Parenting | Masterminds and Wingmen
Ten years ago, as the anxious mom of a one-year-old girl, I found myself feverishly reading Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. No matter that it described tween and teen behavior: I wanted to be in the know. I wanted to be READY. (For the record, and with a bit of distance, I’m totally ok with us sniggering and rolling our eyes about me being That Mom.)
At the time, an older friend – in the throes of parenting teenage boys – wryly observed that what was really required was a guide to the secret lives of boys. “No one thinks that the boys worry about this stuff,” she said. “And if you buy that, you’re always going to be missing at least half of the picture.”
A decade later, Wiseman has given the mystified parents of boys that exact book. Published this summer, her book Masterminds and Wingmen (Harmony, 2013) is subtitled “Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World.” Our friends over at Cool Progeny invited me to attend a recent lecture with the author in Baltimore, and I left the event determined to make full use of this challenging roadmap to Boy World.
The book couldn’t have arrived at a better point for our family. I have a 3rd grade boy who shares less and less every week, who mysteriously bursts into tears when asked to correct homework, who would happily spend the entire sunny afternoon buried in a Minecraft screen (linked up with his buddies on my iPhone, natch), but who, at the end of the day, will still crawl into my lap in a dark bedroom as we say goodnight.
My guy is not quite the tween/teen described in detail in Wiseman’s book, but I can’t help but think the timing is a total gift. As my 9 year old dips a toe in the choppy waters of those years, I am wholeheartedly grateful to have some sort of roadmap for the Guy Mind.
Masterminds – much like Queen Bees – is real, accessible, and full of anecdotes from a huge group of teenage boys who agreed to help Wiseman with true-life takes on the social issues she considers. She considers the social hierarchies that exist in every strata of Boy Life, she looks at building social media skills, and she offers practical, road-tested scenarios for tricky conversations that we’ll all find ourselves facing. (Accidently discover a girl sexting your clueless boy, anyone? What’s an effective, but reasonable response to that? She’s got us covered.)
The small gems in the book that resonated most deeply with me were not the eminently practical sample dialogues that she proposes, or the powerful tool she offers for managing anger in real-time. Rather, it’s the small bits of deep insight into a kids’ psyche that were so powerful: when bracing to hear something your guy knows you won’t want to hear? Wiseman advises that parents “be prepared to be changed by what you hear.” Or this: “Ironically, as our boys push us away, what they want most is for us to recognize and acknowledge them. They just don’t have any idea how to ask for what they want.”
Wiseman clearly and passionately respects the boys she describes to us. It isn’t a blind reverence for the state of boyhood: instead it is a deep affection that allows her to teach parents and educators to fully pay attention to the complexities of the Boy World. She asks us to examine our own motives and baggage as parents, and insists that we have to stop reducing our boys to caricatures like “boys are so simple – they’ll just fight and get it over with.”
As I head into these years, and struggle to find the words to connect with my boy, I think I will come back to this guide again and again. I can’t think of a parenting book I’ve been more grateful to have.
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