Firstborns. They give us our first experience of being parents, and our first opportunity to realize how little we know about this whole job. They get the brunt of our mistakes as we figure out what works and what doesn’t. I wrote about what I’m learning from my youngest, because that lesson was “in my face” obvious. The other two have taken a little more reflecting. Lately I’ve had some interactions with my oldest that have me thinking about the unique lessons I’m learning from him.

Dad, I’m a Nine-Year-Old!

The other night our four-year-old son (the youngest) wanted to take a shower with our nine-year-old son (our oldest). They have before, and I love it because we knock out two showers at the same time. There’s the regular showerhead, and then a handheld that’s a perfect height for the little one. This has worked great many times before, so I told the four-year-old that of course he could! My oldest wanted none of that.

Dad, I don’t want to take a shower with him!

Dad, I like taking my own shower so I can relax!

Dad, he’s a four-year-old! Nine-year-olds don’t take showers with four-year-olds!

You should have seen that last protest. His arms were held out wide in the air like he was making a grand proclamation. We must come together for world peace. This is a declaration of war!

His response to taking a shower with his little brother was big and over the top, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen this. Every now and then we get a peek at the teenager he’s going to become. There are the occasional eye-rolls, and then eye-rolls when I point out that his eyes rolled. It’s a reminder that there is a very independent stage right around the corner. We worked out a deal where he only had to take a shower with him for a few minutes, and then he’d get his own time, but it made me think about a few things I need to realize.

The first is that his pushing away from mom and dad is perfectly normal. He’s already halfway to becoming an adult! When this second half is over, I want a son that can think for himself and take on the challenges of the world. I want him to be independent, just like I want my four-year-old to put his own shirt on. I’m trying to make mental notes now when he’s young, because it will only get more intense. I remember butting heads with my dad when I was a teenager, and I’m sure my son and I won’t always see eye to eye. My role of protector is quickly going to become one of “guider.” He will start to navigate more things on his own, and I have to be OK with loosening my grip and letting him grow.

The second is that time is going by fast. The little guy that looks up to his dad and needs me for everything is on the way out, and a big kid who can do it himself is on the way in. I could get sentimental and sad about this change, but it won’t prevent the future. Instead, I feel a sense of urgency. The next few years of his life will be very formative, and I absolutely can’t check out.

No, You Can’t Add That Person Online

I see this transition that is coming in the next few years, and I know how important our role as parents will be during this time. This realization was front and center the other day. A friend of his from school wanted to “add him” as a friend on the computer. My son currently has two friends: me and his uncle. Is he ready for this?

The first thing we did was tell him we needed to discuss it, which we did. In this specific case, we don’t know the friend, and we don’t know their family. We decided this wasn’t something we wanted now, no matter how much he thought he needed it. When we told him, unlike the indignant “I don’t want to shower with a four-year-old” response, this time we got tears. To him, this was super important, and I needed to help him understand our decision.

I tried to explain to him that while the internet is super cool, there’s also a lot of dangerous stuff that we want to protect him from. We don’t know that family, or who has access to the account. All it takes is for someone to send him a link, for him to click it, and dangerous and harmful things will pop up on the screen.

Come on dad, you’re the adult, you can talk to him about this.

I told him that we need to be careful about something on the internet called pornography. That’s where people put pictures of naked people online, and we want to make sure we stay away from that. Phew. I did it! I didn’t say anything about why it’s bad, or get into sexuality and God’s design for healthy sexuality, but I brought up pornography. We’ll need to have more conversations, but I opened the door.

It’s not easy, but us dads need to take responsibility and talk to our sons about this stuff. We need to talk to them openly, because they will come into contact with it. It might feel easier to hide in my shell and not have to talk to him about pornography or other dangers with technology, but living in denial won’t prepare him.

A few days after this conversation, he asked again if he could add them online. We talked again, and I brought up the pornography thing again, and it went much better this time. I told him we have a responsibility to protect him. If we make him wait to add friends online or see certain movies, the worst outcome is that he needs to be patient. But if we rush into things too young, the worst case scenarios look a lot worse. It’s much easier to wait, avoid being exposed to something too young, and he just has to be patient. It was awesome talking to him plainly and honestly, and this time he walked away from the conversation with a pretty good understanding of where we’re coming from.

Still My Boy

Even though we’re getting glimpses of the teenager that is to come, we’re not there yet. He still wants to have special time with us, like putting the little ones to bed and watching TV with us. Or he wants to go on special vacations, just him and I. Living between these two worlds of “not yet a teenager,” but “not a little boy,” I realized something.

If we want him to continue to reach out to us, we need to respond when he does. If we don’t respond and make time for him, then he’ll stop reaching out. Heading into his teenage years, I want him to feel comfortable talking to us, and knowing that we will be there to help and support him.

I’m starting to realize how important the father/son relationship is, and what a big responsibility I have. I’ve spent most of my parenting journey worrying about things like diapers and feeding and bedtime, but now I see that moving to far bigger issues. Dads need to take that responsibility seriously and step up, no matter how awkward it might make us feel.

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Nathan Charlton
A husband and father of three, he is first and foremost a Christian, but will openly admit he doesn't have everything figured out. His passions include writing, spending time with his family, and any game by Blizzard.

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