Q: I'm a mom to 3 energetic young boys. I grew up with two sisters myself -- in other words, "just us girls" -- so the constant competition between my little guys has been a real shock to me. Should I encourage or discourage my sons' competitive nature?
Jim: Here's what I think. There are exceptions, of course, but most boys are wired to compete. Watch how a group of boys plays together sometime -- it's the same in every culture. If they don't have a game suitable to battle one another, they'll create one. They'll turn rocks and sticks into guns and swords, while wadded up T-shirts become balls for some new game they invent.
In their younger days, my own sons spent hours building fortresses out of Legos only to see who could destroy them with a well-thrown tennis ball. The Death Star and the Evil Empire were destroyed more times than I can count. They're teens now and still compete with each other -- and me!
But it's not all fun and games. Win or lose, the skills and discipline boys learn when they compete will be pivotal to them later when they're responsible for a career, a mortgage and a family of their own. Ultimately, raising boys is about raising confident men who are equipped to take on the world around them.
That's why I don't think it's helpful for parents to throttle their sons' competitive spirit. Instead, teach them how to harness their strength and to use it in productive ways that benefit not just themselves, but other people. Sure, they need boundaries, but don't be too heavy-handed with restrictions. Focus more on patience and instruction.
The goal isn't to hold your sons back, but to direct their path. A boy in competition is a man in training.
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Q: I'm getting married soon. My fiance and I have been told to expect some "normal" disagreements. But we're worried we might fight about the wrong things. What topics are OK to argue about?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: The list of issues a couple can disagree about is endless: money, in-laws, sex, who should do the laundry, etc. Both of you see the world through different eyes, so it's inevitable that you'll disagree on some things. But you can actually "fight your way to a better marriage" -- in fact (semi-shameless plug), my wife and I literally wrote the book by that title.
The key is that what you argue about is far less important than how you argue. Some couples fight with one goal in mind: winning the argument at all costs. Instead of listening or trying to understand each other's point of view, they go on the offensive and fight to get their own way. That's when things can get ugly with name-calling, criticism, or even verbal or physical threats. Those are all destructive behaviors that will scar your marriage long after your disagreement has been resolved or abandoned. You're attacking your spouse, not the problem.
A better idea is to pursue a solution that works as equitably as possible for both of you. You can work through almost anything if your ultimate goal is the health and well-being of your relationship. The more complicated the issue, the more important healthy choices become. You can be defensive, or you can be open to your spouse's feelings. You can be self-righteous, or you can be humble. You can be stubborn, or you can be understanding.
Winning an argument is a hollow victory if you're wrecking your marriage in the process. Make a strong relationship your goal. Attack the problem, not each other. We have resources to help (including counseling referrals) at FocusOnTheFamily.com.