Crystal - posted on 12/14/2009 ( 2 moms have responded )
How to Be the Best Mother Possible to Your Son
by Sarah Treleaven Sep 4th 2009 3:05AM
Categories: Friends & Family, Advice
Mothers and sons often have a much different dynamic than mothers and daughters. Here, Dr. Meg Meeker, pediatrician and bestselling author, answers questions about a mother's role in her son's life and offers tips on how to be the best mom possible.
Q: What's unique about the relationship between moms and sons?
A: The relationship between mothers and sons is extraordinarily different from the mother/daughter relationship, particularly as sons grow older. From birth through about age 10, boys are usually more attached to their mothers than to their dads. The reason is that mothers tend to be emotionally safer for boys. Fathers encourage boys to "grow up and be tough" at very early ages and this puts young boys off, since they are emotionally unable to comply. Mothers allow sons to stay close to them and have fewer expectations of them than fathers typically do. Fathers put more pressure on boys than on girls at very young ages and subsequently push sons away. Mothers provide sons with an "emotional language." We tend to teach sons how to identify and articulate their feelings better than most fathers. This helps boys become comfortable with their feelings and it helps them understand how to regulate them and not allow their feelings to run their behaviours.
Q: How does a mother's role typically change as her son gets older?
A: As a son matures, a very painful transition takes place as he enters puberty. Suddenly he feels awkward toward his mother for several reasons. First, he feels emotionally dependent on her and this confuses him because he wants to be independent. Also, he doesn't want to feel emotionally close to his mother because sexual feelings are cropping up and he has difficulty reconciling those feelings with feeling close to his mom. The bottom line is that, in order for him to figure out his emerging masculinity, he needs to separate himself from his mother. Bruno Bettelheim used to describe this process as "killing off" his mother. It's as if he wakes up one day and decides that he doesn't need her and suddenly he becomes aloof, even cold. From a mother's perspective, this pushing away feels painful. Often mothers misinterpret this pushing away and feel rejected, hurt and like they have failed as mothers. I encourage mothers never to take their teenage sons (and daughters) behaviour personally. This transition isn't about them as mothers; it's all about the developmental stage of the son. The good news is, boys are generally through this stage by the time they are midway through college and if they had a solid relationship with their mom before puberty, they will re-bond when he is an adult.
Q: What are some of the biggest problems that arise between mothers and sons?
A: The biggest problems I see that occur between mothers and sons come during the teen years. As teen boys separate from their mothers, if they are insecure with their masculinity or their identity (what boy isn't?) they can make life really rough for mothers. Since they feel safe with her, sons will take their anger and frustrations out on their mothers. Mom will become the dartboard for every ugly feeling he has. Since he knows that she won't leave, he will take everything out on her. Also, equally as important as pushing away from mothers during adolescence is attaching to a male figure. If a boy doesn't identify with a strong male figure, he will stay in adolescence longer, trying to figure out on his own what 'being a man' is all about. This becomes really difficult for mothers, particularly single moms, because she can't show him how to be a man – he needs to see one. He will become more frustrated and hence make life tougher for her.
Q: What's the most important thing to know about mothering a son?
A: The most important thing to know about mothering a son is to give him the three A's. Right from the start, he needs attention, admiration and affection. We need to give sons attention because many demand less of it than daughters. As they grow, they need to know that they are admired (the male ego develops very early) and this helps their self-confidence and gives a foundation to his sense of masculinity. We need to cheer them on as being different from us moms and let them know we like who they are. Divorced mothers and mothers who have been hurt by men need to really work hard at not spilling the anger they feel toward men onto their sons. Sons wear their mother's hurt very, very easily.
Boys need physical touch, a lot of hugs and as much affection as we can give. It comes to a halt all too quickly (unlike with daughters) so we need to slather it on while we can. Affection helps boys feel validated as human beings and it helps their sense of self-worth skyrocket.
Q: Do you have any final tips?
1. Teach him to identify and articulate his feelings at an early age. Put words to specific feelings to help him. Ask questions like: "You seem sad, is that right? Are you angry - why? Do you feel disappointed? Excited?" Boys aren't always natural communicators, so we need to help them out right from the get go.
2. Girls bond through talking, but sons bond through participating in activities. So, if you want to get closer to your son, take him on a bike ride, go for a hike or to a car show. Let him pick the activity or venue and take him. Make sure to give him some one-on-one time with you so that he feels that you really want to be with him and that you enjoy his company.
3. Keep him as connected as possible. When he hits the teen years and pushes away, stay as close as possible. He still needs you. He needs you to make sure that he still makes his curfew, that he's not out drinking late at night with friends and that home is a safe place to be. Don't make the mistake most parents make when his voice changes and he starts to shave. That is, they open the door and let him off on his own too soon. He looks like a man, but he's still a little kid. He still needs strong parenting because he doesn't have the cognitive or psychological wherewithal to stay out of trouble. It's your job to make that happen.
4. Teach him what he can do, not what he can't do. Whatever his age, show him his strengths and don't dwell on his weaknesses. The best way to encourage his masculine character is to take opportunities to teach him how to get out of sticky situations and what to do when he feels he's stuck. I believe that there's always a personal choice in any given situation and helping him to identify what choices he has and how to choose the best can go a long way with sons. Rather than bailing our sons out as they mature, we need to help them learn to deal with tough situations and walk with them as they do.