I’m holding the frame with the picture of me and my darling 3 year old son. He is seated in my lap, my arms wrapped around him, head relaxed into my shoulder with a look on his face that seemed to say, “This is my spot on the planet. With her, I am safe and secure.” Idyllic? I recall a night about the time of that photo when he had talked so much all day, I swore to my husband that I had bloody nubs where my ears had been.

Well, twenty years hence, things have changed. . . and not.

During those intervening twenty years, there were certainly days I longed for him to chat with me. And in my recent “most favorite picture” of him, he is far, far out of the reach of my loving embrace (see the picture below). Who is this man-o-the-world? The one with a beard, for heaven’s sake!? How secure he seems to take on Life. . . .

In that time, he and I have learned some important lessons.

Some of mine are:

1.  A boy struggles with how to be attached to his mother and become a strong man. We moms begin to notice that he consults us less often, hugs us more surreptitiously, walks a step or two away from us. Sometimes we feel the ache in our hearts before we process it in our heads. I view this as the beginning of the orbit which he must take away from mom, much as the moon moves away from a planet. For a time, he may even be gone from our sight. But as his confidence in his own strength, his own ability to handle Life, grows, the orbit begins to turn homeward once more. A mom can experience mixed feelings as her son moves away from her but toward his father. Yet it makes sense that if you want to know how to be a man, you wouldn’t seek your mom! Some mothers hurry after their sons, swallowing what feels like rejection at almost every step. How much wiser those who “see” the emerging man and acknowledge him, “Wow, your dad would really be proud of the way you put the tools in order.” Or, “I know the little cousins will look forward to your playing with them. It’s great to have a Big Guy around!” Best to wait as affirmingly and positively as one can. . . the orbit does circle back around.

2.  Hormones create challenges for our sons too. Often as parents we get swept away by our daughters’ hormonal swings, assuming that our sons have it much simpler. One view of the impact of testosterone is that, along with physical maturation, it increases four important social/psychological attributes: competitiveness, sex drive, aggression and risk-taking. It can make a parent wonder, “What was the Creator thinking! All this in a sixteen year old body!” At that point of quandary, it’s useful to recall that each of these attributes has a “gift” and a “shadow.” Risk-taking can mean racing your mom’s car on the Tollway or trying out for the school play. Competition can mean who’s the meanest dude in the ‘hood . . . or which class raised the most money for the charity. Our teen boy is all about figuring out how to harness those four fierce forces inside himself and shaping them into honorable manhood. From that vantage point, it’s easy to see how important dad’s and other men’s connections become to our son.

3.  The three-sentence rule is essential to practice. While speaking, gossiping, chattering are the “coin of the realm” in a female’s world, not so among guys. We moms approach our sons like we would our girl friends, sisters or daughters. Talking equates with connecting. But as a dear friend/therapist told me many years ago, “Boys only listen to the first three sentences. Choose them carefully.”  When moms of teen sons attend my classes, I give them the homework assignment of limiting themselves to three sentences and then stopping, especially during “hot” times, disagreements, disciplinary events, etc. Mom after mom returns to class frustrated: “I can’t do it!” they declare. Hundreds of moms into this experiment, I agree that it is hard but I reassure them that practice helps. One mom told a class that she had noticed an interesting pattern in her home: her son only heard in three-sentence bytes; her husband only spoke in three-sentence bytes. “Great observation,” I congratulated her. “I’d say it’s just the indication you need to let your husband handle more of the communication with your son! Yippee, you’re out of the loop!”

Today, I hold those two photos in my heart: arms wrapped around my dear boy; strong young man gazing into his own future. My mom’s wise voice echoes to me, “A good parent’s job is to put themselves out of a job.” May we watch, encourage and wait with faith as our precious boys begin their orbits. May we welcome back the fine men they become.

Happy 25th, my darling boy!