10 Things I Want my 10 Year Old Son to Know

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It feels like just moments ago that I reflected on the things I wanted Grace to know, deep in her marrow, before she turned ten.  But now it’s Whit who’s staring double digits in the face.  In less than two months he’ll be ten, and there won’t be anyone with a single-digit age in our house anymore.  Just as with Grace, I keep thinking about the values and truths I want Whit to know, the things I wish I could make him as certain of as he is of his own heartbeat.

Even as I think about and write these things down, I know that I can only do so much to impart them to him.  I know that what I do is more important than what I say.  I know that I had better have been modeling these themes already, since with 10 years under his belt he’s already picked up and internalized a lot of values from me.

With a desperate hope that I’ve done an okay job helping to exemplify and teach these messages, here are ten things I want my son to know before he turns ten.

1. Treat other people with respect.  Women and men both.  The headmistress of your school and the homeless man outside the subway station are both equally deserving of your kindness.  You do this already, instinctively, but please, never stop.

2. Rowdiness and physical activity are both normal and fun.  Rough-housing is okay.  I know I sometimes shush you more than I should, because my personal preference is for quiet, but I’m working on that, because being physically active and even rambunctious is totally fine.  There is a line, however, because violence is not okay.  Learning where this line is is crucial.

3. No means no.  Period.  No matter who says it and in what context.

4. Don’t hide your sensitivity.  You feel everything tremendously deeply: time’s passage, memory, wistfulness, love and loss.  Don’t let the world convince you to stuff this down.  You can be strong and feel a lot at the same time.  In fact, feeling a lot makes you stronger.  That’s true regardless of whether you’re a boy or a girl.

5. You can’t make another person happy, not me, not Dad, not Grace.  Nobody.  Furthermore that’s not your job.  I know this, we all do, and I hope you always remember it.  You are responsible for your own self and for the way you treat others, which can surely impact their moods.  But nobody should ever make you feel responsible for their happiness.  What makes me happy is knowing that you are thriving, challenged, enthusiastic, joyful, aware.

6. Pay attention to your life.  There is so much to notice in the most every day moments.  The other day you told me, before bed, that “the things you hate are the things you wish you had back.”  I asked what you meant and you said, “well, like in Beginners, we had nap, and I didn’t like it, and now I would love to have rest time every day at school!”  But then, after a few moments, you added, “well, at least I feel like I noticed it.  That’s good, I guess.”  And it is.  I haven’t figured out how to stop time, but I do know that paying close attention to your experience rewards us with full days and rich memories.

7. Find your passion.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but “I’m bored” isn’t something I want to hear.  Ever.  You are surrounded by interesting things to explore, learn about, and experience. I’ll support you in whatever you want to pursue, if it is hockey or coding or violin – or all three! – but you do need to find something that you want to throw yourself into.

8. Entitlement is the absolute worst.  I am a strict mother and often feel badly about discipline or sharp language, but one thing I’ll always react to (and I’ll never regret doing so) is if you display even a whiff of entitlement or brattiness.  You don’t do it often, and I don’t think it’s your natural orientation towards the world, but please always remember how immensely fortunate we are.  It is an enormous privilege to live as we do every single day.  Through small things like Sunday Night compliments, occasional volunteering, our Christmas Homeless Veteran relationship, and thank you notes I have tried to instill our family life with awareness of our great good fortune.  That is, I believe, the best bulwark against entitlement there is.

9. Even if you don’t start something, you can be wrong.  I think always of MLK’s line about how the silence of our friends hurts far more than the words of our enemies.  The ringleader is at fault but so are those who go along with him.  Please have the courage to stand up to the popular kids when circumstances arise when they’re doing the wrong thing.  They haven’t yet, but I know they will.

10. I love you, no matter what.  Messing up is a part of life.  The point is learning to let go and start over.  This I know I’ve modeled, probably too well: you are being raised by a mother who’s not afraid to show you her flaws and demonstrate failing, apologizing, and beginning again.  I will always love you, even when you behave in ways I don’t love.  But I also expect you to keep showing me that you know the point is to learn from our mistakes, recognize and acknowledge when we’re wrong, and begin again.


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18 Comments

  1. Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Early morning tears yet again. I am often torn about whether I am so relieved to be raising only girls- there is so much more to learn about boys- but then I read things like this and I realize what a privilege it is to learn about the art of raising boys in to the men we hope them to be. This is so beautiful. And just this weekend we were talking about #9. The MLK is the perfect way to explain it. I think we are going to need to revisit our conversation because I floundered a bit.

  2. Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Such important lessons to impart – all of them. Standing up and cheering for #8.

  3. Kathie
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I LOVE this. Numbers 8, 9, and 10 especially. Appreciation, empathy mixed with bravery, and resilience.

  4. Nadine
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    The piece you wrote for Grace was the very first post of yours I’ve read, and since then I’ve tremendously enjoyed your writing. I especially love this piece – the arrival of my baby boy made me think about what I want him to know. Loved reading your thoughts!

  5. Isabelle
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Love all of this. My son is eight and I relate to every one of these. I love number 6–that he gets that the noticing is important is fantastic!

  6. Posted December 1, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I love this so very much, and am keeping for my own son. So wise and beautiful. xoxo

  7. Posted December 1, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully written, Lindsey, and every bit of it spot on. Thank you for sharing this. I feel your 10 Things are an important reminder – not only to your soon-to-be-10 Whit, but for all of us. xo

  8. Posted December 1, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I love this. My son is ten as well and I feel these 10 Things deeply. They are so incredibly important for our children to know. I think, like Amy said, these are crucial for all of us to know (or be reminded of). Thank you.

  9. Rachel Cedar
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Love all this so much L. Can’t believe Eli will be 8 soon…I know 10 is just around the corner and I’m positive I will want him to know all these things too!

  10. Posted December 1, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    OK so “entitlement is the absolute worst” let’s frame that one because it’s awesome and so tricky with these kids (I just said “these kids). But my favorite lesson/point is “Even if you don’t start something, you can be wrong” Elie Wiesel has a great quote in that vain and it’s so important, maybe especially for boys, to know. Happy almost 10th to your son. Curious how lessons differ boy versus girl…

    admin Reply:

    So glad you agree. I HATE entitled behavior more than anything else, I think. The 10 things I wrote to/about Grace are here: http://www.adesignsovast.com/2012/05/things-i-want-my-10-year-old-daughter-to-know/

  11. Posted December 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    A tremendously great list, for any age! This post on entitlement came up recently among my Google alerts—your post today reminded me of it. http://growingleaders.com/blog/seven-emotions-follow-sense-entitlement/

  12. Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE these. I am going to read this to Oliver (age 9). So beautiful!!! Whit is a lucky kid to have such a great mom.

  13. Posted December 2, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I started listing the ones I loved most (1, 6…), but then it became 7, 8, 9, 10 ! These are all so wonderful. Whit is lucky to have you as a mother, and we are lucky to have you as a writer. xo

  14. Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Lindsey, you did it again. Beautiful and insightful words that Whit will carry forever. And you know what? All of us can benefit from this wisdom too. Thank you.

  15. Posted December 2, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    This is fantastic! I love them all! I don’t know if I realize our boys were so close in age. Sam turned 10 in July. The entitlement one is something we are dealing with now as the Hanukkah lists are coming out. We just told Sam that the hockey skates we bought him yesterday will be his Hanukkah gift. He went ballistic, which means he got a big ol’ lecture, of course, but will be getting many more. In his mind, you just get skates because you “need” them. In the real world, he has to learn that he’s part of a big family and even what might seem like a “need” is truly not a need. This is a longer story and I don’t want to take up your comments section– my point is that I’m so glad you brought up #8 along with all the other point. Such great ones!

  16. James Samuel Cyrus Black
    Posted December 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Have his Grandfather(s) or Father written a Top Ten (10) List for your precious man/child yet? Hoping so given yours, would you mind sharing part or all of those with us?

  17. James Samuel Cyrus Black
    Posted December 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I posted a comment asking what your precious son’s Grandfather(s) and/or Father (had?) said regarding their thoughts on Top 10. I saw it was being moderated. No problem of course. It is your blog. I have been following your thoughts for several years though much more passively and during that time learned about how proud you are of your father and his role in the example he is setting for your son. So was more curious than anything else and also in the context of boys are being raised largely by women in our today’s society so am always curious what esteemed older loving men think. There is a lot more ‘back story’ that I can share – all of which is positive and hope-filled I think but on of the key points is your (and much of society’s ‘No Means No!’ My only thought and my personal experience is that your son better learn to say no because in my experience (and I am not nearly as attractive or charming or gifted at that age as your son), if I had had the Internet and today’s Television, it would not have been pretty. Anyway, thanks for your seeking and doing and for bringing two amazing children into our world. It gives me hope. And this is because I assume that it will be (hopefully?) moderated out. Cheers!

    admin Reply:

    My SINCERE apologies – I loved your first comment (and this one) and thought I’d approved it. The truth is neither my husband nor my father have written anything to or about Whit at this point … I hope they will (and wish they had) and will certainly encourage that. There is a lot about Whit that reminds me of my father, honestly, mostly his very strong innate engineer/how-things-work orientation. It’s been a joy to watch the connect about this stuff and to observe my father recognizing things in Whit – I see that from time to time and it makes me so happy. Thank you so much for this comment. xox

  18. kerri
    Posted January 15, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    This is really awesome, my son just turned 11. What you wrote here really captures in words what I too would like to impart to my son. Very thoughtful and touching.