It seems to me that there tends to be a uniformity in how the sons of larger all-boys families turn out. Either all of them become entirely decent, productive members of society – or they all become involved in activities that fall outside the dictates of the law. In other words, they become ‘goodies’ or goons.
At this point in my parenting journey with my boys, it could really go either way.
Stories abound in which sets of brothers join (or form) criminal gangs and use their fraternal connections and familial might for ignoble ends.
Why would this be?
Well, I’ve always said that groups of boys are much more than the sum of their parts. Even if your boys can be calm and focused and gentle, most likely they will exhibit none of these characteristics when in the company of other boys. Boys have a natural inclination to energetic physicality and hyper-competitiveness, and this is accentuated when they are in a group. Consequently, when all of the siblings in a family are male – and they are therefore without the mitigating influence of sisters – their rowdiness/noisiness tends to be the rule, rather than the exception.
Aggression is another natural part of boys’ makeup. This innate aggression has very real and necessary applications (so I’m not trying to vilify boys at all*), but within the confines of modern life – most particularly within the educational process – it can be a challenge for boys to find an appropriate outlet for this energy. In this technological age, boys’ natural physicality is often frustrated, and if parents aren’t really intentional about channelling that energy and teaching their boys how to be gentle and nurturing as well, this negligence can have many negative results. We also need to be deliberate and diligent in showing our boys how to contain those aggressive instincts when necessary, if we are interested in avoiding the necessity of making regular prison visits in our retirement years.
When I had my first two sons, I was determined that they weren’t going to be stereotypical ‘caveman’ males – my boys wouldn’t be rough and loud and rude. I decided that we weren’t going to buy them any weapons and we would discourage the wrestling and aggressive romping in which we often saw brothers participating. But, like puppies, they began tousling together from an early age; and in spite of a dearth of ‘real’ weapons and an absence of violent media, they found ways of roughing one another up. This physicality in their play has only increased as we’ve added to their numbers. I have come to the conclusion that even if we lived on a desert island they’d still end up bashing each other with palm fronds and throwing coconuts at one another. They’re not generally rude, but rough and loud just seem to go with the territory.
As I touched on above, something that can either mitigate or accentuate boys’ predisposition towards more aggressive behaviour is how they are brought up. When confronted with a gang (gaggle? mess? murder? I’m never sure what the appropriate plural term for boys should be) of sons, most mothers’ first concern is naturally to ‘manage’ them – so sometimes the whole ‘nurturing’ part of parenting ends up getting tossed out like the proverbial baby in the bathwater as Mamma goes into survival mode.
A friend (herself the mother of four boys) told me about an acquaintance of hers who grew up in an all-boys family (I think there were more than four of them – maybe six?): his mother used to feed them their breakfast cereal in what amounted to a trough – just one huge bowl with a spoon for each boy. I’m not sure whether my friend expected me to be impressed or horrified by the story. I was a little of both. These kinds of tales are lore within the all-boys club, to which I and a number of my friends belong, and there is a sense of kinship in the telling and sharing of them. Before there were all these ‘life hacks’ going around on the internet, there were mothers of boys passing on the wisdom of their experiences to other mothers walking this path.
Not all boys are the same, of course. A’s music teacher has two young sons whom she just leaves to play upstairs while the class is going on in a ground-floor room. Either she’s turning a blind eye to their potential criminality or they are actually obedient, self-controlled kids. Of course, there are only two of them. It’s hard for the dynamics of a ringleader and a single follower to culminate in the realisation of devilish schemes.
Speaking of which, I think it is partly this phenomena of ringleaders and followers that crops up when groups of boys are together that causes the uniformity of the results when they’re grown. Maybe the likelihood of boys in a large all-boys family ending up as positively productive or negatively notorious depends on the inclination of the boy who takes on the largest ‘ringleader’ role in their midst. Because it seems to me that there does tend to be an instigator for most shenanigans, even if the co-conspirators are equally to blame by the end of the whole thing – and in those families where the boys are all model citizens and are uniformly pleasant to be around, dependable, and all the rest of it, there tends to be a strong leader towards that end as well.
When I think about that and I remember the early-morning candy raids, the flooding of the bathroom, the putty-in-the-bed-linens episode, and other noteworthy events in my boys’ history, it’s easy to imagine that we are doomed. I might as well start saving up for bail money.
In addition to my sons’ noteworthy departures from upstanding behaviour, there is the fact that all the families I know with four boys around the ages of mine are raising them admirably; this leads me to believe, statistically-speaking, that we are most likely to end up with a gang of goons.
But then I see my boys sprawled together on the couch watching TV; I witness the hand-holding as they walk down the hallway at school; I feel a squeeze on my heart as I watch them give each other a bear-hug; I remember all the kindnesses they show to us and to each other – and I think that maybe, just maybe, we’re going to end up with some ‘goodies’ after all.
Either that or one day you’ll be reading all about my gang of goons in the paper.
*Check out Matt Walsh’s blog for an excellent article on how our society has demonised the natural behaviour of boys.