Not Everything Matters
About the Guest
Monica Swanson, author of "Boy Mom," talks about the challenges and joys of raising boys. Swanson, a mother of four boys, reminds moms that they can simplify the pressures they feel by simplifying their parenting. Much of parenting, she reminds listeners, is trial and error. Each person has to figure out what works best for their family. Swanson shares some thoughts about helping children find their identity in Christ.
Monica Swanson talks about the challenges and joys of raising boys. She shares some thoughts about helping children find their identity in Christ.
Not Everything Matters
Bob: Who’s talking to your children?—and specifically to your sons? Whoever is speaking loudest to them is shaping who they will become. Here’s Monica Swanson.
Monica: There’s so many voices that kids grow up with, telling them who they are, or labeling them, or trying to put them into a certain group. I think the most important thing we can do, as parents, is to teach our boys who they are in Christ—that they are a child of God, first and foremost. Everything else they do after that—those things may describe them for a season or for a lifetime—but they will never define them.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Your children/your boys need to understand that their identity is not what they do. It’s who they are as loved and adopted children of God. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You never wrote a manifesto, did you, Ann?
Ann: I wish I would have. I wish I would’ve had Monica’s to read every day.
Bob: The manifesto we’re talking about is in a book called Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You by our guest today, Monica Swanson. Monica, welcome back.
Monica: Thank you; great to be here.
Bob: This manifesto, which is in the back of the book, starts—I can’t read the whole thing; I wish I could—“I am a boy mom. My greatest goal, as my son’s mom, is to raise him to be fully prepared to launch into the world, as a man, in every positive sense of that word.” Then she goes through 12 different things: “As a boy mom, I’m going to continue to be investing in my son daily. Here’s what I’m doing: I’m establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with my son; I’m setting boundaries; I’m leading my son into a relationship with God.”
You’re walking through what are the anchors of the book, Boy Mom. You really unpack the manifesto in every chapter of this book.
Monica: That’s right. My heart for the book was really to simplify the pressures we feel, as mom. I think, when my kids were young, I just felt like there were so many things I could pay attention to—so many things that felt like pressures on me to get everything right. As my sons grew up, and as I simplified my parenting—and really trying to focus on the things that were most important for them to grow up to be young men ready to be launched into the world—I thought: “You know, not everything is that important. Not everything the world tells us is really essential for raising a good and godly boy.”
But what does matter? That’s where I came up with the 12 things—or the 12 parts to the manifesto. They’re the 12 main chapters in the book, just simplifying what we need to focus on; because some things really do matter. Not everything matters, but some things really do matter. I think that it’s important to keep our eyes focused on the things that really matter most.
Bob: Talk about the simplifying.
Ann, I’m going to ask you: “Did you feel overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities of being a boy mom?”
Ann: I not only felt overwhelmed, I felt pressure from society to raise these boys the way—I think that/I feel like there was peer pressure, almost, that our son should look a certain way. So, yes; I felt that. I really felt it in sports, as well, because you have that pressure—like, “Oh, if they’re not in soccer when they’re two years old, they’re not going to get a college scholarship!”
Monica: That’s right; that’s right.
Ann: How did you deal with that? How did you determine what were the areas to focus on?
Monica: For sure. I think some trial and error, for one. There was a time when I was trying to do a whole lot and failing or, at least, feeling completely overwhelmed. Over time—as I started to look and go, “Why did I even waste time with some of these things?”—[Laughter]—I know, with my fourth son, he’s involved in way less than the first were, because I know that those things didn’t add; they just drained us all.
Ann: What kind of things drained you?
Monica: I think a lot of it was the extracurricular activities—thinking they had to try everything; they had to be involved. If the community offered it, they had to do it. If friends were doing it—you know, the FOMO—we had “Fear Of Missing Out.” I didn’t want to be the one mom not at the activities.
I started to realize that the boys’ best memories/the things that really shaped them into the young men that they are today were the things we did, as a family—or the things we did, naturally/were the things that we’re doing just mostly out in nature—a lot of things we did, just exploring together, as a family. Sure—friends are important, and activities are important—but I say every kid should try, at least, one team sport—I believe in that—they don’t have to do them all.
I think beginning to simplify our days so that we weren’t always in a rush. I think I used to lose my temper more by 7:30 in the morning when we were trying to leave for preschool than I did for the rest of the day, so simply our life. We did end up homeschooling them. We moved out to the country on the north shore of Oahu, so we did homeschooling. Of course, that offered us a little simpler life, but I think you can simplify wherever you are if you’re intentional.
Ann: I think what happened to us, too, is—at the beginning, we would put them in everything. I think a lot of parents do that instead of thinking: “What is my son good at? What are my son’s passions? What would he excel in?”
We had certain kids that, when they got into sports, we thought, “There could be a future in this”; and other ones, “No,”—so why would we spend so much time and energy in something he doesn’t even like to do.
Bob: This gets to one of the main ideas in your book, which is understanding your child’s identity/helping them understand their identity. Explain what you mean by the whole issue of identity as you’re raising boys.
Monica: That’s such a big one and so much of my heart. I think that, in this world, there are so many voices that kids grow up with, telling them who they are, or labeling them, or trying to put them into a certain group. I think that the most important thing we can do, as parents, is to teach our boys that God loves them/that He is ultimately the One who will be there for them. Raising our boys to understand that they are a child of God, first and foremost. Everything else they do after that is part of what describes them in a season or for a lifetime, but they will never define them. Helping our boys to understand that was about raising them in the Word, raising them with Scriptures that would help them understand who they were in every season.
As they grew up and started doing sports or being, maybe, a little better at a certain subject in school—and people would say, “Oh, you’re the math whiz,” or “You’re the surfer,”—we would have the conversations with them that said: “Yes; those are things you do, but that’s not who you are. Who you are is a child of God; and who you are is unchanging, no matter what you do, or how good you do in school or sports, or anything else.”
Bob: What you’re talking about here is what determines our significance, not just for our boys, but for all of us. What is it that makes us significant?—that gives us value in life? What we do is not where our ultimate significance needs to be found.
Bob: We’ve been talking about athletics, and boys, and them being rambunctious. There are some moms, who are raising boys who are low key, and low stress, and not athletic, and they like to draw, and they like to do other things—they like to read. They’re wondering, “So is there something wrong with my boy?—or why…”
Again, your identity is not found in the things you like or don’t like or in what you do or don’t do. Your significance/your identity is: “You are created in the image of God.” As your child begins to grow in faith and becomes a Christian: “Now, you’re a child of God—that’s where your significance is.”
Ann: I think that’s why it’s important, too, to point out character qualities and not just point out the things that they’re good at. I remember our boys sitting around the table and pointing out things about each of them—character of each of them—and saying to the other boys, “Isn’t it amazing how your brother has that?”
Monica: Yes; I agree with you that focusing on character/focusing on unchanging qualities is super key. At the end of Chapter 5, I do have a resource list—it’s: “My identity in Christ.” They’re verses that just define who our boys are in Christ. We’ve literally had them write them down; hang them on their wall. Through difficult seasons, when they really struggled with who they are, those are things we’ve had them cling to and make sure that they rehearse them.
Even when they’re not feeling it in their heart/even when they’re looking around, feeling like: “Am I a big dork? Am I not cool?—because I see other kids with…”—whatever it might be—more social media followers/more people excited about them—they can go back and rehearse those truths about them that are unchanging.
Ann: Our kids cling to those things. I remember taking a stone and writing verses—like a verse on a stone. I remember two sons holding those in their pockets. They’d pull them out during the day and read it; because the truth is—our kids are living in a society, where they’re not always applauded—it can be a storm, walking out the door. I think to create a haven and a way of refuge for them is important.
Dave: I was wondering if your sons have ever struggled with that identity. If I don’t know my identity—and I know you’ve done a great job, as a mom; and we do that: we instill that, we teach it, we put the verses on the wall—and yet, they walk into the teenage years and often wander off, “looking for something to make me feel important,” when we know they are; but they don’t. Have your sons ever struggled with that? What did that look like?
Monica: Yes; for sure. I think that’s what’s important for parents to realize—is, even though they don’t talk about it, they’re struggling. There’s no way to grow up in the world today and not struggle with it. I think, as adults, we all do, still. I think, especially, in those teenage years, it is impossible not to lay in bed at night and wonder: “How do I stack up? What does the world think of me?”
My older boys have told me more now that it was in those early teenage years that they were trying to figure out who they were. It was because they knew the truth—because we had taught them the truth from the time they were young—that they cling to that, even when it was hard to believe. For sure, they’ve all struggled with it.
I think my 15-year-old, who’s a competitive surfer—I think that the scenario that he’s going to struggle with, just because he’s out in the world more and he’s being compared to other surfers; he’s a competitive athlete—and that puts you In a different situation altogether.
Bob: We talk about looking for significance. If the world is telling you your significance is in your ability to ride a wave, and if you get more cheers for that than you do for walking with Jesus, it’s real easy to go, “I like being over here, where they cheer for me,”—
Monica: That’s right.
Bob: —rather than this quiet, “Okay; I’m a child of God,”—so nobody’s cheering for that.
Monica: That’s right. That’s why we talked to that son, at the top of his game, about: “Don’t let this define you, even in your best day. That’s not who you are; that could be taken away tomorrow. You need to know that, underneath everything else, you are a child of God,” and “You have great value because of that.”
Dave: Talk about how to get your boys to talk. I know, on page 21—great list of 20 ways to help your son feel loved—I’d recommend that list. One of the top ones is: “Listen to your sons.” I’m thinking there’s some moms out/there’s dads that are like, “My son won’t talk.”
Monica: That’s right.
Dave: How do you get them to talk?—and then, how do you listen?
Monica: That is a great question, and one I get from a lot of blog readers as well. I think the key to that is time. I think—if you’re trying to say: “Okay; I’ve got five minutes; talk!”—then, good luck getting them to talk; but if you say, “I’m here.”
We don’t all have all the time in the world—doesn’t mean you have to be sitting by their side all day—but if you stop and sit with them, you know, late at night—that’s, usually, if you’ve got a teenager—you might remember, Ann—teenagers usually open up right about the time mom wants to crash into bed.
Monica: If you are willing to sit and be still, and say, “How are things?” At first, they may be quiet; but if you give them enough time, usually, if they know you’re going to keep showing up—you’re not just checking in once and then saying, “Forget it; he’s not interested,”—you keep showing up; he’s going to talk.
Bob: Little “pro tip” here—don’t say, “How was your day?”—[Laughter]—because there’s only one answer to “How was your day?”; and that is, “It was fine”; and then we move on.
But if you say things like: “What was the best moment in your day?” or “What was the hardest thing you faced today?” or come up with a question that is very specific: “Who did you talk to today?—that was a good conversation that you had with somebody?” or “What was the activity that you felt like, ‘I really am having a good day today’?” Those kinds of specific questions will engage them a whole lot better than, “How was your day?”
Dave: Ann even added—
Ann: —I added the “feeling” question because, with boys, they didn’t always express their feelings.
Monica: That’s right.
Ann: I would ask them, “What was the feeling word that you would put with that?”
Monica: I’ll add one more thing to that—I don’t hear many moms talking about it. I often talk to my boys about how I’m doing. I know we think they’re not interested; but I think they actually are, especially if I’m going through a challenge. I don’t carry on; I don’t try to make them my friend or my counselor.
Sometimes, I feel like, if they hear us talking about things going on—like assuming they care—that they will reciprocate by being like, “Oh, yeah; well, this happened to me today.” I think having a conversation with our sons, and not assuming they don’t care about us, is really helpful.
Ann: It’s interesting you say that; because my 28-year-old, yesterday, recalled a moment in time when we were driving home from church. I don’t remember this, but he said I was crying—probably because I felt like a bad mom—or who knows why I was crying. [Laughter]
Dave: Probably, the pastor’s sermon was bad. [Laughter]
Ann: I said, “What makes you remember that?” He said: “It’s because you were crying; and I was sitting, watching you; and it made me cry, too.” He said, “I remember that you got out of the car, and you saw me crying.” He said: “Mom, you hugged me, and you held me; and you said, ‘Thank you for being so empathetic and sharing in my crying and feeling bad for me.’” He said: “I never forgot that, and I still haven’t. When somebody cries, to cry along with them—there’s a bonding moment that happens.” He said, “What happened is—it made me identify with my feelings and knowing it’s okay to cry.”
Monica: That’s right.
Bob: You tell a story in your book about an assignment you gave to one of your children when you started noticing his character was slipping a bit. I loved this assignment and how you saw it work.
Monica: Yes; the character training assignment came, I have to think, from the Lord. I was really frustrated because our family—the boys get along pretty well—but this one son was going through a stage, where it felt like every time he walked in the room, the lights dimmed. [Laughter] Everybody just held on tight, because somebody’s going to be criticized for something. It was like he saw everyone else’s faults but didn’t seem to be picking up on his own. My husband and I were talking, and praying, and looking for answers.
One day, I was doing devotions; and all of a sudden, something clicked. I thought, “You know, he needs some good character training.” I grabbed a journal I had on hand, and I went to that son; and I said, “For the next”—I probably said like—“For the next year,”—but hopefully, started with “six months.” It was the beginning of the new year, so it was a semester of school just about to begin. I said, “Every single day, I want you to do what I’m going to call character training.” He looked at me, like, “Oh, dear.”
I said, “No; every day.” They all do devotions—we ask them to spend time reading their Bible and praying. I said: “This journal is just for character training. Every day, I want you to spend 30 minutes either reading something, or listening to a podcast, or finding something online that is going to help shape your character.” I started with a list of some TED Talks, and some great websites, and some great books. I said: “Every day, you choose what you’re in the mood for that day. You can go for a walk and listen; you can read. I want you to write down the date, what it is you read or did, and one nugget you got from that day.”
The first few days, he grumbled and complained and pushed back a little bit; but after a week, I checked his journal. Maybe the first two days had a line or two written; but by the third or fourth day, this kid was filling a page with quotes and inspirations. That journal got really full really quick. To this day, he’s the one who goes out running; and he’s found new podcasts, and he shares them with me. I saw a transformation over those six months, absolutely. It was well worth the time.
Ann: That’s so motivating and encouraging. You’re homeschooling, so that was probably a part of school.
Ann: How would you recommend a mom do that if she’s not homeschooling or she’s thinking, “I want to do that, but I think I’ll get so much pushback.”
Monica: As I wrote anything in the book, I wanted to imagine all the different scenarios out there; because I care so much about moms in all different situations. I realized that I would trade in a sport; I would trade in an activity for this—30 minutes a day is doable.
My son did have to get up extra early; he was, actually, playing on a soccer team then. I said, “Whatever it takes; set your alarm 30 minutes early.” If they have to do it after school or in the evening before bed—finding inspiration for improving character—there’s not a much better thing you could spend your time doing.
Ann: That’s good.
Bob: You mentioned soccer—your husband played soccer.
Monica: Yes; my husband played soccer. He would love that you just brought that up. [Laughter]
Bob: Was he pretty good at it?
Monica: He was very good at it. His college team, Seattle Pacific University, was the national champions the year he was there; so he likes to mention that and, maybe, that he played a little bit for a pro soccer team in Oregon—just a small one. He likes when that happens to come up; so, honey, that’s for you. [Laughter]
Bob: You had four boys—his dream had to be—
Monica: —his dream: “Play soccer!” Hawaii has some great soccer teams; so as soon as they could get little cleats on their feet, he got me to sign them up for soccer. He was in his medical residency then, so I was hauling kids to soccer so many days a week. They absolutely hated it.
Dave: Really? [Laughter]
Monica: Initially, I think they had some fun with it; but the more serious we got—they just weren’t in—I know it was hot; there’s a million reasons why. I would find them out there, picking flowers; or I say in the book: “…maybe, picking their nose a time or two.” [Laughter] Soccer was not their thing.
That was about the time that they were, also, discovering the ocean. My husband was—I remember calling him, just in tears, saying: “How long do I have to do this? It’s just not a fit for them!” For him to let go of that dream was challenging. He got them a skateboard and some pads, and they liked that on day one. Pretty soon, they’re all in the ocean; and the rest is history.
Bob: He’s adjusted to that.
Monica: He has adjusted; yes.
Bob: But it was a hard thing to let go of.
Monica: It was; it was. I think we all want our kids to love the things we love. Fortunately, he also loves surfing; so it hasn’t been a total bummer for him. [Laughter] But yes, the soccer thing—he had to die to that.
Bob: The important lesson here for all of us is that our kids are not clones of us; they’re not mini extensions of us. They’re not given to us to fulfill the dream that we weren’t able to fulfill ourselves; right?
Monica: That’s right. I had to remind him that his dad was a football player and was a little disappointed when he chose soccer. [Laughter]
Bob: You were a football player, Dave,—
Dave: Yes; that would be hard.
Bob: —and had one son that gravitated to that pretty strongly; but not all three of them; right?
Dave: Yes; they all did different things—just what Monica was saying—there was that vision when son number one was born: “He would be a football player. He’ll go on a scholarship, like I did, to college.” For me, the biggest thing was, “I won’t have to pay for college”; but it didn’t go that way. He played and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t his—he wasn’t made to do that. And number two enjoyed it; but number three—you could just see—you threw a ball, and there it was.
It was interesting, as a mom and as a dad—you have to step back and go, “What did God create him to do?” and fan that flame. It’s hard for a lot of parents to do that—it really is.
Ann: I think it was harder for me than you. We signed them up for everything in the beginning. I’ll never forget taking him to this little gymnastic thing because I thought, “Okay; he’s not in football, but he could be a gymnast.” He was not a gymnast; [Laughter] I realized that the first day.
But it’s fun to kind of experiment and think, “What is his thing?”
Bob: This is where we have to come back to Ephesians 2:10, which says that each of us/every [believing] human is “God’s workmanship, created in Christ, for good works, which He prepared beforehand that they should walk in them.”
As parents, our job is to be their partners in figuring out, “What is it God made me to do?” And then, “How can we, as their allies/as their champions, come alongside and help equip them for what God created them to do?—not to fulfill our dream—but His purpose and His desire for them?” This is something we talked about in the Art of Parenting® video series. This is one of the core themes as we help shape a child’s identity. It’s one of the important things we do, as parents.
In fact, if couples are looking for a series to go through with other couples, as you head into the fall—maybe, you’ve got a small group; you’re looking for something to go through together or, maybe, you want to do parenting classes at your church or in your community—check out the Art of Parenting. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the video series and the resources we have available.
Check out Monica’s book, too—it’s called Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You. We’ve got copies of Monica’s book and the Art of Parenting video series in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You’ll find them, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329. Again, the website—if you’d like to order Boy Mom, the book from Monica, or the Art of Parenting video series—the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, as many of you have heard, August is a significant month for us, here, at FamilyLife®. We have a number of projects we’re hoping to move forward with in the fall, including translating the Art of Parenting video series into Mandarin and into Arabic; other things we’re hoping to do. We’ve had a friend of the ministry, who’s come to us and said, “We want to help provide the funding for these projects.” They have agreed to match every donation we receive, during the month of August, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $500,000. What happens here, in the next few weeks, is going to determine whether we can move forward with some of these key projects.
Dave: I tell you what—I know listeners, just like me, get requests for donations—all kinds of great and worthy projects. I’ve got to tell you—watching what FamilyLife has done, not only to the world and to a listener, listening right now—our own marriage.
Ann: Right; that’s what I was going to say. FamilyLife was integral, if not the pivotal point, of helping us stay married. Wouldn’t you say that?
Dave: Yes; I would say we might not have made it without FamilyLife. I know that there’s thousands/maybe millions, who can honestly say that.
Bob: You stop and think about that—and think, when you make a donation, there are couples, who are going to say, “Our marriage is different; our family is different because—
Ann: — “You saved our marriage.”
Bob: And they may be saying it in Mandarin or Arabic. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation. Be as generous as you can be, here, during August. Go, today, to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—make a donation—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. When you do, we’ll say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, The Art of Parenting. You can keep that or pass it on to someone you know who is in the middle of raising their kids. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how parents, and how moms in particular, can help their boys develop spiritual disciplines/spiritual habits or practices that will help those boys grow in grace during their childhood years, their teen years, and into adulthood. We’ll talk tomorrow with Monica Swanson about that. I hope you can be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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