The bond between moms and their sons is a special one. Here are Mighty Mommy's four keys for deepening your relationship with the boy who holds your heartstrings.
If you're the lucky mom to a sweet son, don't let anyone tell you that having a mama's boy is a bad thing! There are so many incredible opportunities to form bonds between the two of you. And if you tune in to your son's way of thinking, that connection will be even stronger.
Remember, our sons are human beings first and boys second. Gender doesn't define who a person is inside. But one thing is for sure: all of our children are growing up in a world that treats boys and girls differently. My goal is to speak to some of the common experiences many parents of boys share to help you raise a young man you can be proud of. Some of these may not ring true for every parent, and that's okay! I encourage you to honor your own unique experience with your son.
Here are four ways to deepen your relationship with the boy who holds your heartstrings!
1. Get into the groove of communicating with a boy
Some boys do a lot of communicating through their actions rather than their words. An over-tired 7-year-old boy may not tell you he's exhausted, let alone suggest going to bed early. Instead, he may jump on the couch, race down the hallway, or grab a ball and start throwing it around as you keep a nervous eye on the lamp or the beautiful vase on the hallway table.
If your son is the silent type, tune in to his non-verbal communication from an early age.
If your 14-year-old son is suffering some emotional pain, he may retreat to his bedroom to be alone rather than pull up a stool at the kitchen island to talk it out. Or if he's excited about making the final cut for the baseball team, rather than immediately sharing the good news, he might head to the backyard with his ball and glove and process his achievement quietly.
When you have a child who doesn't verbally express feelings and needs, it's important to give him opportunities to talk rather than trying to pressure him into it. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Raising Kids to Thrive and co-director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia shared this great advice:
When you feel like you have to dive in too deeply at every single moment, you might actually push your son away. You might go for a walk or go fishing or just be present, and after 30 minutes or three hours of silence, the nuggets will start coming out.
Parents need to be willing to tolerate the quiet while their son reflects, and trust that communication will happen at the right moment. If your son is the silent type, tune in to his non-verbal communication from an early age. You'll be better able to recognize when he needs extra encouragement or some one-on-one time to help him open up and talk to you about what's on his mind.
2. Teach him communication skills early
Healthy communication also includes teaching our kids to listen, not just talk. Get into the practice of modeling good listening skills and validating your son's feelings and accomplishments.
Start early, right from the time when he's a little ball of energy who just wants you to celebrate his mud castle in the backyard. Get excited and connect at his level. Listen to him tell you all about how he built it. Ask specific questions that will engage a two-way conversation. With you modeling good listening skills, he'll be more likely to become a person who can both listen and articulate emotions and ideas.
The most valuable tool I've found in communicating with my five guys is to validate feelings. Whether he was thrilled with how the championship soccer game went or was hurting because the cute girl in history class declined his invitation to the prom, giving him my undivided attention and validating his pain was the key.
I learned through experience that I didn't need to overcomplicate the situation. Everyone, not just kids, requires a non-judgmental ear to listen to their troubles or a friendly shoulder to support them. I soon got into the groove of being there for my sons, regardless of the situation. This was the gamechanger that bonded us.
I believe one of the most heartwarming books ever written honoring the mother-son parenting journey is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. If you're discovering this book for the first time, be sure to have some tissues handy!
3. Encourage his interests
My oldest was a girl. She defined "little girl" in every imaginable way. We threw tea parties, had make-believe princess outings, and decorated her room in all things pink and sparkly.
Then, along came son number one. I was thrilled to have both a sweet little girl and a spirited young boy to love and cherish. As my playful young son grew into a toddler and then reached school age, I soon realized that his interests were fueled by his spunky and rambunctious nature. Experimenting with the mud in our driveway was a thrill for him. Sending a ball sailing across the yard with his giant plastic bat was pure joy.
Making the time to connect to your son's interests is the sturdy glue that cements that strong mother-son bond.
Five boys later, I learned that it's important to be able to speak each son's language. For some, race cars, football season, and making or getting cut from a prominent spot on a school sports team were their life. Another cared less about sports and relished time tinkering in the garage with tools and grease. I wanted to be a part of their lives, so I paid great attention to their interests and desires. My sons would light up with enthusiasm when I was able to chat with them about that new football draft pick or a budding Broadway actor. Making the time to connect to your son's interests is the sturdy glue that cements a mother-son bond.
4. Teach him what you know
Growing up as the oldest of five siblings, I have many fond memories of how my parents entrusted us to learning new things.
My mom thought it necessary to teach us skills as soon as we were ready. Before my birthdays even numbered in the double digits, I'd learned to cook basic meals like eggs, pasta, and casseroles. Being able to navigate the laundry room was the norm. Figuring out the sales at our local grocery store became a no brainer. I also learned how to care for the kitchen, keep dust bunnies at bay, and put toys aways in a reasonable manner. The best part—my mother made it fun! My four siblings and I enjoyed taking part in the upkeep of our home thanks to my mother's relaxed way of trusting us with responsibilities.
By teaching your son all the life skills you've learned, you'll not only strengthen your mother-son bond, but you'll also give him a set of tools that will help him navigate life as an adult.
5. Lead through your example
Moms can make a lifelong impact on their sons by leading through example. What are the core values you want to instill in your kids? I believe in respect, honesty, loyalty, gratitude, and above all, kindness. I grew up with the mantra "Actions speak louder than words." It was important to me that my boys saw me living these values, not just paying them lip service.
If we could grow, learn, and be the best versions of ourselves, I knew we would make a positive difference in this world.
Showing others kindness is something I never skimp on, and I make a point of demonstrating this in front of my boys. Last week an elderly lady was short a few dollars in line at the grocery store. She was going to put an item back, but I told her I wanted to pay it forward and help her. She was delighted, and I felt terrific being able to help. Best of all, my 18-year-old son was with me and told me how cool it was to observe this interaction.
When my sons see me practicing daily gratitude, it fosters an attitude of appreciation. I announce aloud how grateful I am for my washing machine, decadent chocolate brownies, and especially their company on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
I take time for myself to read, watch a movie, take power walks, or go out with friends. When I demonstrate that self-care is important to me, I send my kids a message that they should value their own health and mental well-being. They also learn to respect the self-care needs of the people they interact with, from siblings to friends to future partners and children.
Spending the time communicating, listening, teaching, and motivating your son while he's under your roof will pave the way for a solid, loving relationship with you when he's all grown up and under his own.