Boys have feelings, too.
The media’s message is that boys are destructive, uncaring, and sometimes just plain dumb. Our society is buying the lie that boys don’t have feelings and that lie is hurting our sons. Mom, you have a vital role in your son’s life. Boys need their dads to teach them how to become a man, but they need their moms to teach them how to become a gentleman.
Blake and Brandon have always been so different.
My firstborn likes to be behind the scenes, the other in front of an audience. One is a neat freak, the other a messy bessy. They are very different in their approaches to life, relationships and work – and yet, they have so much in common. They both feel deeply. Both work hard to demonstrate love and care, they long for affirmation and acceptance, and seek to contribute to the world around them in meaningful ways.
When Ron went to prison, I had no idea how I was going to fill his shoes with my boys.
I was acutely aware that they needed the influence of their father in their lives, and that I could not meet that need. Connecting with my children to make sure they didn’t fall prey to becoming one of the statistics I read about children with incarcerated parents quickly became a priority for me. There were several things that I found that worked with each of them even though they had such different personalities.
Let’s start with the obvious one - food.
Boys love food. The smell of food draws them – you don’t even have to shout “dinner time” if they are within smelling distance! They show up as soon as they smell it. If you take the time to cook and eat your meals together, you will build strong bonds. As we would eat together, we talked together. They each shared what was happening in their lives, what they were excited about and what was challenging them. I learned of their romantic interests, dreams, goals, plans for the weekend, and many other important details about their lives over meals. Food has a way of helping boys open up and share what they are thinking about.
It worked almost every time.
The times it didn’t work were times I was not intentional about creating an atmosphere of caring. I came home from working an extraordinarily long day, feeling exhausted, stressed and overstretched.
I walked into our house and saw a bigger mess than what I had left with the boys lounging on the couch laughing together in the middle of the disaster. “Hey! Why didn’t you pick up the living room when you got home? Why are these dishes still all over the counter? Pick up those shoes and take them to your room right now. Then, come back down here and pick up all these papers – one of you run the vacuum while I make dinner. Move that case out of the way right now. Feed the dog. Get the mail. Go. Now. Get this mess picked up. I will let you know when it is time to eat.”
By the time we sat down, I calmed down and was ready to talk.
But they weren’t. I had not greeted them or shown any sign that I was glad to see them. Over time, I then focused on all that they had not done, never asking how their day was or letting them know I was happy to see them. I got short answers without details and no information was pouring out uninvited. I had set a tone when I arrived home that said, “all business, no fun, no time for caring today.” So, they followed my lead.
When I was intentional about greeting them first, connecting with them before asking them to help, not only did I receive joyful help, but I also received lots of communicating at the dinner table. I didn’t let them off the hook for not pitching in, but I didn’t make their mistake the most important thing. Seeing them and greeting them first set the tone for cooperation, acceptance of rebuke, and connecting in spite of shortcomings. Let the mess lie until after you greet your sons.
The next step in connecting with your teenage boys is joining them in their interests.
This can be a challenge. Find out what they are excited to do and do it with them. You do not have to be good at it, you just have to show up and show an interest in learning what they love to do. If they love music, then let the music play, take them to concerts, buy them an instrument to support them in expressing themselves creatively.
If you just send your child off to lessons without ever adding their interests into your time together, then you are sending them the message that there is a part of them that you do not care about. Crazy, I know, but true. When you show you care by joining with them in an activity that they are really drawn to, you are reinforcing your love for them.
Finally, always praise your son publicly and correct privately. Young men do not get enough credit for the wonderful things they do. Affirmation is an important part of helping your son grow into his passion, gifts, and talents. When you see a great attribute in him, let him know. Connecting to your teenage boys will help them face every challenge they will face growing up. The memories you are making now will also become the anchors that will hold your family together. Invest in them by spending time getting to know them and helping them live their dreams and passion.
I am rooting for you!