I remember the first time my son shied away from me when I went to hug and kiss him goodnight. I was a bit shocked, and if I’m being totally honest, I wanted to cry. He was 9 years old, and I knew he was growing up, but I wasn’t prepared for him to pull away like that. I was worried. My child doesn’t like hugs anymore? Have I done something wrong? Is this the end of giving him affection and getting affection from him?
Dramatic thoughts, I know. But maybe you can relate. What I didn’t know at the time is that boys go through a natural tendency to pull away from physical affection around this age. Here are 3 important things moms can do when their sons enter into a “pull-away” phase.
1. Understand that this is a healthy sign of your son’s development.
Yes, a part of us wants them to be little forever, but we don’t really want that. Around age 9 or 10, boys enter into a new developmental phase and begin to separate from their parents and figure out who they are as individuals. It’s an important process of self-realization that progresses in spurts over the next several years.
In Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas, I learned that from age 5 to 8 boys are in “The Lover” stage and at age 9 to 10, they enter into “The Individual” stage. No wonder it feels different (and painful) to a mom! Your son is pulling away from you physically and mentally so he can start to think and reason on his own. And while it feels like he’s rejecting you, it has nothing to do with you. He’s simply going through changes that are both normal and necessary.
Your son is pulling away from you physically and mentally so he can start to think and reason on his own.
2. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
I’m talking to myself here! This is hard. But if you can come to terms with #1, then you can tackle this one. When we react as if it’s personal, we make our sons feel like they are doing something wrong when they’re not. No doubt that the first time my son pulled away, I had a shocked, pitiful expression on my face. So don’t beat yourself up if this has been your reaction, too. You might have even launched into a barrage of questions or a lecture about how much you love him.
But I recovered, and so will you. I’ve changed my expectations and remind myself often that it’s nothing personal. So when he pulls away (when, not if), smile and move on. Give him a little space to grow and let him make the choice not to get plastered with kisses right then.
3. Show “mini-affection” instead.
OK, if you’ve accepted #1 and #2, you are ready to pull back and chill out on the hugs and kisses. However, don’t halt all affection completely! Deep down, even the most standoffish tween still needs hugs from his mom. So opt for acts of “mini-affection” instead. I started with quick hugs, pats on the back, and even linking my arm into his on occasion.
Now he’s 11, and he’s actually more affectionate than he was at 9—he will let me give him a quick kiss on the head. I often joke about it by saying something like, “Oh, you want some hugs from your mama? Do you?” As he squirms away and moans, I can see him smiling and eating it up. And every once in a while, when no friends are around, he’ll randomly walk up and put his head on my shoulder. And yes, I cherish those moments.
How have you experienced your son pulling away and what has helped you?