1 – Become the Student First. Learn to speak his language.
Many of us realize that we have a God-given responsibility to teach our children and we can quote Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Most think the verse is a promise: “If we teach our children biblical values and take them to church, they will always follow God.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This verse is not a promise but a prescription on how to train our children and it’s telling us to be the best teacher possible, we must first be the student.
The phrase “in the way he should go” means according to his individual bent. In other words, study your son – get to know him well and train him accordingly. If you have more than one child, I’m sure you have learned that there is no perfect parenting or disciplining formula that works the same for every child. It’s because each child is a unique masterpiece created by God.
Make it a goal to get to know your son better. Make it a point to learn all you can about his personality, inclinations, likes, and dislikes. Help him develop his God-given “way”, because “even when he is old”, he will not stray from that unique bent in his life. It’s part of his created and creative identity. This is also one of the reasons we need to be careful not to box our sons into a masculine stereotype. A wise mom won’t try to mold her son to be what she wants him to be (or what culture tells her he must be) but rather sees him as created with his own unique talents and interests. A wise mom will work to understand, accept, and develop the unique personality, gifts, and desires of her son.
So, now it’s time to get to know him better. (By the way, it’s never too late to start!) What excites him? What television shows, websites or activities does he gravitate toward? Once you figure out his passions, learn his language. Talk about the things that motivate him. If he shows an interest in something, show some interest yourself. I recently read a mom blogger that suggested, “If it’s Legos and science fiction, engage with him enough to at least be conversant (this comes from a mom who’s been forced to learn more about Star Wars than she ever really wanted to know). Because, it’s not really about base hits and battle droids, it’s about communicating that what matters to him also matters to you.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
2 – Create safe spaces. Help him learn to share.
Believe it or not, your son likely has a lot to say—he just needs to be taught and encouraged how to share. He needs safe spaces, a patient parent, and verbal reminders that you will be there when he is ready.
Your first challenge will be to locate your son’s communication comfort zones. These safe spaces will almost always be private and include little to no outward distraction. That means that we need to go out of our way to provide or take advantage of our one-on-one bonding moments.
A great bit of advice I recently ran across from a mom of boys said, “Ask some open-ended questions, and then listen. Resist the urge to rush in to fill the awkward silences, or to finish up his thoughts for him. Give him some air space, and let him fill it up.”
A periodic walk around the block or a daily bed time routine might provide the perfect mom moment he desperately needs. Maybe it’s as simple as taking advantage of the short drive you have with him on the way to school or an extra-curricular activity. And don’t forget the power of written communication! When’s the last time he found a card “just because” at the breakfast table or a note in his lunch box? There are tactful ways to make it happen without causing him embarrassment.
A mom and son date night or day of energetic fun can be an excellent way to hang out and let him know there’s extra time to converse about anything that’s bothering him. Sometimes all he may need is for you to be real and vulnerable first. Consider challenging him to make a positive change or do something impactful with his week. Let him know that you love him as he is BUT it would make you an even more proud momma if he took your challenge to heart.
Make sure to watch for the “I’m troubled cues” your son may be communicating non-verbally. If you can pick up on these when he’s young, you’ll become a master at recognizing the moments when he has something on his mind and may want to talk. Watch for things like when he retreats to his bedroom to be alone with his emotional pain. Pop your head in. Let him know that you are around to talk when he is ready and then wait it out. Give him some space and then check back a little later.
Mothers who learn to spot their son’s non-verbal communication cues and teach them emotional intelligence are setting them up for success later in life. It’s important that we get this right. We all know that communication is the key to great relationships. Are we setting our boys up for success or failure? A young man who can articulate his emotions and listen well will accomplish much as an employee, husband, and father in the future. How many times have we heard the complaints and stories of men who don’t pay attention? Teach your son to be the exception to the stereotypes.
Lastly (but of extreme importance), don’t pass their faith journey off to the church, Christian school, or youth pastor. As a youth pastor of 14 years, I noticed something alarming. Many parents looked to me as the primary person responsible for the spiritual growth of their kids. Alarming because the Bible makes no mention of this model. Youth events, church services, and spiritual mentors are beneficial but cannot and should not replace our parental responsibility and several opportunities to communicate the love of Christ and faith building lessons into the lives of our children.
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:18-19
3 – Share your story. Let him see your humanity.
I recently wrote a Not A Male Fail blog post about men and worship. I concluded: “We should not exclude emotion, tenderness, and vulnerability from our definition of masculinity any more than we should exclude strength, leadership, and rationality from our definition of femininity. There is room for all in Christ.”
“This is my challenge to men. Be what God wants you to be. Drop the ‘I’m a guy, so I don’t’ clichés and excuses and fully embrace who you are in Christ. Don’t let gendered expectations stand in the way of the vibrant life you’ve been given. Worship God beyond the stereotypes!” from Men, Worship and Church: No Excuses – Read More Here.
As parents, how do we help our young men live a life of confident vulnerability and healthy emotion? We let them see our humanity. When we truly see ourselves as God sees us – as unique masterpieces created to be co-creators and make a difference in the world, we will learn from and embrace every part of our story. That means the messy parts – even our weaknesses and mistakes.
Our sons’ personal identities should come from God first. They need to understand that God created them in His Image and that their uniqueness matters. Remember lesson one? But, they also find identity in their parents. They learn from us. They need to see us living the life we were created to live and not the propagated lies we’ve been told to live.
Learn to admit your faults. Apologize when it’s appropriate. Ask for forgiveness. Never think it’s a sign of weakness to say, “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry.” All of these shine brightly and tell your son that you’re human, that you’re not perfect, that you learn from your mistakes, and that you are secure in who you are through Christ. What a great lesson for them to learn about their own self, yes!?
Because we are all accountable to each other, let them ask about your walk with Christ. When you allow them to ask the hard questions about your spiritual walk, they will be more open about their own. It’s a beautiful thing when you let them learn from your experiences. Talk openly about your life choices and what the consequences were. Lessons like these teach so much more than a list of things they should and should not do.
Your boys also need to learn that their emotions are natural and okay. They motivate us to live passionately and love others. You have the opportunity to model healthy emotional expression for your children. After you have found consolation in Christ and others, share your struggles and let them know when you’re sad or afraid. Being vulnerable with your boys lets them know it’s safe to share. Your authenticity will become a motivating factor in their deciding wisely and the basis for their trust.
4 – Don’t Try So Hard. Teach Him What You Know.
No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to teach your boy everything. Be a loving and involved mother first and after that, train him in those areas where you excel.
If you’re the big hitter, the mechanic, or the adventurous one in the home, teach those skills to your boy and don’t fret the other stuff. If there’s more for him to learn, get dad involved, sign him up for a team, or hire a tutor.
I am not the math person in the house. I’m not bad at mathematics, but working with numbers sends my blood pressure soaring. Ha! My son; however, loves math and so when he’s ready to work a sudoku puzzle or needs that extra attention with his homework, we call on mom! And then there’s those other times (like last week) when he craves an adventure with linear equations, steps away from his video game, and seeks out Kahn Academy online for practice. Even then, it was his mom that led him there in the past.
And what about the everyday household chores or the cooking or decorating the house? If that’s what you’re good at, take some time to teach your son some basics. If he’s real interested, allow him to become the master. Including him in these kinds of activities will not make him become less of a man if you include him. You’ll garner precious time together and he will become a well-balanced young man who has been exposed to a wide range of activities. These things are not just for women. Honing his skills in these areas will help prepare him to be a better husband and father. These tools may help him prepare to be a single man as well and not have to rely on you for the laundry or McDonalds for his sustenance.
5 – It’s Really Okay If You Can’t Do This Alone.
I’m writing this post on Mother’s Day morning and I’m thinking about my incredible mom. Like all parents, she made her share of mistakes BUT the good she did outshines it all. She wasn’t meant to be perfect. She’s human! And so are you.
It wasn’t all that long ago when I was asked to meet a father at breakfast to talk about helping his son with anger. He was a dad trying his best with his preteen son but things were getting tough due to a pending divorce. As I drove to the meeting, I couldn’t help but think back to my mom and dad’s divorce. I asked myself, “What did mom get right? AND “Where did she go wrong?” because we can find nuggets of wisdom and learn from those before us as well. So, here’s what I came up with. Hopefully these things will help you bond even more with your son!
What Mom Got Right
- Every morning I woke early, I would find mom at the kitchen table reading her Bible. Through everything, mom’s faith stayed strong. I learned a lifelong lesson, one that I often preach to myself and others: “When things get tough, we all run to something. The best place to run is into the arms of God. Everything else is just a substitute for what can bring us true joy!”
- Although it could have served her well, my mom never shared the strange, sordid, and sad stories about my dad and his lifestyle into I had spent a year or two in college and asked. She protected me from the truths that I would not have been able to handle at a young age. She never, even to this day and after his death, bad mouthed my father. A woman of integrity and kindness.
What Mom Missed
Before you read on, I wan’t you to know that I have never held the next two things against my mom. She did the best she could. In hindsight, these are things that could have helped me BUT I am just fine. They are a part of my story and like I share often, “God wants to take our messy and turn it into something beautiful.”
- I was an introvert and kept things to myself. I was a broken and hurting young man who was angry at God, disliked myself, and I kept it all inside. I wish momma would have asked me more questions, let me know it was okay to share, and had listened. She didn’t know. I’m sure she was proud of me and thought I was handling things so well. My mouth was silent but my heart was crying out.
- I wish momma would have known that she didn’t have to do it alone. I don’t ever remember her asking for help. At times, she’d cry herself to sleep. Dear mom, please know that your son needs you but you won’t be able to do it all. Make sure there are others in place who can encourage, strengthen, and teach him along the way.
Looking back upon my adolescent years, I realized that I desperately needed another man in my life. I yearned for someone to believe in me and tell me. I quietly wished for someone to show me the way and sometimes walk beside me so I could see real life in action. I wanted to know that my masculinity and identity were both intact and that my life was headed in the right direction. I needed a mentor. I didn’t know it at the time and they didn’t see it.
They didn’t see it, maybe because they thought I had it all together. I had a wonderful mom and I was doing well in school. I was an introvert and so maybe they couldn’t read my heart but down deep inside it was screaming “love me,” “know me,” “believe in me.” I kept the hurt, self-hate, and frustrations deep inside.
What I truly desired was a personal role model. I longed for an older man to step into my life and breathe into me a fusion of beauty and strength, self-worth and sacrifice, laughter and tears. I needed a mentor.
6 – Respecting Women. Your Perspective Matters.
I might be called old-fashioned but I believe chivalry and respect for women is not a thing of the past. It’s not a kindness out of pity but a genuine understanding that women are an incredible creation of God and deserving of honor.
You are the first and most constant expression of what a woman is to your son. Talking with him about what good female and male relationships look like and showing him how to respect women is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give him.
You can first teach him by respecting yourself. Train him to be a gentleman around the home with you and let him see you model self-care and self-worth. Teach him what women really appreciate and don’t forget that he’s watching and listening to the things that matter most to you – the causes you stand up for.
Prepare him on how to behave around females and instruct him on how to be a gentleman. Let him practice with you. A young man who lovingly respects his mother will most likely treat the other women in his life in the same way. (Another reason periodic date nights are a great idea!)
- Hold the door.
- Stand up when a woman leaves or joins the table.
- Open her car door.
- Walk on the “splash” side of the sidewalk.
- Attempt (gently) to pick up the tab.
- Get the car when it’s raining.
- Offer your hand…
7 – Recognize and Wrestle the Masculinity Stereotypes.
Dear mom, We talked before about your son’s unique bent and how he was created as a unique masterpiece. Don’t forget . . . you have talents, abilities, and a one-of-a-kind personality too! There are many ways where you may be alike – great bonding material. In those areas where you’re different, you can learn from each other and that’s a great way to bond as well! So, here’s the thing, if we are going to celebrate God’s creativity in each other, we must recognize the learned stereotypes passed on to us by culture and wrestle with the stereotypes that cannot be found in God’s Word.
Seeing your son as an individual, a young man who will express his masculinity in his own way, will help him become an emotionally healthy man in spite of the mixed messages he receives daily.
Do you remember this rhyme from time past?
What are little boys made of
What are little boys made of
Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails
And such are little boys made of.
What are young women made of
Sugar & spice & all things nice.
Ask yourself: are all boys defined by snails and dog tails? And are all girls sugary nice? Is a boy not truly “all boy” if he is a percentage sugar or spice? The snips in the early nineteenth century nursery rhyme are “little bits of” things with the assumption that it’s the little things found in a boys’ pockets. Bits of string, bits of rocks, bits of shells, bits of sticks, etc. Bits of just about anything you might find in the pockets of little boys.
I’ve struggled for years with the commonplace idea that masculinity is predominantly defined by athleticism, brawn, hunting, toughness, or the pursuit of cars. Don’t get me wrong. If your son falls into any of these or any other male stereotype categories, that might be his unique bent. But, what if the things “in his pocket” resemble art, tenderness, creativity, or a song in the color of pink? If he fits in that category of sugar and spice and bits of nice, is there something wrong with his masculinity?
We call the oversimplified generalizations of gender attributes and differences — gender stereotypes. These stereotypes can be positive or negative and sometimes fail to communicate accurate information. We might all be guilty at times for applying gender assumptions to others regardless of indications to the contrary.
For some, the stereotypical male role may conclude that all males are self-assured, independent, career‐focused, competitive, and keeps his emotions in check (to name just a few). Men are sometimes expected to eschew vulnerability, sensitivity, and nurturing behavior. These kinds of labels can be harmful and may hinder a young man’s growth, expression, creativity, and spirituality.
Is it possible that we are just afraid of that which we do not know or have been preconditioned to fear? For several years now, I’ve asked the hard questions. I pondered if there was something wrong with me. I examined the discourses of books on the topic of masculinity and found excerpts that made me question my identity and God. Did He make a mistake?
What does the Bible say about masculinity? How does society or the church define or dictate our gender stereotypes? Is there room for “boys” like me who don’t seem to fit the macho mold? Have we bought into the snips and snails mentality? These are just a few of the questions I have been asking over the last couple of years when I started writing NOT A MALE FAIL. Thank you for joining me on part of that journey!
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