, but that’s only because they think I’m slightly insane.) Here are my top 11 tips for surviving—and thriving—with boys in the house.

1. Don’t buy new furniture. We bought new couches exactly once after we had kids. Within a year, there was a split in the upholstery of the loveseat. Not long after that, the split enlarged to a hole. Is it a coincidence that my boys like to sit on that couch and wiggle their toes in the hole? I think not.

Listen: before you have boys, furniture is functional and decorative. After you have boys, furniture becomes a prop. Boys will vault off the couch and onto the chair. They’ll use every chair in house to frame a fort. And that’s OK. Let it be. Someday, I’ll have nice furniture again. For now, I have a couch with a hole in it and a dining room table that may or may not have one son’s name inscribed in the wood.

2. Relax your housekeeping standards. If you have boys, you will have balled up socks, dirty underwear, not-needed-right-now athletic uniforms, food wrappers, half-completed projects, and random debris from outside inside your house.  I can track the four seasons simply by the debris that litters my kitchen floor—mud equals spring, sand is summer, leaves are fall and slushy snow and salt is wintertime.

I could drive myself—and my boys—crazy by trying to keep my house picture-perfect. But that wouldn’t be fun for any of us. Instead, I close the doors to their rooms, keep at them to pick up their stuff, and clean just often enough to keep the house habitable.

3. Forgo dinner manners—at least sometimes. I want my boys to eat like civilized human beings. They want to laugh, belch, and fart through the meal. So sometimes, I meet them halfway.

Most days, we eat at the table, family-style, and I remind the boys to stay in their chairs, to say “excuse me” if they burp and to ask to be excused from the table. But other days, I go with the flow. If my kids are laughing and having fun telling fart jokes, I let them have it (if we don’t have guests over). I might even join in. If they want to try eating their lunch no-handed—and we don’t have guests—I let them try. And every so often, we move away from the dinner table all together and have a pizza picnic on the living room floor while watching a movie.

4. Buy dark clothing… Your boys will probably live in jeans and predominantly blue and black clothing anyway. So why not build your wardrobe around those colors too? Trust me: It makes laundry so much easier. I probably wash 4 loads of darks to every load of light-colored clothing.

Stick to easy-care clothes too, for the entire family. I have a few things that require dry cleaning, but not many. It’s a lot easier to gather up everyone’s clothes and toss ‘em in the wash! Note: boys can do laundry too. Start teaching them how to use the washing machine around age 11.

5. …And a lot of stain remover. If you have boys, you have grass stains. Stain remover is your friend. But please let go of the idea that your kid’s clothes will be stain-free. Stain removers aren’t perfect—and there’s no way you’re getting your boys’ socks back to white again!

6. Buy socks in bulk. Maybe it’s just my boys, but they never, ever seem to have enough socks. Could it be because they have a tendency to take them off and leave them lying everywhere, including outside? Or because they’ve taken to wearing their socks outside, sans shoes, on rough cement? My boys swear their habits have nothing to do with their lack of socks.

I’m not convinced, but it doesn’t pay to argue. Instead, I grab socks whenever I see them on sale. I don’t waste time matching socks out of the laundry either. We just keep the socks in a big basket, and anyone can grab whatever they need. (It helps that we all wear white athletic socks.)

7. Accept weapon play. Boys will play with (pretend) guns and swords. Period. So instead of wasting a lot of time and energy fighting your son’s natural inclination, find a way to co-exist with pretend weapons. My boys love to run around the house “shooting” each other, but that drives me crazy. So I made a “no guns in the kitchen” rule. My boys can battle throughout the house, while I cook dinner in a gun-free zone.

8. Make peace with video games. It’s virtually impossible for boys today to avoid video games; games are a key part of boy culture. So approach video games with an open mind. Look at the games your son is playing and wants to play; listen to him talk about his games and why they’re important to him. Work together to develop some common sense gaming rules, instead of freaking out every time you see him parked in front of the Xbox.

9. Let them take risks. Meagan Francis of The Happiest Home is one of the best moms I know. Recently, her 16-year-old son wanted to jump into the snow in a pair of shorts. She let him—and recorded the whole event for posterity.

Why not? No real harm will come of jumping in the snow while wearing shorts. Meagan trusts her kids and their instincts; she knows that when the kids are cold, they’ll come inside. Try trusting your boys in the same way. It can be scary to see your small son climbing a tree, but his inner instincts will tell him when he’s getting too high. Boys love to push limits. Let them, whenever possible.

10. Send them outside. Boys absolutely, positively need outside time, even in the coldest, nastiest weather. Will they always want to go outside? No. But send them anyway.

When I was a kid and my brothers were getting too rambunctious, my mother would send them outside to run laps around the house. I thought she was crazy. Then I had boys. Now, when things get completely out of hand inside, when the boys can’t even seems to stand the sight of one-another anymore or when they’re falling over each other, convinced that there’s nothing to do, I send them outside. “Run five laps around the house!” I might say, and while the boys might complain, they almost always end up laughing and racing each other around the house. (Plea bargains—“Can I ride my bike instead?”—are almost always accepted.)

11. Create a quiet corner—for you. I love my boys. I love their craziness. And I’ve embraced the hole in the couch, the dirty socks on the floor and the plastic weapons everywhere. But sometimes, I crave peace and quiet and solitude.

Sadly, it took me many years to realize just how important peace, quiet, and solitude are to my mental well-being. I’m a better mom, not to mention a better person, if I have some space to myself. So I’ve invested in a personal haven. I purchased a comfy, cute recliner, just for me, and put it in the corner of my bedroom. I added a Tiffany-style lamp featuring an iris, my favorite flower. I placed bookcase nearby, under the window, and perched a single-cup coffee maker on top. Now, when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, I can go to my room, close the door, and curl up in my corner while the chaos continues.

Do you have any tips for living with boys? How do you stay sane in a house full of boys?

Jennifer L.W. Fink
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