So, I'd finally got the house clean last weekend when the back door swung open and in stumbled three dirty boys. And I don't mean wave-a-flannel-in-the-vague-direction-of-their-face dirty. I mean head-to-toe, can't-see-the trainers-for-the-mud, pass-me-thescrubbing-brush dirty.


In the short journey between the kitchen and the bathroom, they managed to undo all my good work: having dumped a washing machine load at my feet, they left muddy footprints on the floor, muddy handprints on the walland a layer of sediment in the once-gleaming tub.

Such is life with sons: while the mothers ofgirls get to mess about with hairbands and nail varnish, mothers ofboys spend their lives shivering on touchlines, trying to disentanglepiles of bodies, or being told fart jokes.

There are compensations, of course. For every strip you have to wash, there is the pleasure of seeing your boys long-limbed and glowing with health; for every ruined flower bed, the thrill of hearing them laugh withtheir friends. Girls may be easier to corral, but boys are less complicated. You don't have to listen to hours of who's fallen out with whom, or dry tears because a party invitation has been withheld in a fit of pique. Once you've resigned yourself to the fact you're never going to look glamorous, being wrestled to the floor by three little balls of energy can be fun. And there's nothing to beat a hug from aboy who has spent so long rolling in the muck, he smells like a new potato.

Not that there's much talk about the joy of having sons these days. No, everything we hear about bringing up boys seems to emphasise what a challenge it is. A raft of books – from Steven Biddulph's Raising Boys to Peg Tyre's The Trouble With Boys – present the birth of sons not so much a cause for celebration, but as a problem that needs to be overcome. And now child expert Sue Palmer, who lives in Scotland, is weighing in with her tract, the gloomily-named 21stCentury Boys: How modern life is driving them off the rails and how we can get them back on track.

Sadly, statistics bear out these writers' pessimism. Academically, boys lag behind almost from the day they're born. They are four times more likely to be expelled from nursery, are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and, because they are seen as more demanding, wait twice as long to be adopted in some parts of the UK.

Some of the challenges associated with raising sons are integral to their gender: their surplus energy means  they require to be exercised daily, while their desire to avoid meaningful conversation means more effort is required to keep the lines of communication open. Other difficulties are the result of social change – the large number of single parent families means many boys are growing up not only without male role models, but with mothers whose own experiences with men may be negative.

Most of the difficulties, however, are caused not by the slugs-and-snails nature of boys per se, but the way in which society responds to it. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost our appreciation of masculinity. And when it comes to children we apply subjective – dare I say feminine– judgments as to which skills are valuable and which a waste of time. For example, a girl who colours-in may be praised as focused andintelligent, where a boy who recites the names of 100 different modelsof car is more likely to be written off as obsessive and irritating. Inthe same way, staging a teddy bears' picnic is likely to garner a more positive reaction than re-enacting the D-Day landings.

Why is it that we are always being told how much better girls are at reading and writing at the age of five, but never how much better boys are at running or climbing or jumping off walls? Is it because those skills are perceived not as developmental milestones, but as a sign ofdysfunction? I have seen other mothers look at me askance because my sons are climbing trees or dipping their hands in ponds, as if scraping their knees, scuffing their shoes or getting their clothes wet marks them out as feral. Worse than that, I have heard them tell their daughters disparagingly "boys are so rough", when all they are doing is playing tig or engaging in horseplay. Is it any wonder so many of them feel alienated?

It's deeply unfair, but I do believe the tide is finally beginning to turn. In the last few years, there has been a proliferation of new children's books aimed at the male market: books about spying, or fighting or surviving in post-apocalyptic landscapes,and, of course, there is the hugely popular The Dangerous Book For Boys, which tells young men how to make catapults.

Schools, too, are starting to look at how they're failing male pupils. Certainly, at my youngest's nursery, there is a lot of emphasis on kinaesthetic learning. And I've noticed that when they play-fight, no-one intervenes unless someone is getting hurt. At my older boys' primary, there are nomale teachers and – if my sons are to be believed – a tendency to over-police their football matches. But there is plenty of evidence teachers are trying to engage boys in lessons: they are learning hiphop alongside Scottish country dancing, studying books such as Ann Holm's I Am David and Theresa Breslin's Divided City and a recent project on the Scottish wars of independence seemed to involve making coats of arms and their own maces.

I'm not asking for the pendulum to swing all the way back. I don't want to see the ground girls have gained being lost. I just want my boys, all boys, to be able to embrace their masculinity, rather than view it as an encumbrance that marks them out as second-rate citizens.

Source: Scotsman –