Many single moms go through a period (or several) where they are just disgusted with men in general. They’ve been cheated on, lied to, abandoned, or any number of other things and in that state of pain, decide that all men are just jerks and not worth it.
While it’s normal to have those feelings, if you’re raising a son, it’s important not only to not let him think he’s included in there, but to make sure he becomes a better man than those that have hurt you. This can be very difficult, however, because we often don’t understand our sons. While daughters may confuse us, we at least have the memory of having once been there ourselves to see us through. But since we never went through childhood or adolescence as a boy, we’re at a total loss as to what they’re going through.
Here are 10 tips that your son would like you to know, straight from the mouths of men who were once there:
1. I may be the oldest male in the house, but that doesn’t make me the man of the house.
Many well-meaning family members or friends may tell your son that he’s the man of the house now that your spouse has passed away or your relationship has ended. It’s also fairly common for single mothers to begin to lean on their sons for emotional support, although not intentionally. But it’s important to remember that he’s your child, not your equal. He’s not your partner, your husband, or your friend. Assigning him chores is fine, and telling him that you and your latest date are no longer seeing each other is fine. But don’t subject him to listening to hours of you trying to figure out where it all went wrong or expect him to provide you with the emotional support you should be seeking from a friend.
2. I need to get dirty and play with bugs and other stuff you might hate.
Especially for mothers who have always been very feminine, seeing your son get down in the dirt and is expected to admire the big cricket or other strange insects he brings to you can be very jarring. It can be tempting to try to redirect him to other activities, like playing with action figures or coloring. While it’s good to encourage your son to explore a wide range of activities, and he will certainly play with action figures and draw beautiful pictures, the fact is boys need that time outside to explore nature and play with bugs. Dirt can be washed off and most of the bugs he’ll find won’t hurt him or you.
3. You can’t protect me from everything forever.
Many women cannot imagine taking some of the risks they watch their boys try to take – climbing up the chain on the swing to sit on the bar over it, standing up and balancing on top of the monkey bars, or even jumping to the ground from there. It makes Mom’s heart stop before pounding right out of her chest. Some mothers can’t even conceive of letting their son do those things and do everything in their power to stop it. They’ll hover over (or under!) their son at the playground, follow him around the yard as he plays, and insist that he come down from there when he’s 2 feet off the ground. Like it or not, you have to let your son grow up. Part of growing up is exploration, testing boundaries, taking risks, and separating from you, his mother. He can only become independent when you give him space in which to make his own decisions and make his own mistakes.
4. Yes, I’ve discovered girls, but sex is not the only thing on my mind.
As women, we tend to have it drilled into us that the only thing men are looking for is sex – our fathers tell us that, our mothers tell us that. Maybe we’ve even had a man or two that used us just for sex. While our sons will start thinking about sex, and it will take up a huge amount of space in his mind, he will still think of other things. He’ll also wonder how to get girls to like him, why a girl likes that guy instead of him. He’ll think about his future, his education, dreams, and goals. While you should certainly talk to him about sex and protection and all that goes along with it, you should also find out what else is on his mind.
5. You should learn about the male body before talking to me about puberty and sex.
You might be thinking that you’ve had kids, so you obviously know about the male body. But here’s a question for you: did you know that the first time a boy ejaculates, there might be blood in it? He doesn’t know that either unless someone tells him. And probably the only thing more embarrassing to a young man than his mother realized that this has happened to him, is his mother rushing him off to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with him only to have the doctor inform them both that it’s perfectly normal.
It may be awkward, but it’s important that you do some research and learn a bit about what a boy’s body goes through when he hits puberty, other than the simple fact that he’ll start growing hair and his voice will crack as it changes. Even more awkward might be talking to him about the things you learn in your research – but someone must talk to him, and you may be the only parent he has. By talking to him, you also show him that you have meant what you told him all these years when you said he could talk to you about anything.
6. Just because I need a man in my life doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
Single moms often feel that they must be both Mom and Dad to their children. In a sense, you are both roles. But the truth of the matter is, there are some things that only a man can really teach or talk to your son about. There are some things that, no matter how open your relationship is, a boy just cannot talk to his mother about. This does not mean you have failed your son as a mother. In fact, the fact that he recognizes the need for a man to talk to is proof that you have done your job well.
It’s a good idea to find some men your son can count on before he really needs them – grandfathers, uncles, significantly older male cousins or siblings, Little League coaches, or family friends are always good options. Another option would be to enroll him in Boy Scouts. Surrounded by boys and with male leaders, he’ll learn from the things they teach as well as that instinctive picking up of knowledge about how men should act.
7. Please don’t compare me to my father, especially if you don’t like him.
You might go to great lengths to try to ensure your son doesn’t know you don’t like his father, but kids aren’t stupid. They can sense that you’re not all that fond of their father. So when your son does something you don’t like and you say “You’re just like your father!” or some similar statement, your son is likely to hear “I don’t like you!”, or worse, “I hate you!”. If there are aspects of your former partner that you admire and respect, by all means, point out to your son those qualities in himself. In addition to not comparing him to his father, don’t expect him to act like his father, either. You might think his father is a jerk, but that does not mean your son will be a jerk. Much of his personality will be determined by how you raise him.
8. Telling me to “man up” or “grow a pair” is not helping.
Society seems to have developed an expectation that men will not or should not show emotion. We teach our sons not to cry, not to express sadness, and that admitting to depression or other things like it is a sign of weakness. We expect girls to begin crying and being more sensitive to everything when they hit puberty, but we’re often surprised when our sons do the same thing. Unprepared for this, some mothers think they need to teach their son to suppress the tears.
Some mothers will put it as bluntly as “man up” or “grow a pair”, while others will tell him to stop crying or that there’s no reason to cry over whatever it is he’s crying over. Either way, this is not fair to your son. Just as with a girl in puberty, boys’ emotions are out of control, too. They don’t know why this insignificant little thing is making them cry, and they can’t explain their anger or any other feelings they’re experiencing right now. What he does know is that he needs you to be there for him, to listen to what he can tell you rather than ignoring him or basically telling him that his feelings don’t matter.
9. I see how men treat you, and that teaches me how to treat women.
You might tell your son all the great ways he should treat a woman, but if he sees your dates or boyfriends controlling you, abusing you, using you, or in other ways treating you badly, and you’re allowing it, that’s what your son is going to learn. While you should want a man who treats you better just because you deserve that, it’s also important to remember that whether you intend him to be or not, the man you date may very well be a role model for your son. When you consider dating a man, ask yourself if you would want your son to be like this man. If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t date him.
10. Even though I may act like it isn’t, your approval is important to me.
Your son might roll his eyes at you, seem to ignore the things you say to him, and deliberately disobey you. But the truth is, deep down he wants to know you approve of him, and the things he does. So when he comes to you, listen to him. Even if the subject makes you uncomfortable, listen to what he has to say and answer questions he has. Let him know you believe in his ability to make the right choices and to get back on course if his choice has unexpected or bad consequences. When he makes a choice you don’t agree with, make sure he knows that while you don’t agree with the choice you still love him. He needs to know that no matter what happens, you’re still going to be there.
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