I had a great moment about an hour after the kids’ bedtime tonight. I knew my son was still awake. I poked my head through the doorway and there he was, lying in a dark room waiting for sleep to come, and he perked up.
“You awake?” I asked.
I walked across the room to his bed and knelt down so we were eye to eye. “I wanted to tell you something,” I said.
He looked eager, with a half smile I could see in the dim light. “What?”
“I just wanted to tell you how much fun I had playing chess with you tonight.” I saw his smile light up his whole face. “Thanks for inviting me to play. I love that you ask me to play with you. I hope you know that when I say no it’s not because I don’t like to, I’m just not always available. But I’m going to try to say yes more often because I love playing with you.”
My boy’s arms were around me in an instant. This was a good way to end his day. “Thanks for telling me,” he said. Simple as that.
This is not an unusual exchange between my son and me, though let me be the first to say not all our conversations are so Normal Rockwell sweet. This mom does have a tendency to talk too much, act on those talks not quite enough, and heave heavy sighs when I have to repeat myself again. . . and again.
But recently I’ve been making my way through Mother & Son: The Respect Effect by Emerson Eggerichs, PhD, and I am feeling encouraged to learn that so much of what I have found to be effective in parenting my boy is rooted deeply in his need to be esteemed and respected by me.
Our boys need to know we respect them, not just that we love them. To be sure, love is essential, and that’s what often comes so much more naturally to a mom. But to respect our boys—to admire them, be proud of them, esteem them for who they are and how they think and what makes them unique and stunning and brave and wise—this is a desire of their hearts, a need stemming from the deepest parts of their souls.
Our boys need to know not only that we care for them, but that we believe in them.
I think that can be a hard thing for mothers of young boys who would rather do somersaults than sit still and interrupt than listen carefully. It can be a hard thing for a mom who is reminding her eight year old for the umpteenth time that he needs to brush his teeth every day and that the bedtime routine does not, nor has it ever, entailed spending several minutes lying half-dressed on his bed reading comics or staring at the ceiling. It can be hard for a mom who loves words and finds connection through sharing to relate to her boy who doesn’t want to answer twenty questions when he gets home from school. It can be hard.
But the rewards, when we remember to treat our boys according to their own needs and not ours are manifest. Boys want connection. I see it in the invitations to play chess, to “sit with me Mommy?” and in his declaration each new day that “it’s time to give you your morning hug.” I see it when he scoots over at bedtime and, as he waves his hand across the empty space beside him intones with an impish smile, “plenty of room for one more.” I see it when he whispers to me after dinner “Mommy, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Boys want to connect.
I tell my boy all the time how much I love being his Mommy. I tell him how proud I am of him, how much I admire his strong character, his good attitude, his care for his sisters, his insightful ideas. I lament with him that it must be hard to be a kid when he feels angry at the responsibilities on his plate, and then I tell him I believe he is up to the task of meeting those responsibilities because he is capable and strong.
Our boys need to hear these things from us. They need to know we’ve got their backs. I’m glad I’ve been on the right track, according to Eggerichs, and more importantly according to my son. I’m glad we ended the night on an affirmation.
I’ll go to bed tonight looking forward to tomorrow’s morning hug. I know it’s his way of trying to make sure my day starts out right. I’ll make sure to tell him it works.