A delicious, complex relationship reflected in these quotes (no pressure, right Moms?):
- Men are what their mothers made them. ~Ralph Waldo Emmerson
- All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. ~Abraham Lincoln
- Sons are the anchors of a mother’s life. ~Sophocles
- …and she loved a little boy very, very much. Even more than she loved herself. ~Shel Silverstein
- A man loves…his wife the best, but his mother the longest. ~Irish Proverb
But, what’s a Mom to do when she begins to have sons, but has no experience to draw from? I asked myself that question as I held my first baby boy. Well, maybe a few days later…
I grew up in a pink world with three sisters. The only one who wasn’t allowed to wear pink was my sister with red hair who was relegated to earth tones years before brown was cool. The 80s were tough.
So when I gave birth to boy after boy after boy….[no, I was not trying for a girl]…after boy, I knew I would need help understanding these mysterious creatures.
Blue was baffling and I was ill-equipped. I mean, I had learned a few things along the way like:
- even grilled cheese sandwiches can be turned into guns
- bathroom humour is always hilarious even when it’s not
- brothers tend to head butt and wrestle to show their affection
But as the boys grew, I wondered if I was missing the mark communicating from my heart. I felt too mushy. I felt too pink.
So I did what any proactive mom would do – I googled. And started asking around for recommended resources.
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Emerson Eggerichs wrote Mother & Son: The Respect Effect and boy is it rocking my world. Allow me to share six epiphanies about the importance of Moms showing respect to our sons.
1. moms miss the mark, but it’s not our fault
We were never coached to use respect-talk so we use what comes more naturally to us, which is love-talk. And while some love-talk works with our boy, we may be missing out on opportunities to let him know how much we respect who he is becoming.
And if we keep missing the mark, it can lead to a lot of tension. Eggerichs writes, “Without respect a son reacts without love, and without love a mother reacts without respect….It gets really crazy, really quickly.” (p. 5)
But the good news is that Moms are quick learners and highly motivated to improve relationally, so don’t despair!
2. moms must offer unconditional respect
Does this seem like an impossible and even unfair task? It did to me too. Because I equated respecting my son with respecting his behaviour (spoiler alert: that can not end well).
Then I read Eggerich’s explanation that it is obvious we must love our daughters unconditionally, not based on their behaviour…or ANY other factors. We would never withold our love based on a string of poor decisions by our daughter. That would be unthinkable.
Communicating conditional respect of our sons would be equally devestating to them.
Ping! [insert epiphany here]
I appreciated Eggerich’s sample conversations of how to communicate honestly with sons, while still being respectful. Without condoning poor decisions or attitudes, our words must always come from a posture of respect, and he shows us how.
We know that our husbands thrive when they know we trust them, admire them and believe in them. And Shaunti Feldhahn’s research for her book For Women Only took that understanding one step further. She shared that men would rather sense the loss of loving feelings from their wives than to be disrespected by them. Seriously? Men would rather feel unloved rather than disrespected? No wonder I was missing the mark with my boys!
3. moms can learn the respect-talk dialect
nagging repeatedly reminding her son that his Dad didn’t want him jumping on the furniture, one Mom phrased it like this: “We need to respect how hard dad has worked to be able buy things for our family and his desire to take good care of them.” (p.9)
I can honestly say that type of wording would not have occurred to me. It makes sense when I read it, but it wouldn’t be how I would have phrased it. I can blame it on my pink lens.
I recently had a chance to take a small step in this area. Brother #2 hurt Brother #3 because Brother #3 was tormenting Brother #4 (are you still with me?). There were tears and hurt feelings. Instead of rushing in with a rebuke, I took a deep breath and thought about how to communicate with Brother #2 using respect-talk.
I said something like: “It is honourable that you wanted to protect your little brother from being upset. I admire how faithful you are in defending him. Can we chat about how you can still accomplish that without hurting your other brother?”
For me, this was a tremendous win. I was able to see the parts of the fight that had honourable roots, in a way I never would have before. I do believe I actually spoke blue!
Want to gather your own wins? Download this printable for bite-sized, actionable tips to connect with your teenagers (sons and daughters)!
4. boys need respect in distinct areas
When we start to unpack how critical respect is to boys, we see so many aspects of their lives are impacted. Eggerichs goes into a lot of detail on how to communicate respect to our growing men in these six areas. We can say, “I respect your desire….
- to work and achieve
- to provide, protect and even die
- to be strong and to lead and make decisions
- to analyze, solve and counsel
- for a shoulder-to-shoulder friendship
- for sexual understanding and ‘knowing.’
Isn’t this humbling to be a Mom to boys who are wired for all of these achievements? And while these are all things I admire in my husband, I am increasingly aware of the awesome privilege of now raising someone else’s husband. I get to be part of their dress rehearsal in life. Thankfully, Eggerichs discusses specific ways to support boys in each of these areas.
5. boys personalize disrespect
This one section in the book was worth its weight in gold.
If a Mom has conflict with a daughter, she tends to understand that they need to talk things through until they reach an apology and a resolution. As Eggerichs says, “Women feel comfortable in the ocean of emotion.” (p. 23) Yet a Mom can approach her son to talk about a conflict and he immediately goes into self-preservation mode, “steeling himself against the provocation.” (p. 23)
Did you catch that? Even a casual comment like, “Hey buddy, we need to talk later” triggers a son to feel attacked and start building up his defenses.
BUT good news! Simple changes in our wording can help prevent a son’s pulling away when there is a conflict. For example, we can say, “I am not trying to disrespect you. My goal is to honour you, not dishonour you….My goal is not to put you down. That would be disrespectful….I am only trying to address the issue, not attack you as a person.” (p. 24)
Eggerichs says we will see a visible relaxing of our sons if we can disarm him with this kind of approach.
I decided to put it to the test. One of my boys was getting a bit lippy and I could see from his body language, he was gearing up for an argument. In a calm voice I said, “Look. I am speaking to you respectfully and I need you to do the same for me.” I wish I had a video to prove how well this worked. These words broke through his anger instantly. His shoulders relaxed and his whole demeanour changed as he calmly said, “Alright.”
This was the moment I decided I could sell this book door-to-door.
6. moms’ efforts will bring results
Timely respect-filled statements will “ring in a boy’s ears for a long time. He remembers these comments. He feels energized and motivated by them.” (p. 103)
If we can learn to get this aspect of communication right, we will see results. Eggerichs explains that “Respect-Talk” ignites affection and endearment in a boy.” (p. 5) Did you hear that good news? Could we ask for anything better?
By speaking a boy’s language of respect, we will have the added blessing of being loved in a way that is meaningful to us as Moms. P.S. This works for husbands too.
But if you have a ‘win’, don’t smother your son with kisses and blow up pink balloons. Slow down there, excited Mama. Take a deep breath and act chill. Let’s be sure that our enthusiasm isn’t too mushy for our respect-wired boys especially as they get older.
Finally, special thanks to Eggerichs for his thoughtful 20 page Appendix called “A Quick Start for Those Pressed for Time.” Can you tell he was thinking of Moms when he added that in?
But I may suggest that he move that closer to the front so Moms like me who don’t actually read the table of contents, will find it BEFORE reading the longer version.
That being said, I highly recommend the long or short version of this book for any Mom raising sons.
I’d love to hear how you have learned to use a blue lens with your son(s). Let’s get practical!