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A Mother's Influence on Her Son (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 09/13/2012

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Psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman offers the listening mother practical advice for how she can be intentional in raising her sons to become men of integrity and character in a discussion based on his book What a Difference a Mom Makes: The Indelible Imprint a Mom Leaves on her Son's Life. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript



John Fuller: This is John Fuller with an important Focus on the Family programming note. Many of you have felt exasperation and anger about both the recent New York legislature’s barbaric endorsement of abortion, and also about the controversial statement by Governor Ralph Northam about his apparent support for infanticide in Virginia. On Monday’s broadcast, you’ll hear from Senator Ben Sasse - his heart and passion about the value of every life. Also in that broadcast, Jim will make an announcement about a major Focus event and initiative in which you can help us stand for life. Be sure to listen to our special Focus on the Family broadcast on Monday.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Well, moms have a tough job these days and the stakes are high, especially if you have a son. Our guest today, Dr. Kevin Leman, challenges you to recognize that you have a huge impact on your boy.

Kevin Leman: Mommies, if you're raising a son, you don't take any guff from little Buford or his little brother, Fletcher, ever. Why? Because you represent to your son what women are all about and you want your young son to have a healthy respect for what is a woman.

John: Well, Mom, you do play a pivotal role in helping your son learn what it means to be a man of character and we're gonna help you do that better on today's Focus on the Family with Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller.  

Jim Daly: John, it is so easy for moms to get discouraged today, overwhelmed, exhausted. I...

John: Mmm. Jim: ...think of my wife, Jean. When I get home at night, she's tired. She's been workin' hard.

John: Does she ever say, "It's your turn now? I'm goin'..." (LAUGHTER) "I'm goin' over here?"

Jim: Yeah, that happens, but you know, she does a great job. John: Mmm.

Jim: And I want to honor her, because she has her hands full with the boys in the house and uh, she does a great job.

John: Hm.

Jim: Uh, but life is not quiet, I mean especially with boys. If you're a family with all boys, you know exactly what I'm talkin' about. It is rambunctious. It's energy. It's just non-stop wiggles. I hear from those that have daughters that it's really non-stop talking, typically. But for little boys, it's all about action. Uh, and we want to talk about that today and we have brought in one of our favorite guests, Dr. Kevin Leman uh, to encourage us, as well as give us practical advice to help moms feel cherished and honored by their sons and know how to raise an outstanding son who respects women. Dr. Leman, welcome back to Focus.


Kevin: Always great to be here. Thank you, Jim and John. It's uh, I say it's a pleasure to be here; I mean that. I always feel at home here and always have the freedom to say what's in my heart and mind. And you know, talkin' about little boys, yeah, they're different. Late-breaking news, they're different than little girls. They say things like, "Vroom, varoom," and "Splat," and...


But don't let this kid work you...

John: Mmm.

Jim: Ah.

Kevin: ...because you represent all of womanhood to this little guy. And there's a special bond between a mommy and a son and a daddy and a daughter.

Jim: Well, let's talk about that, because a lot of people, when they write a book, they write from their own experience. What motivated you? And talk about your relationship with your own mom.

Kevin: Oh, wow! Mom was the key person in my life, of course. She really was. Uh, she was a working nurse. She worked nights in a hospital. Mom was a tremendous difference in my life. Uh, it's interesting that uh, the little Scripture that she wrote in my book, um, in my Bible - after the time came in my life when I appreciated the Bible. There was a time in my life when I couldn't care less about the Bible - was Proverbs 3:1 through 6 and just classic type Scripture that - my mom imprinted my life big time. I'm the man I am today because of her.

Jim: Mmm.

Kevin: And not to wipe you dads off the face of the earth here, but you just have to understand that with a little boy, mommies are huge.

John: Hm.

Jim: Well, we talk a lot about the impact a father has on his son or daughter. But there is a special impact that a mom does bring. What is that impact? Describe it for us, especially a mom to her son.

Kevin: Well, every boy needs a good dose of femininity. You don't hear that many places...

Jim: Okay...

Kevin: ...but they do.

Jim: Everybody just went, "What?!"

John: Yeah.

Kevin: Yeah. They need femininity in their life. They need that softness, you know. Women talk. Uh, gives kids - boys - a chance to talk to their moms. You know, the interesting thing about - you asked about my mom, Jim. I could talk to my mom in high school about anything. And my mom, God love her, you know my story. I won't repeat it in great detail. But I - I graduated fourth from the bottom of my class in high school, okay? Couldn't get in college. Finally got into college, got thrown out of college. Met my wife, Sandra. She was a nurse's aide. I was a janitor. She was the trigger that God used in my life to turn my whole life around.

Jim: Hm.

Kevin: And when I look at people in my life who really influenced me the most, it was women. It was an old grey-haired schoolteacher; it was my older sister; it was my mom, my wife. And so, I've always been very acutely aware of the presence of women in a young man's life. And - and quite frankly, I think a - a mom who loves her son, gives her son a real advantage by clueing him in to people and feelings.

Uh, men don't talk. Men don't share. Now we've talked about this on Focus before. I mean, okay, men, how many of you have one close personal friend? Put your hand up, okay? We can see all across Canada, all over U.S., all over. Yeah, okay. We see those - let's see, six hands up.


That's good. Well, how many of you have two? How many of you have three? I mean, most of us as men don't have a lot of men that we talk to. Oh, we might go bowling with 'em. We might go hunting or fishing.

Jim: Some action oriented...

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: ...event.

Kevin: But - but you know, heart-to-heart talk - accountability groups are getting more prevalent today within the church, which is a good healthy thing for us as men, because most of us as men are at arm's length. But what I'm saying is, a mom becomes a conduit to teach this boy to talk about life.

Jim: Hm. Kevin, what does a mom of boys need to understand about what her boys need from her?

Kevin: Oh, well, that's a good question, because see, this little guy needs to be affirmed for being the young man he is.

Jim: And how does a mom do that?

Kevin: Well, you've just asked little Fletcher to help you, okay? And you look at him and say, "Fletcher, thank you for that help. You're - you're a strong little 9-year-old. Wow! I didn't realize you were that strong." Now, watch that little peacock. Watch him...

(LAUGHTER) him put those feathers up, you know, all around. I mean, you want to pump that kid up, that's how...

Jim: Start...

Kevin: do it.

Jim: ...flexing his bicep for you.

Kevin: And so, this boy, he needs to be accepted and wanted by his mom and needed by his mom. And so, we can pump up that opposite-sex child. I wrote the book, What a Difference a Daddy Makes in a Daughter's Life, which is tear-jerker book, if there ever was one. I mean, I cried writin' the sucker, but I've got four daughters. And I maintain that daughters always need their daddy.

I remember a point in uh, our life where our daughter, Krissy, had uh, lost a baby. She miscarried. And it was a day when the publisher was in town to take myself and Sande out for dinner, because they wanted my signature on a contract, to be real blunt about it. It was one of those things that three people came from the state of Michigan to Arizona. And with all the turmoil of the day, we decided we're gonna go through with the dinner. But after dinner, as I walked out and my mind all night wasn't on signing some book contract. It was on my daughter.

Jim: Mmhmm.

Kevin: But when I walked out, I see this little Toyota comin' up and it's my son-in-law. Krissy's in the car.

John: Hm.

Kevin: He said - he said, "Dad, she just had to talk with you one more time today," you know. Mmm! She's what? 30-years-old at the time.

Jim: Hm.

Kevin: And so, like a little girl needs her daddy, a little boy needs mommy. I can remember as a little boy saying that the peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted better when Mom made it.


It's those relationships in families that just need to flow. And if they can flow in a natural way, Jim, you don't force 'em - I think most women when they first discover they're gonna have a little boy, uh, especially if they didn't have brothers, they don't know what to do.

But my favorite line in What a Difference a Mom Makes is the little scene I paint for the new expectant mom and the nursery's ready, and this is her little firstborn and she has her first sonogram. And she goes to the doctor and she says, "Well, what's that?"


I mean, the thought never entered her mind that she could be having a little son.

John: Hm.

Kevin: And the question is in her mind, "A son?!"

Jim: It's that far removed from her.

Kevin: "What am I gonna do with a son?!"

Jim: Yeah.


Kevin: And that's - that's I think, this book will be an encouragement to those moms who have that shocking experience...

John: Huh.

Kevin: ...that that little firstborn is not a female.

Jim: Hm.

John: Boy, I so appreciate what you're saying there, Dr. Leman. And I wonder if you can go ahead and just help that mom fast forward. What - not that she's gonna have the same kind of moment that you had with your daughter in that moment of need, as you came out of the restaurant, where she just had to talk to you one more time. But what can that mom expect in 30 years after raising that child. What kind of a bond can she expect that she'll still have with him?

Kevin: Well, see, if she plays her cards right, okay and by that I mean she doesn't let this kid slide. She holds him accountable. She never lets that kid bad mouth her or wipe his feet on her. So, in other words, we're building a relationship based on mutual respect and love. If you get that, you're gonna have a relationship that you can be proud of. And you're gonna help this young one pick a woman that's good for him.

Jim: Well, let - let's wind the clock back. You talk about planning your toddler's wedding.

Kevin: Yeah, I thought that would get people's attention.

Jim: Yeah, it got my attention.

Kevin: Women love weddings.

Jim: What do you mean about planning your toddler's wedding?

Kevin: Well, one of the few things you'll get shrinks to agree on is that personality is formed in the first few years of life. So, by the time a child is 5- or 6-years-old, as one author said, "Children are like wet cement." And I always loved that visual picture, because if you've ever seen anybody work with wet cement, it's very malleable. It's fun to smooth around. As a kid, it was fun to put a heart, and “I love” this girl and enter our initials or something worse than that.

But in a short period of time, it hardens up. So it is with personality. And so, these kids' personality, that's gonna be with them for life, literally forms in the first few years of life. And that's why we don't hit mommy. That's why we don't call mommy "stupid." You know, you draw those parameters. You are helping your son, at that point, to have a positive view about what is a woman. And the primary teacher for that is Mamma Bear. And so, your little cub is gonna grow up to have either a healthy view of what is a woman, or he's gonna have a view that, "I can use women."

John: Hm.

Kevin: "I can put them in my service. Uh, I can abuse women." I mean, you talk about a problem in our country today.

Jim: Well, when you - when you think about that for a mom that has maybe an older son, 9, 10, 11, 12 and there's patterns developing in that son that are disrespectful or whatever they might be. I might be discouraged hearing what you just said, because I don't know if the cement is dried. How does a mom continue to work on that son who may not have those lessons down yet, with some optimism?

Kevin: Let me say this about that. I am so stupid, uh, I'm on Facebook and have about 18,000 people on there right now, last count. And I get all the...

Jim: Your closest friends?

Kevin: I uh, I get...

John: Just - just your closest friends.

Kevin: ...all these requests. Yes, very good.


My - my closest 18,000 friends. But I'm stupid enough - the other morning at 1 o' clock in the morning I was answering this woman's question. But I see these questions and they're questions like you've just asked. That, "My son is 11-years-old. He's very disrespectful. He's doing this and that." And moms are already beatin' themselves up. And say, "What can I do? Is it too late?" No, it's not too late. I mean, I wrote the book, Have a New Kid by Friday, Have a New Teenager by Friday. And interesting enough, the teenager is 11 to 19, 'cause kids are growing up so quick. But you can turn kids’ behavior around if you're willing to do some tough things. It's called "discipline." Now the pain of discipline, okay, is less than the pain of regret, that you didn't...

Jim: Hm.

Kevin: what you need to do.

Jim: So, bite the bullet now?

Kevin: Yeah and kids can change. And you have to give 'em some vita - I call it vitamin N, which is no. And sometimes you do things that are rather dramatic, just to get the kid's attention, that, "Listen, uh, I'm your mother." And so, you have to put those stripes on your sleeve. Nobody's gonna sew 'em on you for you, Mom. You gotta stand up and be the young woman you need to be, if you're raising a son.

My mom used to say, uh, when she did the laundry, she never quite knew how to put her hand in my pocket. Because in my jeans could be a salamander, a crayfish, or a crayfish tail, or a worm. Because as a kid, I just lived down at the creek that was about a quarter mile from my home. And I would put the bait in my pockets.

Now, my sister, God love her - who is the associate pastor of her church, never got a B in her life, and a clean freak on top of that - my mother never dealt with that. But when she had two sons after that, she learned that boys come dirty. You know, rough and tumble, grass stains and all - whatever. I mean, it's part of bein' a boy. A mom catches on pretty soon. And she figures out this little curveball that God had in mind for her - this little son is really a special little clown.

Jim: Hm. How do you uh, know when a boy's bein' a boy, like you're describing? And when it’s over that line? A conversation that Jean and I might have late in the evening after we've put the kids down, she's had a rough day and they've played rough and tumble all day and I'll say, "You know, Jean, that's - that's how boys will go. That's what I did when I was boy." But there is a line there that they shouldn't go over. How do you know where that line's at?

Kevin: Well, for every man that's listening to us, ask yourself the question, "Did you have a peeing contest with another little boy when you were little?"


You know, there's not many men who are listening to us who haven't said to themself, "Oh, my goodness! Huh - huh - yeah, I remember doin' somethin' stupid like that." Or playing King of the Hill. Not that women - young women can't play Queen of the Hill, but boys are ultra-competitive. Boys are boys. They spit. More boys spit than girls spit.

Jim: Especially in baseball.

Kevin: Yeah.


You know, I mean, it's - the - there's some humor in how much difference there are between our wives and ourselves, as grown people, but there's differences with kids. So kids, when they become disrespectful, the - boys do stupid things. Now if you don't believe that statement, "Boys do stupid things," friends, call your insurance agent today and ask them, how come you pay more money for your teenage son to drive than you do your daughter? I rest my case.

Jim: Yeah, that’s good.


Kevin: So, with that in mind, you just have to understand that when they become disrespectful, and if you don't turn around and micromanage as a result of that, you're gonna be okay, as long as you put some preventative stops in there, some boundaries.

John: Well, we're listening to the wisdom of Dr. Kevin Leman on today's Focus on the Family broadcast with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller, and the book that Dr. Leman wrote that is kind of the cornerstone of our conversation today is called, What a Difference a Mom Makes. And Jim, I think the subtitle is pretty important here: "The Indelible Imprint a Mom Leaves on Her Son's Life." It's not a matter of just recognize they're different, but recognize, wow! You are a difference maker for your son.

Jim: Dr. Leman, uh, your book is filled with great wisdom on how to help a mom do the right thing, say the right things, encourage a son in the right way. Uh, but still there are some times when a mom just doesn't get it. She may feel disrespected uh, that the boy is not listening. The one that in our home that plays out so much right now - I'm sure everybody will connect with this - is Jean will have to say three or four times, "Pick up those socks." 'Cause - and she gets frustrated, 'cause she thinks the boys are ignoring her. But I've observed and I said, "I don't think they're hearing you..."

John: Hm.

Jim: "...'cause they're so active in their mind, that..."

Kevin: Well, my...

Jim: "...they're not catchin' it."

Kevin: My guess is they hear it, just like when our wives tell us something.


John: Uh-oh.

Jim: Okay, now we're gettin' personal.

John: Ouch.

Kevin: But we hear it, you know. I - I'm thinkin'. And we have these conversations still. I mean, I've been married to a lovely lady for 45 years in a row and I thank God for every precious day I married her.

Jim: Was "in a row" important?


Kevin: Yeah, yeah. I know people who are married 45 years. Fifteen to that one and 12 to that one and 17 to that one. Uh, but this goes back to the differences, I think, that are just part of who we are as men. Um, we communicate differently than women. And one of the admonitions in this book is, "Ladies, he's not your daughter," okay? Get that straight. He's not gonna act like your daughter. He's not gonna communicate like her. In fact, when he gets mad, he might be just like your husband. You know, most husbands when they get mad, do they rant and rave and throw things? A few jerks do, but you know, most of us don't. We just run silent and run deep.

Jim: Right, they pull back.

Kevin: So, something that I've tried to teach moms in this book is, "Listen, when your son is being disrespectful to you or something just went down that you don't like, you can get very quiet. You - let them figure out that something is wrong with mom." Now, this goes back - it falls back on some of the principles I tried to teach people in Have a New Kid by Friday and Have a New Teenager by Friday. But kids don't like it when Mamma Bear is unhappy.

Jim: Hm.

Kevin: So Mamma Bear learns just to say to the boys who didn't pick the room up. The socks are all over the place. Okay, the towels are hung over this and that. And Mom walks in that room and says, "I am very unhappy." That's all she says and she turns and she walks out of the room. I'm telling you, you've raked coals on those kids. They don't like it. Some people say, "Leman, you must live in dreamy land, because I could do that, and my kids wouldn't discover it for a week. Well, sooner or later, trust me, they would - they would figure out that something is amiss, and they're not gonna like it.

John: Hmm. I appreciate what you're saying there, because you're telling mom to be responsive, but not necessarily to overreact. I think the natural tendency for a lot of moms is to try to manage and control and get compliance or - or get obedience in that situation. And you're saying, no, there's a teachable moment coming up here. You don't have to grab the kids by his ears and - and look at him and get his attention in a dramatic way.

Kevin: You know, if we could teach the moms one thing during this broadcast, it would be to master the idea of responding, rather than reacting. When we react for the most part, we make fools of ourselves, okay? So these boys, sometimes they'll just throw a bone out there to see if you'll come out and take a...

John: Ah.

Kevin: ...a bite of it, you know.

Jim: That's true.

Kevin: I'm gonna do this; I'm gonna do that. You know, they're boys. They're boisterous. They uh, like to get people's attention. The best prediction is, if he likes that girl in school, he'll find an occasion to push her shoulder, or hit it.

Jim: That's his sign of affection.

Kevin: Yeah. Or how many of you ladies who are listening can remember back in those years where three or four boys would come up and try to get your attention, make fools of themselves, you know. And what would you say to those kids? "Why don't you grow up?!" And what would the little boys say? "We're trying to," in their squeaky little voices.

Jim: Why don't you grow up?

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: That's what they would say.

Kevin: So little girls, by their nature, are much more confined and much more refined. Little boys do weird things.

Jim: Now - now in that context though, how do you advise a mom to expect the best of their boys? Because some moms can be - like you were saying earlier - pretty demanding and there isn't a reality check to that. The best is such a high standard and when that boy, who is distracted and bein' a boy, doesn't meet that measure, how does a mom deal with that? How does she set the standard? And how - how does she deal with not hitting the standard?

Kevin: Well, number 1, you don't let 'em off the hook. You have positive expecta - a kid comes and tells you he can't do something, which is very common with every age kid. And both genders do that. "I can't do that." "Well, Honey, I know it seems tough to you, but you know, I have to tell you as a mom, I've - I've watched you now for seven years and I know that's a tough assignment. I can see it. But I just want you to know, eyeball to eyeball, I have a faith in you; you can tackle this."

In other words, I think you need an encouraging word, not that you're gonna snowplow the roads of life for the kid. Now again, one of my favorite one liners with parents is this: "Would you kids turn that TV down? I'm tryin' to do your homework!"


And I'm tellin' ya, we got parents who do homework for their kids. They do the science project and all that. And you need this kid to walk through life on their own feet, knowing that Mom and Dad support them and encourage 'em. These little boys, we've painted a picture of these little boys. They're just little mischievous roughnecks and you can find anything in their pockets if they were like Kevin Leman.

But these little boys - you ask the moms: "Affectionate, love their mommies. Come up and give their mommy a - a kiss anywhere." It could be on a forearm. "I love you, Mom." But ask that mom how she feels when that little boy does that. See that little boy has the ability to melt that mommy's heart. And I think that's what's fun for a mom about raising a son, that she has that unique opportunity to learn some wonderful things about this creature that she didn't grow up with, especially for those moms who didn't have brothers.

Jim: But when you're talking about a mom's heart for their children, and we're talking specifically today about a mom's heart for her son, I'm thinking of the science project. Because we early on put a rule - between Jean and I - that we weren't gonna help them with this. Now they're doin' some science projects that aren't faring well, and you go to class and you see this atomic nuclear divider...


Kevin: Yeah. That the dad did.

Jim: ...who was built by the father that worked at the Air Force...

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: ...Academy.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: Yeah, but you've got to as a parent, you've gotta decide that's okay. We want it to be sincere and have integrity in how they present that project. But that - it takes a little bit of humility to say, "Okay, we're gonna eat our pride that our little boy's science project won't be number 1 in class." And he's gotta take his lumps.

Kevin: But see, I - I say to women in this book, pay more attention to your kid's heart than what he does, the things he does. It's easy - we are in such a - parents today, I mean, I'll use a clinical term to describe 'em: they're nuts - are over the top with pushing their kids, getting them into school too early, late babies. I put on my Facebook recently a little commentary about why it's wise to hold kids back in school. I was amazed at the response I got.

Jim: Negative?

Kevin: Oh, positive.

Jim: Yeah, definitely.

Kevin: Yeah, positive, saying you know what? You're right. We look at people around us who are, you know, not so subtly pushing their kids ahead, afraid that somehow their kids are gonna be left in the dust. More important to pay attention to that kid's heart, to teach him to be a little giver, to - rather than a taker.

Jim: Hm.

Kevin: And a mom has that sensitivity. But most of us men on a sensitivity scale, don't rate real high, you know. I've talked to so many women groups and stuff. I mean, I - I can think like a woman, which is embarrassing just to say publicly, but I can. I can think like a woman.

And - but that was an acquired skill. Most of us as men don't think like a woman. We think like a man. Women use three and half times more words than we men use in a given day. So, they're the communicators. They're the gurus of communication. They share, you know. They hug anything that moves.


Most of us as men specialize in arms' length relationships. So, do you want this little boy to be an arms' length relationship young man? Or would you like him to really understand the sensitivities of life? The better teacher is mom, not dad.


Jim: Hm. Dr. Kevin Leman, author of the book, What a Difference a Mom Makes, we've touched the surface here. We've got more to cover. I think many, many women have been helped today. Let's keep rollin' and come back next time and talk about how the mom of a toddler, that junior high boy, that high school boy, how does she strengthen her relationship? Can you stick with us and come back?

Kevin: Sure can. Jim: Let's do it.

John: Well, this conversation has reminded me of the very significant influence that my wife has had on our three boys, and I really appreciated the insights and encouragement from Dr. Leman today. You're gonna find a copy of his book, and some free downloads or a CD of this two-day conversation, and additional audio with Dr. Leman about talking to your son about sexuality. And then finally, we have a free online assessment you can take. It's called the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting. All of this and more at or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Jim: And let me add, if you can support Focus on the Family, either with a monthly contribution - which is how Jean and I support the ministry - or with a one-time gift to help us, I wanna send you a copy of Dr. Leman's book as our way of saying thank you.

John: Yeah, join the support team and contribute today. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. That's 800-232-6459. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back next time, tomorrow, for more from Dr. Kevin Leman as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Kevin Leman

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Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order Book, Have a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. He and his wife, Sande, reside in Tucson, Ariz., and have five children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Dr. Leman by visiting his websites, and