10 Lessons for My Son

Reprinted with permission from Layin’ Down Roots. 


Photo courtesy Stacey Dodson Carlin

Every Wednesday I drop the girls off at my grandma’s house and take my son to his hockey practice. It is the only time all week that it is just the two of us—my first-born and me. For an entire hour we get to talk about whatever we want and he doesn’t even have to share my attention with two little sisters. It is on these drives that I’ve learned about the intricacies of Minecraft, his affection for the little girl down the road, and his plans to become a scientist when he grows up.  Our conversations during this routine trip serve as my window to his soul and I am so thankful to have this time with him. Because I just noticed that he’s seven years old. I don’t know how it happened exactly, but when I looked in the mirror yesterday I noticed a slender-faced boy sitting in the same spot that was once occupied by a pudgy-faced toddler. My little boy with the buzz cut who knew his letter sounds at 18 months old has been replaced by a little man with a stylish spike who knows all of the lyrics to the latest Justin Beiber song. They told me not to blink. They were right.

He is at such a wonderful age. He is still full of questions but also thinks he knows a little bit more than he actually does. He is capable of getting his own cereal, making his own bed, retrieving his own clothes (under the supervision of the fashion police, otherwise known as his little sister), and taking his own shower. He doesn’t need me to zip his coat or tie his shoes anymore. He can be trusted to make solo trips to the concession stand during sporting events in our hometown and he usually brings me back the change. I no longer force him to hold my hand in the parking lot. He even hosts his own YouTube channel offering dance tutorials with original moves to the latest hit songs. (Although how I found out about this channel is a story for another day.) Yet, despite all of these “big boy” things, he still likes to cuddle up with his Mom on the couch and he isn’t too embarrassed to give me a kiss in front of his buddies…yet.  I’m still the most important woman in his life for at least a few more years (Please, God, give me 9 or 10 more years at least before the first big crush). So, while I hold this position of prominence and honor, I intend to make it count. Here are the ten biggest lessons I hope to teach my son before he leaves the comfort and warmth of my nest.

  1. Always be a gentleman, without exception. You have two little sisters who are counting on you to provide an example for the type of boys they should allow in their lives. Open doors, pay for dinner, and get your dates home before curfew. You never know, your future girlfriend could have a big brother with a mean right hook or an overprotective dad with a gun collection. Treat her like you would want your sisters to be treated and love her like you would want your future daughter to be loved.
  2. A firm handshake and eye contact are the most important components of a good first impression. You can’t count on a man with a weak handshake and confidence comes from the eyes. Don’t waste your time on a witty line or a rehearsed introduction. When it comes to first impressions, people will judge you before you ever open your mouth.
  3. Don’t take the easy way out. Anything worth anything requires hard work, dedication, and sometimes a little sacrifice. This is true about careers, relationships, and parenting. Don’t get me wrong, every day shouldn’t be drudgery, but don’t expect constant rainbows either. The tough ones stick to it and stay with the long game, knowing the finished product will be worth the effort.
  4. But don’t be afraid to change your mind. If you don’t like the direction you’re headed in, take a different road. If you don’t like your job, find a new one. If you aren’t happy chasing this dream, find another one to run after. Life is about choices and we are blessed to live in a nation that allows us the freedom to choose our own path. You only get one trip around the sun so don’t be afraid to change seats if you don’t like the scenery. Life is too precious a commodity to waste it on stale dreams and bumpy roads.
  5. Don’t be a slob. Pick up your clothes and do your own laundry. Dishes go in the dishwasher, not on the counter. Your future wife will want a partner, not another child to take care of. And even if you never marry, I’m not coming to your house to clean it for you—real men know how to use a broom.
  6. What you do during the day you will have to sleep with at night. A man with a clear conscience gets a full night’s rest. If you want to know what integrity is, just look at your Dad. Take note when he gives his word to somebody and pay attention when he makes good on his promise. At the end of the day, you are only as good as your word—so make sure it means something.
  7. Be involved. Take an active role in your life and contribute to your community. You’d be amazed at what can get done if you just get to doing it. Be present in your relationships and be attentive in your conversations. Be the kind of husband that takes long walks with his wife and the kind of father that coaches his kid’s sports team.
  8. Don’t be a jerk. You’re good at things, but don’t trump up your own importance—there is nothing less attractive than an arrogant man. Understand the difference between pride and pomposity. Always be kind to those who make a living serving others and, for goodness sake, never tip less than 20%.
  9. Learn how to fix things that break around a house. Own a hammer and a drill, a ladder and a shovel. It sounds old fashioned, I know, but a man should have a tool box in the garage and know how to read a measuring tape. And an axe, you should definitely own one of those. How else are you going to cut wood for Papa’s fire when he’s too old to do it himself?
  10. Be you. I don’t care what your “thing” is; I just want you to know that you have the freedom to pursue it. Know that I will love you deeply regardless of the sports you play, the music you like, the friends you choose, and the clothes you wear.  That sounds silly and obvious to say, but there will come a time when you will have to make a choice that might not be what your father or I would have chosen for you. Do it anyway. The only person you can be is yourself and I promise to never ask you to be anybody else.

So, sweet boy, the sky is the limit and you are just learning how to open your wings. Soon, much too soon for this Mama’s liking, you will take flight and test them out a bit. And when you do, I will be there cheering you on, with a reserved seat in the front row and a net to catch you if you fall.

But, thankfully, today is not that day. No, today you held my hand while I walked you up the stairs to tuck you into bed. Today you said that you couldn’t wait to take me to Mother-Son Movie Night sponsored by your elementary school next week. Today you still believe that you are going to build a house right next to mine when you get older. Today you told me, “Mom, if I wasn’t your kid, I would run away from my home until I found you.” Today you are still my baby and I still have a few road trips until I have to share you with the world.

-by Stacey Carlin
Layin’ Down Roots


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