When our son was little, he and mom had a very close, happy relationship. Mike was a sweet boy who had no problem giving mom hugs and asking her lots of questions. He was her little boy.
But then Mike moved into the early stages of puberty and the relationship changed…dramatically. With tears in her eyes, Jan asked me one day why her son hated her.
What Jan didn’t know at the time was that Mike was at a crucial point in his life—the point where he had to start moving into manhood. And the movement into manhood meant he had to begin to pull away from his mom.
Most moms I know aren’t prepared for that moment. They don’t understand it. So as their boys start moving into manhood moms often feel lost.
What’s a mom to do?
Mom, the good news is that you play a vital role in the kind of man your son will become, even in those years when he seems to pull away from you. Here are some positive ways you can shape his life:
Pour your mother’s love into your son. Though there will be times when your son seems to resist your love, he will never stop needing or craving it. How you demonstrate that love will change as your son ages, but keep reaching out to him, keep taking an interest in his life, keep praying for him, and keep hugging him (as much as he will allow). Remember, when men mug in front of a video camera, 99% of the time they say, “Hi, mom!” A boy never outgrows his need for mom’s love.
Teach him about women: You will be a primary teacher for your son on how to relate to girls. Teach him to be the man you want him to be for you, for his future wife should he marry, for a potential future daughter, and for all of the women he will interact with during his life. Give him insights into a woman’s world so that he can navigate his way through it with honor and goodness. It takes a mom to instill in her son a deep understanding of women.
Immerse your son in masculine energy: As cultures throughout history have always known, it takes a tribe of men to raise a boy into a man. To become men boys need masculine energy poured into them. They need positive male role models to follow. The key to building boys into good men is to surround them with great men—their own dad (if possible) and other men—who can model responsibility, love, compassion, fatherhood, and manhood to these men in the making. Churches, Boy’s Clubs, Big Brother, Scouting programs, and other boy-focused organizations can partner with you in raising your son into manhood. This is especially crucial for boys being raised by single moms.
Give your son an honorable vision for manhood: Moms, to the best of your ability, paint a picture of manhood for your son built on honor, courage, commitment, sacrifice, love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, and grace. When you see your son acting honorably, affirm him. When he acts less than nobly, use it as a teaching moment and call the noble out of him. But remember, mom, a boy ultimately needs men to instill in him a vision for manhood.
Give your son purpose: Your son was created to save the world. Testosterone is the fuel of super heroes (although at times it may seem like the fuel for driving mom insane!). As you see his emerging gifts and talents, affirm them in him. Once in a while look him in the eye and tell him you know that God has created him for something very special.
Let your boy become a man. At some point, around puberty, your son will need to distance himself from you, as my wife experienced. He needs to leave behind all of the feminine energy that has been shaping his life (you and the overwhelming majority of his teachers) and enter into the world of men. This is going to be extremely hard on you. You will wonder at times what happened to your gentle, loving little boy. You will wonder at other times why your son hates you. There will be lots of tears and doubt. But this is an absolutely crucial time in the life of your son. Let him go…but let him go into the hands of dad (if dad is around) and other good men.
Learn all you can about boys. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to raise your son into good, honorable manhood. (I recommend you look at Michael Thompson’s book, It’s a Boy! and the Michael Gurian trilogy of books: The Wonder of Boys; TheMind of Boys; and The Purpose of Boys. My book on boys, Searching for Tom Sawyer, is geared to a Christian audience.)