I was in line at the bagel shop this morning, waiting for my turn behind a mom and her teenage son. “What kind of bagels do you want?” the cashier asked them. The boy requested a couple of cinnamon bagels before his mom cut in: “Sweetheart, why not get a chocolate chip bagel? You like chocolate chip, right?” “Uh, okay,” the boy answered. “Sure, chocolate chip.”
In that moment, insignificant as it might have seemed, the mother short-circuited her son’s path to becoming an independent man. Helping our sons comes naturally to us. Giving them space to grow does not. But ultimately, we are raising our sons to leave us. We want them to be independent, responsible, solid men. We can help them become that by letting them go for their own good. Here’s how to step back so your son can become a man.
Don’t do for your son what he can do for himself.
Put this into practice by letting your son take on more responsibility. Teach him to wash his own clothes. Let him gather up his sports gear without help. Encourage him to speak up for himself with his teachers before you step in. Even if he doesn’t do things the way you would do them, increased responsibility increases his chance to succeed and grow.
Tell your son you believe in him—and show it.
When he faces a big decision, be available to discuss his options. Ask questions to guide him, but let him reach his own conclusion. As long as his choice isn’t harmful, tell him you believe in his ability to make a good choice and then step back.
Teach your son to take responsibility for his behavior.
When our sons mess up—and they will, as they’re only human, just as we are—resist stepping in to rescue him. Instead, teach him that his actions and his choices have consequences. If he finds himself in a bad place because of a poor decision, don’t abandon him, but help him walk through the steps of taking responsibility.
Let your son have other close relationships.
Most mothers, including me, love to feel needed by our children. But if your relationship is the sole close relationship your son has, he needs to broaden his world by stepping out from our orbit. Boys need to practice the relationship skills that will help them flourish as men. So encourage a strong relationship between him and his father. Help him cultivate relationships with his peers. And when he starts dating, don’t panic. That stage is part of the separation process that leads to independence.
What are some ways moms can help their sons become men?