GCP Event: Great Advice on Raising Boys from Kathryn Chenault

This past Saturday GCP had another live event: A conversation with GCP mom Kathryn Chenault. Kathryn, an attorney who stepped away from her professional life to devote time and effort to raising her two sons (who are now wonderful young men in their 20′s), graciously hosted us at her glorious home. Beautiful surroundings, great weather, and wonderful advice from a boy mom extraordinaire.

A great group of mothers were there to hear Kathryn and join our conversation about raising boys of color. Kathryn had so many words of wisdom to share, and the other mothers had lots of questions and stories of their own to share.

Here are five of Kathryn’s many helpful tips for raising boys:

1. Help Them Feel Good About Themselves: From the time that her sons were very young, Kathryn focused on helping them feel good about themselves and making sure they knew that she was their ally. She regularly told them “they could do anything”, that success would be theirs if they worked hard for it, and that they should talk to her about their issues and concerns. While we imagine and hope that most parents feel this way about their sons, Kathryn reminded us how important it is to tell them this on a regular basis. She also regularly talked with her sons about the golden rule, telling them that they should “treat others as you would want to be treated”. Basic but important lessons to remember to teach our sons.

2. Be a Parent Volunteer at Their Schools: Kathryn described spending a lot of time at her sons’ school, particularly in the earlier years when the school was generally more receptive to parent involvement in the classroom. (We at GCP were especially happy to hear this, as we have been encouraging our parents to spend as much time as possible at school, or if their jobs prohibit this, do what they can and befriend a mom who spends more time there.) She talked about the benefits of being able to observe her sons in school with their classmates, and as importantly, the benefits of developing a relationship with the teachers which helped ease communication throughout the school years. When she observed something in school with which she didn’t agree, however, she was careful not to challenge the teacher directly at that moment, or suggest to either her sons that she didn’t want them to follow the school’s rules. This is key, as parents should try to avoid behavior which labels them as a constantly complaining or troublemaker parent, most importantly because it rarely gets them to the desired results.

3. Read Along with Your Son: Beginning in their early years and continuing through high school, Kathryn independently read some of the novels her sons’ were assigned and chatted with them about the readings. Not only would this give her a good sense about where they were with their reading comprehension, it allowed her to fully participate in interesting conversations at home with her sons about the books they were reading at school. (We at GCP learned this from Kathryn years ago and were surprised and delighted to see an increase in our sons’ enthusiasm about talking about school work.) Short on reading time? Cliff Notes work too!

4. Keep them Grounded: Kathryn would regularly remind her sons not to get too comfortable in whatever creature comforts she and her husband have been able to provide for them. She let them know from an early age that they should take nothing for granted, especially any luxuries they might currently enjoy. She also told them from an early age that they would need to get good jobs to be able to afford the nice things they seemed to like and desire. (Since both boys are college graduates pursuing careers, this message seems to have stuck.) Parents who have been fortunate enough to be able to provide well for their children must remember to make sure their children know that they will have to work hard to continue these great lifestyles for themselves once they are through with school. This message is particularly important now, as current economic data suggests that our children’s generation may not surpass us on the economic ladder. Best that they get the message of “every tub on its own bottom” sooner rather than later.

5. Encourage Them to Seek Mates with Similar Values: One of the mothers asked Kathryn for advice concerning our young adult sons and dating. This sparked a candid conversation about how different the dating world seemed to be these days, and that advising our sons to “find someone just like us” didn’t seem to be working so well. We ultimately agreed that the best advice we could give our sons would be to look for mates who shared their values and who made them happy. Considering the passion and enthusiasm with which the mothers engaged in this discussion, we could have had a whole session on this topic!

Thanks so much to Kathryn Chenault for giving us so much food for thought about parenting our boys and for hosting this great event. Thanks so much as well to Gwendolyn Adolph for inspiring and planning it. We hope to have more GCP live events; we will keep you posted!!

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