Boys are by nature gross, destructive, rambunctious little daredevils who lack the impulse control to keep themselves out of trouble for more than about ten seconds. They are the booger-crusted sweetness that climbs over a thirty-foot brick wall to pick the neighbor’s prized flowers for the sole purpose of putting them in a pot of muddy water and setting them on the table as a gift for their beloved momma.
And they desperately need mothers. They need moms because we provide a gentling influence. We are the ones who teach them to locate that part of their brain that says “STOP! This is a bad idea.” From mothers, boys learn to put words to their feelings and not just deck whoever is hurting them. Mothers are generally responsible for teaching empathy, tenderness, and how to wash behind the ears.
Yet perhaps the greatest reason boys need mothers is that it is mothers who teach boys what they should expect from women. How should they, as man-cubs, relate to the opposite sex and who are they in comparison?
Sadly, our culture has taken a nosedive in recent years in regards to our view of men. Some may disagree with me, but just take a look at any sitcom on television. Mom is the only one with any brains who is holding the family together single-handedly because dad is stupid, checked-out, and interested only in beer and his fantasy football team. Men have become a mockery, good for little but a cheap laugh.
As a mom, I reject this for my children. Their maleness is not something to be overcome, tamed, or discarded. It is to be guided, defined, and celebrated. Instead of squelching what makes them who they are, moms must call out the good things about masculinity in our sons. Even with our breath held, we must choose to revel in their desire for adventure and supply the capes for them to save the world. We must attempt to see the curiosity of the world through their eyes, and instead of dismissing our sons as merely bent on destruction, we understand that they take things apart simply because they want to see what is inside or find out if it will shatter. We must set high expectations for them because we know that they are capable of so much more than this world tells them that they are good for. And we must let them know that they were made to be men, valuable, worthy of respect, and capable of the hard work that it takes to make their dreams a reality.
I have realized that one of the most critical forms that this posture of respecting and nurturing the masculinity in my sons takes is in my relationship with their dad. About three seconds after giving birth, moms realize that we know more than daddy does when it comes to our baby. Maybe because we have carried the baby for nine months or maybe because of that nurturing gene that is attached to our second X chromosome, moms tend to handle babies much more naturally than daddies do. Perhaps this is why, by the time the baby starts crawling, we have reduced our husbands to just another one of the kids. “Mommy knows best. Now just do what I say.” We have stripped our men of their manhood and tossed respect into the diaper genie.
One day I had one of those moments when it was like I was outside of myself, hearing my words and cringing at my tone as I talked to Dan. The boys were in the room observing us, and I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I would claw any woman that treated my sons with the kind of patronizing distain I had just heaped on their father. I was a hypocrite, and I knew it.
Because as wonderful as it is to teach my boys what I believe about them as males, what they will really believe is what I teach them with the way that I treat men—specifically the most important man in their lives. How they will expect to be treated in their own relationships is primarily my responsibility as their mother. What is the nature of my relationship with their dad? Do I respect him even when I disagree with him? Do I treat him like a partner or like another child? Are we friends or just co-habitating? Do I forgive easily or is he forced to grovel and beg to reenter my good graces?
Boys need mothers because in us they see their own reflections. We supply the filters of either joy and acceptance or irritation and distain. I know what I want my sons to see on my face when I am looking back at them.