Fathers usually build relationship with their sons through active play and stimulation; they "do stuff" together. For mothers and boys, the process is a little different. The bond between a mother and son often grows out of simply spending time together. From infancy into childhood and adolescence, a good mother is just "there." Boys often say that their mom is the one person who "understands me." That understanding usually grows out of the hours spent offering undivided attention, responding to signals and cues, and providing comfort, support, and encouragement.
Self-Awareness for Moms
You may have grown up with brothers, active boys who are a part of your childhood memories. Or you may have had sisters (or no siblings at all), and boys seem like beings from another planet. You may have an intimate, loving marriage, or you may be deeply disappointed in your partner. You may even be a single mom, perhaps because men have hurt or abandoned you.
Behaviors that make boys different from girls, such as impulsivity, risk-taking, silence, and anger, are behaviors that many mothers struggle with the most. After all, they didn't do those things when they were kids! Take time to learn all you can about boys, and your boy in particular. Understanding will help you choose your battles and set reasonable limits.
Many women are surprised to discover that their own experiences with men color their relationship with their sons. If men have caused you pain or you do not trust them, you may find it difficult to relax with your son, to enjoy him, and to allow him to be an active, normal little boy. Your attitudes will unconsciously color your son's beliefs about his own maleness, perhaps in ways that are not in his best interest—or yours.
Awareness of your own attitudes toward men and boys will help you connect more easily with your son. Whether you express them openly or not, your beliefs about men will influence your son's feelings about himself. It may be wise to seek out a skilled therapist to help you resolve your own past so that you can build a strong, loving bond with your son.
Skills for Connecting with Your Son
A boy's bond with his mother is one of the deepest, most enduring relationships he will experience in his lifetime. It should also be one of the healthiest and most supportive. Here are some suggestions for building a strong, loving connection with your boy:
- Listen and observe. Good mothers are willing to spend time just listening and watching. Ask curiosity questions to draw your son out; let him finish his thoughts before offering suggestions or advice.
- Spend time just being together. Relationships require time. You must be willing to hang out, to play, and to do things face to face with your son. Have at least fifteen minutes a day that belong just to your boy—no multitasking allowed!
- Respond to your son's cues. When he says, "I can do it myself, Mom!" teach the necessary skills, be sure he's safe, and then allow him to try. It is skills and experience that build self-esteem.
- Be curious about his interests. If your son loves an activity, sharing his enthusiasm is a wonderful way to build connection. Watch his favorite sport with him; admire the new skateboard tricks he learns. Understanding your son's world will keep you connected.
- Know his friends. There is no better way to learn about your son than to watch him at play with his friends. As your son grows, welcome his friends into your home. If he can bring his life to you, he is less likely to feel the need to hide it from you.
- Respect his privacy. Even little boys need time to themselves. Your son may choose to play alone in his room from time to time, or to disappear into his computer or stereo headphones. You can show him that you care and still respect his need for private space.
- Provide kind, firm discipline and don't be afraid to follow through. "Wait 'til your father gets home" doesn't work. Learn effective discipline skills; then be willing to set limits and follow through.
- Be sensitive about touch, especially in public. Hugs are wonderful, but some touch may make your son uncomfortable, especially as he gets older. You may want to have a family rule that bathrooms and bedrooms (yours and his) are "private space" and cannot be entered without knocking. Respecting his needs will keep the connection between you relaxed and open.
Boys need connection with their mothers. If the outside world does not intrude, most are happy to stay close and connected for most of their growing-up years. Your knowledge of your son will help you know when he welcomes a hug and when he does not. It is a delicate balancing act, but time and love will teach you how to stay connected to your boy at the same time that you encourage him to exercise his independence.