Years ago, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was preparing for her son's upcoming wedding. At the time, my sons were still quite young and I asked her what her relationship was like with her adult son. She told me it was good because she followed the golden rules of raising sons.
Golden rules? This is great, I thought. I'm about to get a good dose of helpful advice.
"Here's what you do," she said, "Wear beige, keep your pocketbook open, and your mouth shut."
In other words, be an invisible, mute ATM if you want to have good relationships with your boys. I was floored. Raised in a sisters-only family, I had little frame of reference. But even with my limited repertoire, I decided then and there that those golden rules were Not. For. Me.
I had to revamp her advice. I wanted to foster loving relationships with my boys while raising men I'd be proud to launch into the world. Now my sons are young adults and not one expects me to remain silent or fade into the wallpaper. (Full disclosure: The "pocketbook open" thing remains open for debate.)
Abby's Ten Golden Rules For Raising Responsible, Loving, Respectful Sons©
1. Accept that boys are wired differently. They look at and experience things from their own, unique male perspective. Don't expect they will have the same reactions you do. And don't be disappointed when they don't. And, for pity's sake, allow them to express their emotions openly.
2. Talk about sex. Don't blame or shame. Porn will likely be their first entree to sex -- and from a younger age than you'd like. Much younger. So, talk to them about fantasy versus reality. Talk to them about moderation. Talk to them about romantic love and mutual consent. Talk to them about rape. Repeat.
3. Rudeness and self-absorption? Unacceptable. If I'm entering a building with my sons and they go in ahead of me, I wait outside until they realize I haven't joined them. (Sometimes this takes longer than I'd like.) One will inevitably come back and hold the door for me. I don't expect them to do that because I'm a woman, I do that because I expect them to move through life thoughtfully and with a keen awareness of others.
4. Keep pushing God/spirituality if that's your thing. Turns out younger folks aren't as interested in religion or spirituality as their predecessors. That hasn't stopped me. I don't care what deity they embrace -- or none at all -- but I want them to know the value and sustenance a spiritual practice provides.
5. Welcome the partners they bring home -- with caution. A mom of grown sons once warned me, "Don't fall in love with their girlfriends. Those early relationships never last." Turns out, she was right. Embrace the lovely people they bring home, but know you may get your heart broken. Let your sons know you approve of their choices. If you don't, figure out a respectful way to tell them why.
6. Get emotional. A male friend was raised by an emotionally distant mother. He says he grew up with little understanding of what made women tick, and he remained intimidated by women's emotions well into adulthood. So, here's the deal: Let your sons see you laugh, cry, rage, weep, grieve, rejoice. Holding back does nothing to educate -- or prepare -- your sons for the beautiful range of emotions women are gifted with expressing.
7. See something, say something. What to say: "It is your duty as men -- as human beings -- to step in if someone is being assaulted or bullied. If you're a silent bystander, you're guilty. Do your best to put a stop to it without physical altercation. If that's not possible, get help or call authorities. Be part of the solution."
8. Intimidation factor. Males have it. That's the reality and they need to be aware of it. Here's what I tell my sons: If you're ever on a dark street or in a parking garage at night, be mindful that your mere presence may feel threatening to a woman walking alone. If you're rushing up behind a woman, casually assure her of her safety. Say, "Don't mean to alarm you, I'm just in a hurry..." Or, better yet, "If you'd like, I'd be happy to walk with you until you get to a safer area."
9. Love them unconditionally. Always. Because they need you to do that, even when it's not obvious or they don't seem to notice. A man who experiences unconditional love from his mom has a better chance at healthier adult relationships. Don't hold back. Give them your heart and, in turn, you will have theirs.
10. Kindness matters. My middle son recently went out for a night on the town with my ridiculously amazing niece. Both are young adults. My niece told me how lovely my son was to everyone he met during the evening. She even told him how impressed she was. His response? "I learned that from my mom."