On a daily basis, I tell my 8-year-old son Jack to wipe the pee off toilet, clean the food off his face, put his sneakers in the basket, make his bed, and put the dishes in the sink. These may seem like minor to-dos, but the big picture is that he be responsible for his stuff.
But the greatest lesson I've bestowed upon Jack is to include everyone—and to be kind. I know he heard me because I recently received a text from a mom in town, thanking me for Jack showing "such kindness" to her daughter. This girl is new in school, and even second-grade kids have their cliques and sassy attitudes. Jack told me he noticed this new girl sitting all alone in the lunch room, so he took his tray over and asked if he could sit with her. "No one wants to sit alone, Mom," he said. I was so proud of him.
Speaking with other moms-of-sons, I asked them the most important lessons they have for their little men:
1. BE A GOOD HUSBAND.
"My son is an adult and married, so I tell him that he has a personal responsibility to be his best—not just for himself, but for his partner. When you're on your own, you can choose not to take care of your emotional and physical health, but when you're in a relationship, it's your duty to work on your problems." —Maria Lissandrello, editor-in-chief of Health Monitor Magazine
2. GET MAD.
"I see a lot of frustration and anger in my 2-year-old son, Sam, who was recently diagnosed with hearing loss. He has a hard time communicating. I want him to learn is that it's okay to be mad, that it's a natural reaction to the challenges life has presented us. I want my son to recognize and admit his feelings of anger—and find outlets to express such. For Sam, that might mean kicking a ball instead of me, or hitting a pillow instead of me. Instead of either denying or wallowing in life's unfairness, I want to teach him how to cope with it." —Tina Donvito of Foggy Mommy
"There's a lot of focus out there on empowering girls and instilling that can-do spirit in them. As full of bravado as boys can be, they need to hear that too—especially when they have special needs, as my older son does. I always tell him that one of his best talents is his determination, and that even if stuff is hard for him to do he has the ability to pull it off. And if it's too hard for him to do now? Well, maybe he can do it later. Boys need that base of confidence every bit as much as girls do." —Ellen Seidman of Love That Max
"Dirty clothes on floor? Put them in hamper." —Erin Zammett Ruddy, blogger and author
5. FOLLOW YOUR HEART.
"Go to your dream school, climb a mountain, be a paleontologist, travel. Whatever your heart desires, you can do it, as long as you try and try and try. It's that perseverance that will set you apart." —Sarah Walker Caron of Sarah's Cucina Bella
"I want my three sons to know that learning healthy eating habits now will help them for the rest of their lives. Parents often talk about wanting boys to be brave, but they don't necessarily translate that to empowering boys to be brave eaters. So I'm trying to expose my kids to a wide variety of healthy foods, and I'm using food to test their daredevil tendencies. Together we seek out wild sounding vegetable—dragon tongue beans, dinosaur kale, green tiger zucchini—that make healthy eating seem really fun, active, and empowering." —Lisa Maxbauer Price, author of the new children's book Squash Boom Beet: An Alphabet for Healthy, Adventurous Eaters
"I teach my son to never hit his older sister. I don't want him to grow up thinking he can hit girls ever. When my son leaves a play date, I have him thank the adult for having him as a guest; more importantly, he must look them in the eyes when he says thank you." —Carey Reilly of Not So Skinny Mom