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 2 of 2)
John Fuller: Well, there's no doubt that being a mom is an adventure. And it can be especially so if you mistakenly thought you were going to have a little girl.
Kevin Leman: 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. And the question is in her mind, "A son! What am I gonna do with a son?!"
John: Well, that would be a shock, wouldn't it? And there certainly are differences in raising a boy versus raising a girl. And we'll talk a little bit about that on today's Focus on the Family, with Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and last time, Jim, a pretty fun, practical conversation for moms who have boys.
Jim Daly: I think it was a lot of fun. And the truth is, boys will keep you on your toes, John. They're noisy, competitive, all energy. And in fact, when I talk to friends of ours who have just girls, they come over to the house and say, "Wow! Is that was havin' boys is like?"
I mean, it's just, bang, bang, bang. But moms, they need you. These boys need you. And last time we discussed how moms play a pivotal role in helping their sons learn how to communicate and share feelings, something us dads do struggle with, John.
Jim: It's not something that's gonna come naturally from us.
John: Well, we have back with us today, Dr. Kevin Leman, and we'll dig deeper on this subject matter. He is a prolific author and he's joined us here on this broadcast several dozen times over the years. The subject for today's conversation is his book, What a Difference a Mom Makes.
Jim: And let me say, Dr. Leman, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Kevin: It's so good to be here. Thank you.
Jim: When you look at it uh, in your - that mom with the toddler, you've got toddlers, you've got those tween years and then you got teen years. Let's just start with the toddler years and it may be consistent. I don't know the answer to this question. What does a mom most have to communicate and transfer to that boy in the toddler years?
Kevin: In the toddler years, she has to make sure that that kid has the tactual stimulation, okay? All the hugging and everything that goes along with being a mom. We say that like that's a given. That's not always the case. You have to spend time with your kids. You have to have fun with your kids. But you're always uh, having some limits imposed upon their behavior.
Kids, by their nature, are hedonistic little suckers. They don't come in this world saying, "How can I service other people?" They care about me. Little boys talk in "me talk," "I talk." Little girls talk in "we talk." They do life differently.
Jim: And uh, from a Christian perspective, that's the sin nature really.
Kevin: Well, yes. But complicate the fact that parents today bring kids to feel like they're the center of the universe. I always say, if you bring kids up to feel like they're the center of the universe, where’s the room for Almighty God in the kid's life? There's none. So, when the little ankle biters are 2 and 3, you're building in limits, okay? My advice to the young mom, any young mom listening is to not overdo the word "no."
We have kids "mother deaf" to the word "no" by the time they're two years of age, 'cause all that mom has said is, "No, no, no, no, no." Much better to pick up little Fletcher and remove him from teetering on the uh, sofa, or whatever it might be, just so you're building in those very natural guidelines...
Kevin: ...so a kid understands that he doesn't have the run of the house. Have you ever been around a dog that was not trained?
John: Mmhmm, yes.
Kevin: Are they fun to be around? They jump up on you and scratch you and oh! That's because the dog wasn't trained. Well, the Scripture says, "Train - train up a child." Now I shouldn't even say this, but I'm tellin' you, rearin' a kid's like having a puppy. And you know, the puppy, when he looks like he's gonna do a little tinkle, what do you do? You pick him up and you put him outside, okay? And pretty soon, the little puppy figures out, you know what? This Berber carpet doesn't have the smells that outside does. I'd much rather do my duties outside. And the kid is toilet trained. But notice, it's repeated efforts. And that's why when you have little ankle biters around you all day long and for all those wonderful stay-at-home moms who are with their kids 24/7, there's no respite.
Kevin: If it's not one, it's the other. But nevertheless, you train up the child, not train down. So, if you're always just "No, no, no," rather than just pick up the child, remove him from the scene and life goes on. Not the end of the world.
Jim: Hm. Let's talk about the kids that are a little older, uh, kind of those tween years that I mentioned, the - the 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds. What does a mom need to communicate to that age group?
Kevin: Well, again, that you're a member of the family, that no one member of the family is more important than the family. I would be very cautious about getting your kids in too many activities.
Jim: Limit the activities?
Kevin: Yeah. But if you want to dilute your impact on your son, get him in every activity under the sun.
Jim: Now dads play perhaps a major role in that, 'cause we want 'em in everything...
Kevin: Yeah. True.
Jim: ...football. How does a mom allow too much activity? I don't see that much in Jean. Jean's usually the one trying to limit the activity for our kids.
Kevin: Well, John, we know who the smarter one is in the family.
Jim: That goes...
John: The same in my...
Jim: ...without saying.
John: ...home, too. Dena's...
John: Dena's got...
Kevin: ...you know...
John: ...a handle on that.
Kevin: I think there's wisdom in slowing things down. Now again, you can accuse me of bein' a dinosaur. I'm - I'm old. And I played Little League. And I was a Little League All-Star and I think in terms of memories as a kid, I think those were some of my best memories. But I wasn't in four other activities as kids are today. See, kids don't play. Kids cocoon.
Kevin: The - have you seen a 3-year-old on a computer? It's a sight.
Kevin: Have you seen a 2 1/2-year-old on a computer? I have. I mean, I think it's tragic in many ways. And so, it seems to me that as we slow kids down and they're in one activity, I think you have more of an opportunity to influence your own kid's life. Do you really want to hand 'em over to strangers? You know, do you really want overnights for your 7-year-old? For your 8-year-old? 'Cause quite frankly, you don't know if the pedophile is down the street two doors.
Jim: Well, I mean, that’s true as where you need some family rules as to what you're willing to live with. Uh...
Kevin: I think...
Kevin: ...you bring kids up with limits, so they understand that life doesn't revolve around them.
Kevin: And we service other people. We care for other people and we pray for other people.
Jim: Now you - talking to the older teen boy, there seems to be the special bond. You see it portrayed in movies and everything, where the mom has this special soft place in their heart for her son. It's usually the dad and the teen boy that are at odds with each other, because he doesn't have a job, or whatever the - the problem is. But mom will sit down and - and reason with the teen boy. If that the nature - the typical nature of that relationship? Is there something special between the two of them?
Kevin: I think so, because mom is probably better prepared to see both sides of things than dad is. Us dads tend to be pretty opinionated. Women have that ability just to, you know, that scraped knee, when the kid comes cryin', whether they're 4 or 14, mom has a way of taking things in stride, and it just gets better when mom gets involved, where dad sort of, you know, either deals with it, tells the kid to deal with it. "You'll be okay. What's the big deal about it?" Whatever. On a compassion scale, most of us as men rank much lower than our wives.
Again, I point out to people who are married that it's the differences that make you a couple. I'm not trying to turn your husband into a wife, or a wife into a husband. I'm saying, God made us different. That balance is a healthy thing. But the point is that with those teenage kids, now we're in the critical years. And these are the decisions that your son or daughter's gonna make that's gonna affect their entire life. When they get behind the wheel of a car or all those danger points that have - kids have, it's the work that you've done beforehand, parent, that's gonna pay off during those critical years. 'Cause they can screw their life up in a matter of 10 seconds.
John: And what you just said uh, Dr. Leman is something that a lot of moms, frankly, are very, very fearful about. And my observation would be that a lot of teen boys really want to push back because mom is afraid of what they might do when they're 15, 16. And she's still parenting like they were a toddler and they're kinda sayin', "Hey, wait a minute. I don't want to be 'mommed' anymore." And so, kind of the opposite end of the spectrum of what Jim was just talking about. I've seen moms who won't let go and the boys seem to really push back on that.
Kevin: They do. You gotta let go. I mean, I have - I mean, talk about a politically incorrect thing to bring up on Focus on the Family, but I am the owner of a pellet gun.
Jim: Cut this! Cut this!
Kevin: Yes. A pellet gun. And Mrs. Uppington, the woman I have lived with now for 45 years in a row, had a fit that I purchased a pellet gun.
Jim: For what purpose?
Kevin: Yeah, well...
These little rodents that have - that are chewing away at the wiring in my home. The red squirrel has become my enemy. And uh...
John: Sounds like all-in-out war here.
Kevin: With great fervor, I've been attacking them. But I sat her down the other day. I said, "Honey." She said, "I just don't like having that gun in the house." I said, "Honey, when I was ten years old, I owned my own .410 shotgun!"
Jim: That didn't help her, by the way.
Kevin: No, but she couldn't believe it. She said, "Ten? Ten years old, you had a shotgun?" "Yes, honey. I had a shotgun at age 10. I lived to tell about it." I mean, we have over-parented kids - overprotected kids. Oh, I'm gonna get e-mails on this.
Kevin: Just forward 'em to me. I mean, the kid cannot ride a bike four feet without having a protective helmet on him.
Uh, as my buddy, Moonhead Dietz said - he yearns for the day when you could just let your dog out in the morning, and he would wander the neighborhood and come back at night. Uh, it wouldn't have to have one of those little clear plastic bags and a leash and I digress. But my point is that we do sort of over-coddle kids. But what John said is really critical, because you gotta let this boy go. As a mom, you've instructed him. You've trained him up and now - now it's a time that he goes out and tests his feet in the waters of life. And you just need to be his semi-silent cheerleader.
Jim: What happens in that relationship with an overly critical mom? You hear about person. But the son can't do much right and she's constantly on him about this or that. In the Christian community, we can lean in that direction because we're given to following the rules. We want to live our lives as perfectly as we can, as Christians. We want to live as sinless as we can...
Jim: ...as Christians. So, mom swoops in and the little boy, who is now 13, 14, struggling with hormones and other things and attraction. How does that mom not uh, project this idea that, that little boy has to be perfect? And what damage can be done when the mom is doing that?
Kevin: You ask good questions. You oughta be on the radio.
Um, this - this is one that I'm tellin' ya, gentlemen, we could talk about this till the proverbial cows come home. Because that critical-eyed parent sets up uh, destructive relationships lifetime for that young son or that young daughter - either sex.
Back in 1985 - boy, doesn't seem it was that long ago - I wrote The Birth Order Book. And in that book, I talked about the critical-eyed parent, as a huge determinate, as to whether or not that little firstborn child will become your typical firstborn - reliable, conscientious, a list maker, likes her little ducks in a row, voracious reader - but if you put a critical-eyed parent in there, what happens is, you will end up with a child who's a procrastinator, who's a slob to put it bluntly, who's always gonna hit the home run and doesn't.
Now, when I discovered that, that wasn't something I learned in graduate school. It was just an observation from life. I saw so many kids come in the office who were firstborn, who you thought would be these little achiever types, that weren't. And what happened was, the second-born child, maybe just 18 months, or two years behind them, would leap frog over the firstborn and become the achiever, at the second-born's expense.
But there was always that common denominator, the critical-eyed parent. And that's why I say, "Parent, if you're one of those people that like your little ducks in a row, don't 'should' on your kids."
Kevin: We're always saying, "You should do this; you should do that; measure up; jump higher." Be careful about that, because pretty soon the kid says to himself, "Wait a minute. I can't measure up to you, Ms. Perfect. You know, I'm not who you think I am. So, I'm rather 'money ahead' here to go down and set my sights down and not up. I'm just gonna give it a lick and a holler in life."
Jim: Now what's the benefit of setting the sights in a more reasonable way? What is the benefit to the boy?
Kevin: The benefit of it is that the kid understands that failure is not fatal, that we all make mistakes. You know, young kids uh, we're flippin' around here a little bit here, but young kids love stories. If you tell your kid stories at night, make some stories up. Or tell 'em stories about yourself, about when you failed in life. So that kids don't have the unrealistic observation that mom and dad were just perfect.
Kevin: And you ask kids and they'll tell you that mom and dad was perfect. And the fact is, when we look at it from a spiritual standpoint, aren't you glad that - that God doesn't have the critical eye?
Jim: Well, absolutely.
Kevin: And His - His Word teaches us that, you know, if we just go to Him and say, "Lord, forgive me for that thought, for that act," it says it's like it never happened. It's just wi - so, you don't be a bone digger. But how many parents are bone diggers? When kids have goofed up in one area of life and they just love to resurrect that old bone and throw it in the kid's face. Well, if you want a non-relationship with your kid, that's the way to get one.
Jim: And it's so damaging, so damaging. Uh, the other - the other battle I think that's fought out there in our culture today and you touched on it, but it's this feminization of boys.
Jim: And you did mention that and how we need to be careful about that. It's so natural. You see it playing out, even for Jean and I, we do that. We had a discussion I mean literally last night about the pellet gun. And - and you know, her - her frowning on that. Or riding - we went camping last weekend, riding a bicycle without a helmet. And we were into this nice discussion and debate; some might call it an argument. And of course, her response is, "Hey, would you not wear your seatbelt? I mean, God gave somebody the idea that a seat belt would save your life. So, it's illogical for you not to wear your seatbelt."
Kevin: I'm tellin' you.
Jim: Same thing with the helmet, would you not? I mean, you're gonna say "brain damage." You can almost make that kind of argument for any part of life. We're trying to be so safe that boys, particularly who are lookin' for a little action, a little something on the edge, a little adventure, we're kind of snuffing all that out for them, aren't we?
Kevin: Yeah. Mommies, your little boy is not a pheasant under glass. Um, there's times you have to let him be a little boy and roughhouse and wrestle and do the things that little boys like to do. And again, I know some of you are saying, "Hey, my daughter likes to do those rough and tumble things, too." That's fine. I'm just saying, our tendency as a parent is to snowplow the roads of life for kids today. We don't want them to fail. And just stop for a moment and ask yourself, when were the turning points in your life? Were they really out of victory? I don't think so. I think the turning points in your life were out of failure. So, the Christian home needs to be a place where kids learn to fail and where they realize that that's not the end of the world if they fail.
Kevin: And we represent the heavenly Father to our kids. So, even though you broke that window, the lamp went down. You didn't feed the dog for three days, we still love you and we still care about you.
Jim: Uh, let's extend that a little further. What about in the situation where the - the mom and son have had a good relationship. Uh, dad's been there. He's been doing the daddy thing. But now the kid - he's gone to college, but guess what? He couldn't find a job. He's back at the house. Mom still wants to cook him dinner, do his laundry, all those kinds of things. Is that healthy? Or is that now leaning in a direction where you're over-mothering?
Kevin: I'll say somethin', Jim, you're current, because that's what's happening today in our nation in huge numbers.
Kevin: Number 1, kids have gone out and got huge loans to go to school on, which is ridiculous. Don't get me goin' on that one. And then they - they get a four-year liberal arts degree, which doesn't allow you to do a lot these days.
Jim: French literature.
Kevin: Uh, that's very good. Yeah, that'll get you a nice job. And before long, you're back with mom and dad. Now there's a rub here. Number 1, the kid really doesn't want to be with mom and dad. But now he finds - or she finds herself economically, you know, in a place where she has to live there. She figures she's all grown up, so she has no rules in her head. She can home at 3:30. She can home at 3. Won't make any difference. "I'm grown up."
No, if you're gonna live in this house, you're gonna live with the house rules. So, there's all kinds of rubs that go on here. And um, parents, you know, if your kid needs a port in a storm, I'd be the first one to say, bring him in. Give him safe passage here for a while.
John: You know, Jim, I just the other day was talking to my wife and she knows a friend whose child came home. Uh, this child is in uh, his early 20s. And he said, "I just need some food." And dad was all ready to say, "Tough love, forget it. You know, you've kept us at arm's length. I'm not goin' there." Mom's tender heart said, "You know, I think we really need to just intervene here." So, there's obviously a balance here that's kinda hard. Um, but there's a warning sign somewhere along the way that I'm enabling my son. He really needs to go ahead and get out and be the man. How does a mom know when she's kinda crossed that threshold and she needs to pull back and - and maybe implement some tough love and say, "No, sorry. We'll - we'll help you this time and then you need to move on?"
Kevin: Well, I think she knows when the guilt builds up in her, because the guilt is a - is a residue from the bad decisions she's made about this son. And if this little guy is ever gonna grow up and stand up on his own two feet, he has to do exactly that.
Now let's say you're a parent that's got a few bucks in your back pocket. And you could financially help this kid. If they were in my office and they said, "Hey, Leman, this is what we're thinkin' of doin'. We're thinking of uh, giving our son a couple of month's rent on an apartment that's on the other side of town. What do you think of that idea?" I said, "I like it. It gives him a running start, two months, plenty of time to find a job, to pay for that third month of the rent."
There comes a time, you know, when Mamma Bird says to Baby Robin, "Fly." And our kids - we need to teach our kids so they can fly on their own. They come back. You know, a lot of people who are listening to us have had their young adults go through a vicious divorce, something they never thought would happen. And now you've got a daughter with two young kids and no place to go and a slime ball ex-husband, who's, you know, living with somebody else. What do you do? You give your kids safe harbor for a while. But you have to have a workable plan, because if you don't, you're gonna snowplow that life of that daughter or that son so much that you disarm them from being able to take life on as they should themselves.
Jim: And I think that's very true. Here at Focus on the Family, when we hear from couples that are in that situation with grown children, that is typical of the debate between the husband and the wife. Um, these issues of how far to go, how much safe harbor for how long? And having a plan is critical. I think that's one of the most uh, the keys to success when it comes to managing that port, as we've called it. Dr. Leman, as we think of the culture today, there are different family types and even within the Christian community, you have uh, intact biological mom and dad homes. But you also have a lot of single-parent homes, for whatever reason - death of spouse or - or divorce. The single mom that has the son, how can she shoulder this burden uh, by herself? What does she need to know that may be particular to her environment as a single mom?
Kevin: Hm. You know, if I believed in giving out stars to people, I would give you five stars today uh, just for asking that kind of a question. 'Cause I think it's the single mamma particularly who has a boy, who says, "Wait a minute. I'm a mamma bear here. Uh, I need papa bear in this son's life, 'cause everybody knows that." And I've talked about it in some books, that there are surrogates like grandpas and uncles and all that, that can help fill that void.
And see, I think the single mom has to hear that message from somebody like me, that says, "Hey, wait a minute. You don't have to go out and buy a baseball glove and a hockey stick and you know. You just need to be a mom. You need to be a good mom. You need to be a mom that's not gonna run on guilt, who's gonna hold that little sucker accountable, who's gonna learn that he is never to diss you in any situation. And if you do that, your kid has a good shot at growin' up about as normal as he can be."
Kevin: And so, "Hey, single mom, you know, I know the - the circumstances that uh, you became a single mom was not easy uh, to deal with. Some of you, your son uh, doesn't know dad, never laid eyes on him. Don't sell yourself short. Don't put yourself and your child at a disadvantage. Be a good mom." And notice I'm not sayin', "Be the great mom; be the supermom." I'm sayin', "Be a good mom." Good moms make mistakes. When you make a mistake with your son, "Honey, I owe you an apology. I spoke before I thought that out. Would you forgive me? I shouldn't - really I had a tone and an attitude. Would you forgive me? I love you." Hug him and kiss him and life goes on. That's good advice for all of us...
Kevin: ...but especially for the single mom, who lets this guilt just chew her up. And then she allows the kid to do things that aren't good for him, out of fear that she's not gonna be liked by him.
Jim: Hm. Um, as we wrap up, can you pray for the moms out there...
Jim: ...that are really strugglin'? And they've heard us these last couple of days and hopefully, they've received some good insight and advice. But pray for their hearts, just to be calm.
Kevin: Sure. Lord, um, I specifically pray for the mommies who wipe those noses and tuck those kids in and kiss those knees and have a real mother's heart for their kid. Lord, may Your grace and Your peace and Your realness and Your authenticity be felt right now by that young mom. May she see in her daily minutia of life, her routine things that she does, Lord open her eyes to how important those little things are.
I pray Lord, that she will lean not on her own understanding, and that You will help her to direct her paths in every way. Give her comfort. Let her know that You care. Thank You, Lord, for the privilege of being a mommy and being a daddy. It's an awesome responsibility. And some days we just feel like we failed miserably. Let each of us step back and take a look at the big picture and realize that maybe we've done a little better than we give ourselves credit for.
So, Lord, we thank You for Your love and Your mercy, in Jesus' name, amen.
Jim: Amen. Dr. Kevin Leman, author of the book, What a Difference a Mom Makes. Thanks for being with us here on Focus on the Family.
John: Dr. Kevin Leman has come alongside so many moms over the years. And these past couple of days, he's offered a lot of encouragement for you to invest in the lives of your sons. And you'll want a copy of the book that we've talked about today. We have that and a free download or CD of this conversation and additional audio with Kevin Leman about how to talk to your son about sex. Now, we'll encourage you to get all of these resources when you stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And if I may, ask you to consider being a partner with Focus on the Family, that would be so helpful. If you can pledge to make a monthly gift, that will go a long way in assisting parents who need this help so desperately. Maybe you've raised your children on advice from Focus on the Family and you wanna pass along that blessing to others who aren't able to make a contribution right now. With a monthly pledge, I want to send you Dr. Leman's book, What a Difference a Mom Makes, as our way of saying thank you. And if you can't make a monthly pledge right now, we understand that. We're happy to send you the book for a one-time gift of any amount. And whether it's a monthly pledge or a one-time gift, let me say thank you.
John: And our contact info: our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459 - or you can donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.Drop-In:
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Kevin LemanView Bio
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, drleman.com and birthorderguy.com.