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Episode summary:

In this conversation, Susan speaks with Maggie Dent, author of From Boys to Men, about offering support and maintaining strong connection with boys—even as they move into a stage where it seems they want nothing to do with us.

Commonly known as the "Queen of Common Sense", Maggie Dent is one of Australia's favorite parenting authors and educators, with a particular interest in the early years, adolescence and resilience. Maggie is the author of seven books, including the bestselling 2018 Mothering Our Boys and her 2020 book, From Boys to Men. She hosts the ABC podcast, Parental As Anything. Maggie is a dedicated advocate to quietly changing lives in our families and communities. She is the mother of four sons and a very grateful grandmother.
 maggiedent.com

Things you'll learn from this episode:

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What your sons may not say but wish you knew
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The importance of character development

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How to address poor choices without shame or withholding love

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Episode Transcript


Speaker 1:

Hello, and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm your host, Susan Stifelman. I'm the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. I'm also a marriage, family and child therapist, a teacher, a long time parent educator, and a mom. And I'm really glad you're here. This podcast is all about helping you raise confident, caring children with more joy and fewer power struggles. And it's really my joy and my honor to share some of the things I've learned in the 40 plus years. I've been doing this work as a teacher, a therapist and educator, and a mother, and each episode allows me to share something unique and hopefully helpful to support you in your parenting adventure. Before we get started, make sure that you're getting all of our updates by visiting susanstiffelman.com and signing up for our free newsletter. Lots of news and inspiration.


Speaker 1:

We've got some great programs coming up, including a masterclass on learning the language of boys that I'll be teaching on November 12th with Maggie Dent, who is my guest on today's podcast. So please be sure to visit susanstiffelman.com to stay in touch today. You're going to hear me talking with Maggie about some of the ways that we can help our boys grow into confident, compassionate, young men. You'll hear us talking about how to reach boys who are struggling, how to help them develop character in the importance of staying in close connection. Even when it seems like our, our boys and teens want nothing to do with us. So have a listen and I'll come back to wrap up. Hi, Maggie. I'm so happy you're here.


Speaker 2:

Hello. Beautiful Susan. It's so good for you to have time to have a chat to me from down under


Speaker 1:

And in today's episode, we're going to talk about our beautiful boys


Speaker 2:

Given that you also are a mother of a boy. Yeah, it doesn't mean we don't like girls. I think I have to keep reassuring people. I'm a mum of four sons. And in my years of teaching, I also taught co-ed, which meant I taught girls and boys, but it was this special affinity and understanding of boys who felt so misunderstood that has probably driven a lot of the way that I have studied and researched over the last whatever 42 years. Since I first stepped into a classroom.


Speaker 1:

Maggie, I'm going to read your bio so that people know a little bit about you. And then we'll start talking about what you've discovered in the many years you've been working with these beautiful young men. So first of all, I want to just say that we are going to put something together. The two of us are going to teach a class on learning the language of boys. And I'm excited about that. And I got the idea really from your beautiful book from boys to men, which is now available in the States. So I encourage everybody to kind of keep an eye out for the book, Maggie, that's what we want to talk about. But for some you say that you are Maggie Dent, commonly known as the queen of common sense in your home country of Australia. You're a favorite parenting author, an educator over there with a particular interest in the early years, as well as adolescents and resilience. Maggie is the author of seven books, including the bestselling 2018 mothering our boys and her brand new release from boys to men, Maggie hosts, the ABC podcast, Parental as Anything, and is a dedicated advocate to quietly changing lives in our families and communities. And you have lived this world of traveling very closely with boys all the way from their, you know, infancy through to them becoming fathers themselves. Tell me how that shaped or influenced your desire to write this book from boys to men and why you wrote it now.


Speaker 2:

I think I was blessed with a childhood on a farm and I spent a lot of time with my dad because my mom was pretty difficult and, and I had brothers and my little brother was a gentle boy. And so as I sort of merged through life I noticed that the world tended to celebrate the loud, highly successful competitive sport, sporty kind of boy. And I kept looking for who was, where were the others? Were they less than boys? So I started to look at how we view boys, particularly when I stepped into classrooms. I even had well-meaning experience teachers telling me that, you know, boys are just hopeless. You know, look, you'll just have to be really firm with them or they won't turn out. Okay. You've got to punish them a lot night. There was a part of me that didn't sit well with all of that Susan.


Speaker 2:

And so instead of doing that in my classrooms, I chose to treat them with incredible respect. And I, I would tell the whole class, I value all of you, not just the clever ones and also treated them with kindness and I never had behavior problems. And I know that there were teachers that were really skeptical about that approach. So what I discovered is that underneath a mask that is often you know, sometimes difficult to get through in from the tween years, right? The way through to the mid twenties, but underneath it, wasn't a less than human. Wasn't a deliberately difficult to communicate. Boy was a very confused, very confused boy who often behaved in ways that absolutely mystified him as well. And yet he was blamed with it being an intentionally poor. So I think all that together, and then I began counseling them when I stepped out of the classroom and I could not believe the stories they would tell me about how confused they were with, why was I punished for that?


Speaker 2:

Why do people always roll their eyes at me and just treat me as though I'm stupid. Am I stupid? And I started to say, Oh my gosh, no, one's listening to our tween and teen boys and I want to be their voice. And I think it's because I've also worked a lot with men in dads, only workshops quite often, and the same stories were coming back from them. So before I wrote the book, I did a survey of over 1600 men nearly 900 boys and their voices did match my concern. So I, I kind of hold the premise that I'm writing on their behalf as well. So that's kind of how it all came together, Susan.


Speaker 1:

Wow. I mean, this speaks to one of the core principles of my work is which is that human beings want to be their better selves, that when we feel seen and supported and accepted, we just do our best to show up with the best version of ourselves that we can be. And, you know, the flip side of that of course, is that sometimes our behavior is communicating a pain, a longing, can you say, can you add something to that? Does that resonate for you?


Speaker 2:

Oh, definitely. And also, so in that whole journey of you know, little boys where I helped moms to understand them a little differently, it was, you know, the stories of how deeply shamed little boys are, and still are. We, we tend to have the illusion and still believe the illusion that they are tougher than girls. So people are more sarcastic to them. They ridicule them more. They laugh at them more, but they shame them more. And that festers away inside little boys. And so sometimes that's what you find later that instead of saying Oh, that choice I made was stupid or come out with, I am stupid. So they feel shamed. And that shame starts to come out in really the big, ugly feelings that are there for all of our adolescents when the limbic brain grows. It means their emotions are far more intense.


Speaker 2:

So our boys are tapping into unexpressed things that they haven't understood with from voices of people implying there's something wrong with them. And then with the surges of testosterone and the poor impulse control, which is all explained in neuroscience and biology when they, you know, throw desks around because somebody has disrespected them or, or called them a name, we want to punish the boy because we feel he does it deliberately. And instead of it being this response to how differently we do tend to treat the little girls to little boys and it to will bubble up a little bit later. So my mission is not just helping us understand it's changing the way that we view gender. And I think you and I both agree exactly what you said. Every, every child wants to be seen, valued, heard, and accepted as they are, rather than through that lens that says, Oh, girls, we need to be gentle with them because they're weak at no, they're not.


Speaker 2:

In actual fact, we know there's, there's so much more research about the fragility of, of boys and girls. So when we even it out, we need to let us kind of either in don't we Susan is that our boys are actually often more fragile than we think they are. And our girls are often stronger than we think they are. And that we need to just, you know, at the end of the day, each child has a different temperament, different personality, different blend of all of those things. And that our job is to come to understand the child in front of us, not the one we read about or had in our classroom or whatever, the one that's standing in front of us right now, regardless of where they are on that gender profile.


Speaker 1:

So many things in this book, first of all, it's a loaded, there's so much practical substance to it. And one of the things that I was really touched by the letter that your sons would like to write to you, or the letter that they wish you would write to them. Can you say a little bit about that?


Speaker 2:

Yeah. I think that's such a big one. And, it's interesting about the spoken word versus the written word. When communicating with our boys, we do know that us females have a much better memory. We do tend to have a much better command of verbal dialogue and there's a lot of reasons in the brain. So having something written, is great in two ways, so that if a boy is able to write, you know, a letter to us in his own time, with time to not be interrupted and heard, it's such a powerful way of being heard. And the letter I'm talking about is the one that says, please don't let go of the rope while I, while I really struggle while I, u,u know, I will struggle and I will have arguments and I will find it difficult. And I will sometimes slam doors, which is of course, once a lot of goes through as well, just don't let go of that.


Speaker 2:

Don't let go of me. So my metaphor throughout the whole book is that I believe the digital world has kind of stepped into our parenting space where our, all our children, but particularly our boys, because I love, love, loved things like gaming, where they're able to do the things in a digital space they used to do in a real world. And I think we've stolen their boy who had, they don't go off and run out and be feral and free and do dangerous things with their friends anymore. So they're still hungry for those experiences. So what's happened is it's like the rails have fallen off the bridge and I've spoken to boys of different ages. And some of them came through on the survey where I said, you, you do realize that your parents really still can help you become that best expression of yourself.


Speaker 2:

So what might call is we all get pushed back as parents, as our kids cross over that bridge to adult, or that's absolutely a biological reality. And we're meant to, because we're meant to be starting to own our own capacity for autonomy and independence. So in actual fact, it's the, who steps forward in that space. And that is those lighthouse figures that adolescents have needed forever, which I didn't realize was the most important thing I presented in the world of the teens I taught was I was that lighthouse figure that would sign a light on them, even if they were grumpy and their parents were yelling at them and they'd failed their test. I just still held a space for them. And it's, that's what we need the collective parenting again, that we've dropped the ball off. We've disappeared into our houses. We've made the outside world unsafe.


Speaker 2:

And that was before we had a pandemic. And we kind of out were more separated at all sorts of real levels. And it's that boys often learn in reality by doing beside that's, what they did in their traditional cultures. When they headed off on that journey to manhood, it was a very, very conscious responsibility of all those men in that particular community to teach them how to make things and create things and how to fight the saber tooth tigers and how to sit around a fire and learn the law and the right way of being. And all of those things have just gradually dissipated in our modern world. So minds are calling back forth that we all need to gather and look out, not just for our own sons, that's it is for all our boys. And when we start doing that, Oh my gosh, that is, that is what we used to blow me away.


Speaker 2:

It was always, there was the, the pantry was a very favorite place. I kept frozen bread cause I cook so much toast. And it's now later that they're in their thirties, that they'll come to me and say, I can remember hanging out at your place after school. It was just a safe place. Whether we were out on our skateboards around, or we were shooting hoops, or we were playing pool downstairs, we had a safe place to be where people, you cared for us. And I just, and I think they didn't articulate it, then they couldn't articulate it then. Right. But they so appreciate the people who keep saying hello when they can't or they grunt who keep on saying you're okay. Even if they've mucked up, you know what I mean? We have to keep giving them the light and the hope that this is a tricky stage of life that they're not bad.


Speaker 2:

They're not stupid. Even when they do the same thing, like the same poor choice over and over again, or they leave the milk out on the bench yet again, well, they put the empty milk carton back in your fridge, you know, like you just want to go. And we do, we've got explanations for so much of this Susan, when you go into the brain, you know, and you and I followed the brain for a long time, but when we know the impacts of brain pruning and we can explain that to parents and that's, what's really happening, the messages I'm getting back about the the sense of softening around their son, but he doesn't deliberately want to get out of bed in the morning and be forgetful or rude or disrespectful. He's struggling with flooding of cortisol because he's stressed. He's got so many things he can't work out. And so for us to give them some clarity and walk beside them over that bridge, man, it can really change the trajectory of their life. I love that this is what


Speaker 1:

Our boys need. They need to know that there are these people, or at least one person who shows up for them who sees them and who doesn't see their mistakes or their foibles or their brash behavior or their arrogant, or all the sort of messy, noisy, smelly stocks that might come with them. But who sees that beautiful being inside, who was wanting to, you know, be exuberant and express opinions and figure out where they stand on ideas and be creative and manifest all of their, their true nature.


Speaker 2:

And some of those realities, honest to goodness. I guess I had four boys, actual fact. I had a nephew living with me at one point. So I had kind of like three teenage boys. Oh my goodness. I had, I had to buy deodorant for them and tell them, you know, like they could not smell. They under armpit smell. They could not, they did didn't find that offensive. Mind you. They also felt that sometimes they fought, smelled like roses, which has also a complete fallacy. It was like, how could you not smell that right now? 


Speaker 2:

And I, and I've seen it in the bin when I got home. Is it gone? We only just bought it. Didn't you think that somebody might like to share it? You know? And he just said, you know, mum, about the second last spoonful. I thought, wow, if anyone else I know there's hope there is some hope. Remember that don't have, they don't have a prefrontal cortex with which to think empathetically or to plan for the future or to motivate themselves. They haven't got one. And so when we nag, I think one of my favorite kind of lines that I have written, and I think it was in a Guardian article that went right around the world and has been viewed about 500,000 times. Is it nagging them is like shouting into a void is I just don't hear you because we've been nagging our boys for years.


Speaker 2:

So one of the big passions in it is to decode how you can communicate. So they feel safe to be heard and all my goodness am I getting, I cry every time I get some feedback from a family that said particularly a mum who on reading my book,uhas not only started to use terms of endearment with her son. Sometimes she just puts her hand on his shoulder and rub she's showed it before she starts a conversation. She said, what's happening now is when I'm driving sometimes to school or picking him up from sport. He starts talking to me. He hasn't spoken to me in five years like this, so that tenderness and opening that softness to them when they feel safe. And when they feel my gosh, you know, I think she still loves me. It's just, it's been gold Susan. And I have, I keep crying. I keep crying when I hear those things.


Speaker 1:

Well, I had a session just, I think last week with the parent of a young man who was really struggling and mom was having such a difficult time reaching him. And yet she knew that he needed her, but she didn't know that language. You know, she didn't know how to make it feel safe for him to hear her loving support


Speaker 2:

As I was narrating it. And when I got to a story that I remembered, you can hear it in my voice. I'm one of those powerful stories was the 14 year old boy whose, mum froze him out. You know, it's a technique we often do as females. When we're a bit cross, we freeze you out for a while. We don’t want to talk to you. Cause we're cross, we're trying to process our own stuff. She froze him out. She didn't like his report card and day five, some of his friends had got hold of me and said, I think he's trying to, you know, think he's thinking of ending his life. And I was able to find him. And when I was working with him, he said to me, Oh, he said, Oh, I thought my mum had stopped loving me. And I did not want to live in a world without my mother's love. 14 years of age.


Speaker 2:

That is the sensitivity that we keep missing. And so again you know, that look of disappointment on our face. How often do we do that? When, particularly with your son has couple of months, I've got off the school bus and left their backpack on the bus. Like, how could you do that? How could you get off the bus? How many times have they forgotten their football boots or their swimming bag or they, I don't know him a phone is it can be so frustrating, but in that frustration, do they still feel we love them and we're going to help them


Speaker 1:

Such beautiful, such gentle, such compassionate words. This work of raising a child, a boy or a girl, raising a youngster, helping our, our little one grow into the man woman being that they're meant to be in the world. It's the most sacred work and what you're doing informs who this child becomes. This informs the head of the corporation or the father or the president or banker or the farmer. That the way that, that young man turns out and the level of empathy and compassion and patience and tolerance that he exhibits in his life as an adult grown man, is the work that we're doing now in these small little interactions in the smiles and the reassurance in the love. So it's no small thing. In fact, I think it's the most important work to be done, to teach her to parent a child, because we are really preparing the next generation of leaders and citizens. And,uif that can happen with greater love, compassion, care, tenderness, all the good stuff, you know, confidence, resilience, then you know, that there's hope then there's hope


Speaker 2:

We just need to know that you know, that character development it's, I think it's because our system of education just got so driven towards testing the timeframe that we used to use as classroom teachers, where we would develop those aspects of, you know, how you see yourself and how you see the world and how we can respect others. And there's not as much time for that anymore. So I think there's a whole chapter in there again, about how do we raise a good character in our boys. And one of the big things is we have to marinate them in stories of those good men. They're not perfect men. You know, they're not men that don't make mistakes or forget things, but the men that step up the men that have,uyou know, once again made mistakes, even our elite athletes and, you know, champion football players who have made a poor, poor choice, how they step up, be accountable and then return back because they're the ones that men really respect the best, not just the ones who never make a mistake or who lie about it. They're the ones who step up. Okay. I made a poor choice and that's not the man I want to be in, this is who I am and I'm doing this to make it right. Wow. When you marinate boys in that you then create, you know, the men of tomorrow that we really want to be our fathers and our leaders. Yeah.


Speaker 1:

Beautiful. Oh my gosh. Okay. Maggie, thank you. I, you know, I like to end these episodes with something practical or tangible that parents can take away and put into practice. So can you think of one thing that the parent of a son or the neighbor of a young boy or the teacher of a boy could do to help the boys feel safe, to help them feel seen, to make it seem okay. To reach out for support when they need it? What's one thing that we can offer parents to keep in mind this week,


Speaker 2:

Never, ever stop saying hello, communicating with them or pausing, even if they don't look up. So once again, never, ever stopped. Cause just because they've got their head down, you often think, I doesn't want to say never stopped calling out and saying, Hey, you doing yep. Thumbs up. Don't ever stop doing that. Even when they looking like they've become a monosyllabic, grunting gorilla never, ever, ever stopped connecting, never, ever stop and wish them well have a good week, mate


Speaker 1:

Navistar. I remember one time going into my son's room when he was a teenager and he was doing his own thing. I think he was about to go to a concert and he was, you know, kind of looking at the lineup and smiling. And I went and sat on the edge of the bed and I didn't really say much of anything. I just wanted to visit for a minute and I'm sitting there and he's hardly looking at me and he's looking at this thing on the screen of his laptop. And then I finally, after a while, you know, just enjoyed being there. And then I got up to go and he said, where are you going?


Speaker 2:

Yeah, for me, I'll tell you one of my tricks is that a tread on their toes? I used to turn on their toe or lean on them while I was standing next to me, sometimes in the kitchen, just lean on them. Or if they were sitting on the couch, I'd walk past and then just sit on them. And I, I still do that today and they're in their thirties. Because it's just their mum. She's just lean in sign. I'm still here. Like I'm still here. Like even, especially after they've been a bit unpleasant, I would still do exactly the same thing. Just lean on them. Yeah. Me doing mom, just laying in love.


Speaker 1:

Oh gosh. Okay. Maggie tell people how they can find out more about your work. Please.


Speaker 2:

I'll look at the easiest thing. Of course is maggiedent.com.


Speaker 1:

And then Maggie, let's make sure that we tell people that they can join us for our class, November 12th called learning the language of boys. What do you want to say about that?


Speaker 2:

Oh my goodness. It's so much. I'm going to share particularly some key messages for dads. The dad deal is really powerful. The dad plan is really, really powerful. The mum letter, how to really communicate and how to unstick an unmotivated boy. So I'm going to go through all the key secrets on how to get that beautiful boy of yours to want to communicate again. So I'm so excited because yay. It's something I love to do.


Speaker 1:

We both have these tender spots for our boys. Not only because we've worked with kids for so many decades, but because we're mothers of sons. So the other thing I want to make sure that we talk about Maggie is how to not nag, right?


Speaker 2:

Oh yeah. The nagging like yelling into a void. I've got some great strategies really practical strategies as well.


Speaker 1:

So stay in touch everyone. You can check that at susanstiffelman.com, make sure you're signed up for the newsletter. So you get all the, all the inspiration and all the updates, all the little essays and reminders of how we can show up. Even when we ourselves are overwhelmed or stressed or struggling, it's all about everything we do. And everything Maggie does is about propping all of you up and offering. We can share from all the work we've done for. So, so, so long with these thousands of families who've worked with. So that will be fun. Maggie, thank you again. Yay.


Speaker 1:

I hope you enjoyed that. If you'd like to dive deeper into understanding the boys in your life, whether they're little guys or they're tweens and teens checkups, isn't stifelman.com to find out more about the class. I'll be teaching next week with Maggie on learning the language of boys as always, the replay will be available. If you can't tune in live. Now, if you're finding these podcasts helpful, please leave a rating or review or tell a friend or all of the above. We've had nearly 400,000 downloads so far of this series and it's because you're helping us get the word out. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Remember, you can hit the subscribe button if you'd like to be notified just as soon as a new episode is released. All right, then that's it for today. Remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy, stay safe, stay well.


Speaker 3:

I'll see you next time.



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