Because of the way our boys are made, there are specific things they need from us as parents that looks a little different than girls and their needs. This is especially important to note when big transitions and life’s emotional earthquakes hit – and for a little boy, separation and divorce certainly register on the Richter Scale.
Recently, we featured a blog about childhood development and divorce. Really, it could have been is an entire book – or maybe several! There are hundreds of essays and books and research studies that break down the developmental stages of children.
However, this is a blog setting. Our goal is simple: to offer highlights and tidbits, bite-sized pieces you can chew on that hopefully lead you to further research when you see red flags for your own child or family.
That being said, we do also want to break it down a little further sometimes. I think you will like what we have to offer today: a little bit of general information on our wilder half of the species – boys!
I would imagine if you are still reading along at this point that you know the joy and whirlwind of busyness we know in our home. We call him our son! There is nothing quite like a little boy and all the chaos and mischief that comes with him.
So, the plan for today is to talk specifically about a few things our boys need from us. Throughout their growing up years, there are certain things our boys need from us to help them develop well. There are certain things they need from mom and certain things they need from dad. We will feature both.
As always, remember: this is not a checklist. The goal here is to give each of you as parents a chance to assess what is going on for you and your specific boy, notice him, and get a pulse on the situation.
If it isn’t groundbreaking information for you, great! That means you may already have a pulse on your boy and your home and what is needed.
If it all sounds brand new, that’s a great place to start too! Sit down with a trusted friend or family member and sort out what you need to sort out. You know your son better than we do. We just want to share the research information we have found to be most helpful in the process.
Now… Onto our boys!
Ladies first, Mom. We are starting with what our boys need from you.
First and foremost, they need you to keep yourself in check.
One common theme in separated families is the overly bonded mother. Oftentimes, this looks like emotional codependence for mom. The struggle for your son is in knowing his role. He feels like both the emotional partner of the mother and the son. It’s easy and often accidental for a divorced mother to put her son in this role. What does your son need you to do, Mom? Set your own emotional boundaries. Let him be a kid. Do not place him in a role where he feels the need to take care of you.
Second, our boys need to hear about men in positive light. From you!
Married, separated, or divorced, it is easy for moms to express their frustrations with men in the parenting of their son and let our feelings about men spill over onto our sons. What does your son need? He needs you to watch the way you talk about and treat men, even his father.
Another need for our boys from mom? Male role models (specifically if dad is absent) and positive examples of successful couples.
How can you help as mom? You can put men in his life that do this well. Maybe it’s a coach or a youth pastor or a teacher or a family friend or a grandfather. He needs to see men succeeding in relationships and being healthy individuals who treat women well.
Remember, boys are typically experiential learners. This means we cannot just tell them about these men. He needs to visually see and experience it for himself.
Finally, your son needs space for you, his mom, to stay available to him: emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually.
This can be terribly challenging when you are a working mother, yes, but little is more important than cultivating the space to see and notice your boy and his needs. Get creative here. Maybe you work weird hours. That’s okay! Wake him up early before school and take him to Waffle House. Plan one weekend a year to take him to do something he would love or throw ball with him in the yard one afternoon a week.
Eventually, yes, our boys will separate from us as moms and that is good. However, throughout childhood and adolescence, he still needs your attentive eye – even if that attentive eye says to give him some space. You have to have emotional space to even notice that he needs space too!
Now, Dad, you’re up!
The main thing your son needs from you, Dad, is you.
The statistics relating poverty, physical health, neglect, educational success, and mental health to fatherless homes is staggering. Your son needs you, engaged and present in the daily affairs of his life, aware enough to notice what is going on with yourself and with him.
That means you have to do your own work just like mom. It is not easy to stay engaged with yourself, but in order to place your son in a position to succeed, he needs you to do it. He needs your wisdom too.
In Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, it says “Many boys are hungry for a father. They go through their childhood and adolescence waiting for a man to invest in them, and bless them, and tell them that they have what it takes. Boys act out, get into trouble, get hurt, hurt themselves, and compete with other boys, all in an effort to get a man’s attention. Boys desperately need the help of a man in becoming men themselves. The problem is that, most often, the men in their lives are just as lost as the boys they are trying to connect with.”
Next, your son needs to watch you as you model life well for him. He will be copying your actions. Like it or not, your son is watching everything you do.
I think of that country song from a few years back about a son watching his father. Throughout the song, the son copies his father’s curse words, his prayers, the way he treats his mother. It’s beautiful and maybe sometimes terrifying to think how closely they are watching and all these boys are observing in you. Actions speak louder than words. So, what does he need? He needs you to model how to live as a healthy, whole individual – the way you treat yourself, the way you treat women, the way you do relationships – even the way you treat his mother. Maybe the two of you do not agree on much anymore, but do you disagree kindly, with love and compassion and grace? If not, it’s likely your boy will follow suit.
Another need from dad? Conversations, good conversations. Sometimes, a father will assume mom is handling the tough conversations. Dads – this won’t work. Your son needs you having the tough conversations too, expressing emotions in an appropriate way, teaching him how to be a man and have tough conversations himself.
Our job as the moms and dads of sons is to help them navigate their childhood and adolescence and come out on the other side a healthy, whole, functioning human being, able to stand on their own two feet. We help our boys move through each stage of their growing and going as best we can with our support, presence, encouragement, and love.
What can happen in a large transition or emotional crisis like a divorce is that our sons get stuck in one developmental stage or another and never learn the necessary tools to move through to the next stage.
Sometimes this looks like his emotional development being stunted. Sometimes it looks like a son assuming more responsibility than developmentally appropriate – stepping up to be the “man of the house” at a very young age. Sometimes it could be regression to a previous stage like tantrums well out of the toddler stage. Can’t we all name at least one adult who still throws inappropriate tantrums?? I can’t help but wonder if they never learned to navigate that stage of emotional development due to something unaddressed in his or her childhood.
David Thomas and Stephen James, two of our locally renowned therapists suggest this, “When seismic shifts occur in a boy’s life [like divorce], our job as caregivers is to jump-start his development and help him play catch-up for any time he has lost. We may need to help him go back and rewire the important things he should have experienced or acquired… For some boys, this is a slow and painful process; for others the journey is not as lengthy or as difficult.”
The good news is this: you already have what your son needs. Ultimately, divorce or no divorce, he just need you, at every age in different ways.
He need you working through our baggage (especially with the opposite sex and relationships!) and modeling for them how to show respect and care to ourselves and others. He need you showing up over and over again for him, supporting him.
What a joy it is to set our sons up for success by giving them these gifts.
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