What a Girl Wants, What a Boy Needs part 1What a Girl Wants, What a Boy Needs
Moms look at their daughters and think, “a little me.” They smile understandingly at the importance of pink, fuzzy pajamas and painted toes. The same thing happens when a father sides up to his son. Men know what brightens a boy’s day—dodge ball, dugouts and dirt, of course.
Yet relationships become more complicated when it comes to parenting a child of the opposite sex. A mom yelps in horror when she spots her young son scaling the outside of the jungle gym. A dad cringes when asked to play ‘fairy princess’ with his daughter . . . yet again. What’s a parent to do?
Moms and Sons
From the beginning, a mother is a life-source for her son. Even the Bible speaks of a mother’s training beginning at birth. “You made me trust in you even at my mother's breast,” we read in Psalm 22:9 (NIV). But as a son matures, his list of needs grows too.
The Softer Side of Love. “Men are conditioned to be harder,” says Dr. Greg Smalley, president and CEO of the Smalley Relationship Center. “A mother’s gentle nature helps a boy become more rounded and balanced. A mom encourages the softer side of love.”
“By virtue of her nurturing, comfort, and structure, a mother shows her son that reaching out to an external source is a good thing,” adds Dr. John Townsend, co-author of Raising Great Kids (Zondervan). “When a mother teaches her son to reach out, she also prepares him to trust in God.”
Healthy Connections. It may be surprising, but one of the most important things a boy needs from his mom is for her to “step back.”
“When a son gets older, he will find more connections with his dad or with friends. Oftentimes, moms will feel abandoned,” says Dr. Townsend. “Some mothers have a hard time letting go.”
As a boy matures, his natural tendency is to move away from the parent not like him (his mother), and move toward the parent like him (his father). A mother’s job is to make sure her son doesn’t feel guilty for this natural tendency. Moms need to encourage the father and son connection.
Intimacy through “Doing.” Moms think of “intimacy” as heart-to-heart talks and cuddles on the couch. Boys see it another way.
“Men, boys included, define intimacy as ‘doing things,’” says Dr. Smalley. “Oftentimes moms will attempt to draw out their sons through conversation. Instead, I encourage moms to kick the ball around or play a game of ping-pong, and then seek to communicate.”
“With my young son, the best communication came on days when I gave him my time and myself,” says Robin Jones Gunn, author of Mothering By Heart (Multnomah). “It may have taken four hours of play to get to an eight-minute conversation out of my son, but those eight minutes were priceless.”
Strict But Loving Authority. Moms have a hard standing their ground. Yet experts agree that boys need to see their mothers’ strength.
“Sometimes a mother is afraid to show her power because she doesn’t want to hurt her son’s feelings or wound his self-esteem,” says Dr. Townsend. “A mother shouldn’t be cruel, but a strict and loving mother will produce a boy who is not mean and self-centered.” A mom can show this power by being firm in her directions and her consequences.
“The objective of any parent is to correctly portray authority—to show her children what God is like,” adds Robin Gunn. “Does God let us get away with sin? Never. It grieves Him and breaks His heart. The best thing I can teach my son, is to obey God . . . by learning to obey me first.”
The Value of Emotions. Our society gives a clear message that boys need to be tough. Boys hear, “don’t cry” or “suck it up.” Moms need to show that there’s value in emotion.
“It’s important for moms to teach compassion, empathy, and consideration—relational tools that are not natural to males,” says Dr. Smalley.
“When I was growing up, once a week my mom took me to McDonalds for breakfast,” he adds. “I later learned it was for the purpose of teaching me how to share my feelings. My mom combined ‘doing something’ with sharing feelings.”
Guidance. The best way for a mom to build her son’s self-esteem is by teaching him practical skills like housework, laundry, or how to take out the trash.
“Moms need to encourage their sons to take initiative, to have responsibility,” says Dr. Townsend.
Equally important is a mother’s tutorage on relating to females. “The way a boy treats his mom, is the way he’ll later treat his wife,” says Dr. Smalley. “If a mom lets her son walk on her, dismiss her feelings, use anger or physical force, that’s the way he will also treat other women.” Moms teach their sons respect by deserving respect.
The Need To be Heard. When boys want to talk, the most important thing a mom can do is put down the dishtowel, give her son eye contact, and be fully engaged.
Moms can also make listening noises, such as “Hmm.” Also, don’t be too quick to give advice. Instead ask, “How does that make you feel?” or “So what are you going to do about this?”
“It’s huge for boys to be able to voice their frustration, anger, and insecurity,” says Robin Gunn. “Allowing your son to consider his own plan of action is like passing the baton of decision making. Once a boy talks through his feelings, moms can praise good decisions. A mom’s affirmation also opens the door to future conversations.”