Editor's note: This story was first published in 2014; now that Jenna Bush Hager has had her first boy (and third child), we think she and her husband Henry Hager could use this wisdom as their daughters Mila and Poppy get a baby brother!
When you have a girl, you know that you can always fall back on your own childhood memories to guide you as a parent. But unless you grew up with a brother, there's a good chance that parts of raising a boy can take you by surprise. From the sports obsession to the penis comparisons, here are 10 things I wish I'd known about bringing up boys.
1. There will be planes, trains and automobiles
Even if you stock your nursery with mixed-gender toys like baby dolls and play kitchens, there's a good chance matchbox cars and trucks will multiply on their own in your home, boats will line your bathtub and train track will loop around your floor. Little boys adore anything that flies, sails, drives, digs or mixes. “I could have never anticipated the amount of fun he can have with just a few cars,” said mom of two Dana McCranie. “I love watching his little fingers wrapped around two cars and imagining what he sees as he drives them around with animation and sound effects.”
2. Boys don’t stop moving
From the moment they come bouncing into your bed at 5:30 in the morning until they pass out at bedtime, boys go. Sometimes it seems like they have only two speeds — fast and faster. This means that your toddler could be sitting on the floor shaking a rattle one minute and when you turn your head, he will have summitted the dining room table. He may not ever slow down, but you’ll learn to pick up the pace. “Give them goals,” said dad of three Randolph RoVino. “Give them the tools. Give them encouragement to use the energy that they have. And have your sneakers on!”
3. His fascination with his penis starts sooner than you think
Chalk it up to the cave man instinct, but boys play with their penises practically from birth. (And those baby erections? Whoa.) Once he figures out it’s there, it’ll be everything you can do to keep his hands from drifting down there all the time. “I remember other moms warning me when I had my first son, ‘Don't worry if he touches his thing all the time. It's normal,’” said mom of two Melissa Phipps. “I'm still not sure if my 8-year-old is in the normal range, but whenever he had a free moment, he whips it out. Ironically, the only time he doesn't have his hand on his penis is when he's using the toilet and should be holding it to aim correctly. That's when it can't be tamed.”
4. Clothes shopping will be a piece of cake
A girl’s wardrobe can be sizable. But boys? Well, there are pants, sneakers and T-shirts. There are no outfits. Everything, essentially, goes together. “There may be fewer options in the store, but I’ll happily dress a boy over a girl any day,” said mom of one Bonnie Vengrow. “The palette is simple, the clothes are cute, and he’ll let me dress him with no fuss.”
5. Roughhousing is innate
Boys are physical. There's the jumping off furniture, the rolling on each other, the "hug" that turns into a full-body running tackle. It's often how they connect and express affection. “My sons constantly have to touch each other and be near each other,” said mom of two Stacy Genovese. “We recently finished our basement and it’s a huge playroom but yet they both have to play right on top of each other and then it’s the inevitable ‘He hit me!’, ‘No, he hit him first!’”
Exhausting? Yes. Normal and healthy? Absolutely. This kind of physical interaction can foster positive relationships, boost the body's feel-good chemicals and promote intelligence — even if it means stuff around the house is going to get broken.
6. You’ll probably make a trip to the emergency room
There are boys and there are coffee tables and these two things often add up to stitches. You will learn to anticipate the most dangerous risks (and you might want to buy cushioned corners for the coffee table), but there will be a time when you're just a second too late and you land up driving to the ER. Don’t blame yourself — it's a rite of passage for all boy moms. “It's hard not to feel ashamed when it happens, but don't worry. Other parents sympathize,” Phipps said.
7. Pee will be everywhere. Everywhere
On the floor. Behind the toilet. On the wall. All over the seat that they neglected to lift up. Apparently, it takes time and an attention span not to spray the entire bathroom while urinating. “Peeing everywhere never stops — argh!,” said mom Shirlie Sharpe. “The only thing that changes is that as they get bigger, their range increases.” Your best bet: Keep some Clorox wipes at the ready and remind yourself that unless there's poop involved, your child won't ever need to sit on a dirty public toilet seat. Oh, and it's incredibly easy for them to pee behind a tree in the park.
8. You’ll learn not to compare your son to girls
Watch a girl the same age as your nonstop ball of energy sit quietly and use glitter glue for 45 minutes and you may want to cry. Girls often reach milestones earlier and excel at many essential school skills like reading and, er, sitting still. “The girls in my son Ian’s class and the daughters of my friends are way more advanced than my boys,” Genovese said. “They’re just more aware of the world around them. One friend with girls the same ages as my boys said, ‘For me, it’s all mental. For you, it’s all physical.‘ And that’s exactly right.”
Boys can also approach things differently, which is part of the fun. Case in point: “My girls never thought to make puzzles in the nude!” said mom of three Gina Ferrara.
9. The goofiness starts early
There will be days when you watch your son with his friends and you just won't get it. Boy humor can be extra goofy and the potty humor starts as soon as they can talk. “Who knew the love of fart jokes was part of a boy's development?” said Phipps. “At some point after learning to talk, farts will be all your little one talks about. I am not sure when the phase ends.” So trust that you will be told that your dinner tastes like poop. You'll be called poopy head and poopy pants. If you laugh (and it's often hard not to) or scold, you just give the poop talk more value. So try to keep a straight face at least until you can vent on Facebook.
10. Boys adore their moms
There's a strong and consistent love that comes from boys from the get-go — and stays there through the long haul. “Whenever you come home, it’s like being a rock star in your own home,” Genovese said.
“The thing I will miss most when my boys grow up is the adoring way they look at me and stroke my face and hair," Phipps said. They are such little romantics. I will say to my 6-year-old, ‘You're cute’ and he'll respond ‘You're cuter!’ It almost makes it worth being the only female in an all-male household.”