[NOTE: This was originally published in the SMMC Crier, a newsletter published for the moms in the Southern Marin Mother’s Club.]
“There is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart.” ~Washington Irving
The relationship between a mom and her son has the potential to be one of the most supportive, loving, and most enduring relationships in his life. It’s easy to connect when they are babies and very young boys – when they are snuggly and loving. Aren’t they so yummy? Then they enter school and things change, they get a little mind of their own and they aren’t always quite as easy to connect with. Next, they enter puberty and, umm, don’t smell so sweet anymore. Yes, and then they become teenagers. Nonetheless, developing a sustainable question is totally doable!
Here are 12 suggestions for cultivating this connection (and most of these are applicable to girls as well):
- Spend Time With Him. This one is pretty obvious but not always easy to implement. Shoot for 10-15 minutes a day giving him undivided attention. Can you find something that you both enjoy doing? Throw the football with him? Go for a bike ride or a walk? Bake together? You are teaching him that he is important.
- Listen To Him. Give him space to talk before giving advice or offering suggestions. Often, boys take much longer to formulate their thoughts and articulate them. Be patient and ask questions to draw him out. Empathize. Don’t allow any subject to be off-limits. Also, be ok with two-word answers most of the time 🙂 As they get older, be amenable to texting, emailing, following/friending them on Facebook, or any other way that works best to keep the conversations going. You are teaching him that what he says is important and the value of talking.
- Give Him Space to Have Emotions. Sometimes he won’t be able to find words for what he is going through. He might just need you to be there. He might cry. I know how hard it is to sit with a child who is upset. See if you can find it in you to recognize that the crying has nothing to do with you and probably nothing to do with what is going on in that moment. Take a deep breath and try to give him the space to release the frustrations, injustices, and emotions that have been stored up. You will be teaching him a lesson in developing emotional maturity. And his future partner and children will thank you for this.
- Laugh, A Lot. Life is meant to be filled with joy and pleasure. Show him how to take pleasure in the ordinary. Find opportunities to have fun together. Laugh and play. You are teaching him to appreciate and enjoy life.
- Be An Agile Parent. Be clear about what you expect and follow through. Yet be reasonable, practical, and open to the possibility things might need to change on the fly. Try to say yes more than no. You are teaching him to be flexible.
- Become a Trusted Source. Stay ahead of them so you can, proactively, start important conversations early (friendships, sex, social media, bullying, trust, drugs/alcohol, etc.). Start conversations a year earlier than you think you should. You are teaching him to value critical thinking.
- Encourage Safe Risk Taking. Boys want to jump, climb, and run. Our first instinct is to say “not so high, get down and slow down.” It’s not easy, but resist this temptation as long as they are not doing anything dangerous. They are supposed to get a few bumps and bruises…often boys learn best from their mistakes and mishaps. As they get older, encourage independence through increased freedom. You are teaching him to trust himself and be a responsible risk-taker.
- Support Him When He Falls Down. No name calling or shaming, ever. Teach him the difference between being a failure and failing. We all fail (without failure, there is no success), but that never makes us a failure. Be his biggest supporter and cheerleader AND tell him the truth. You are teaching him to trust you.
- Respect His Need for Privacy and Boundaries. He may want time alone, give it to him. He may not be interested in affection in public at some point – honor that (though at some point, you might want to try again, I found my kids pushed me away for a short time and then were ok with holding hands in public again). You are teaching him to set and honor healthy boundaries.
- Empower Him to Grow Up. I am a huge fan of raising parent-attached (as opposed to peer-attached) children. At the same time, I believe it’s critical that as they get older they become “self-attached” as well – that they feel that they can do for themselves wherever appropriate and possible. When your son tells you that he can do it or has an opinion about how to do something, encourage him to do so. Teach him the skills he needs rather than doing it for him. You will be giving him the gifts of resilience, self-esteem and pride.
- Welcome His Friends. Encourage them to hang out at your home. Get to know them and observe their interactions. You will learn a lot!
- Be Genuinely Interested In Him. Boys ARE different than you. They certainly do love armpit farts and potty talk. Not to worry, they eventually grow through most of these stages. As your son gets older, he will be interested in video games that are not your cup of tea or other activities that just don’t interest you. You don’t have to like the same things, but just sitting down and asking him to tell you about the game or activity or show you what he is learning or doing goes a long way to cultivating a connection. As he enters the teen years, you will want to understand the world he lives in. You are teaching him that you care.
A very big part of building this relationship between a mom and son is about just spending time with him…being there for him, noticing him, responding to him, and understanding him. The good news is that most moms intuitively know how to connect with their boys and they develop and maintain a close relationship that is sustainable over the years.
Which one of these will you focus on this week? As always, the juice is in the comments…please tell us what you will focus on or what you struggle with! Or what are you particularly good at? If you think another mom would appreciate this, please share it with her!