One of the greatest privileges of my life—right after saying “yes” to Jesus and “I do” to my husband—has been mothering my two sons, now 20 and 22.
Several years ago, my husband Ray and I started researching gender differences and discovered the truths in John Gray’s mega-bestseller, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we didn’t have gender-free children; we had little men from Mars! And then I started realizing why I sometimes unnecessarily frustrated my kids and why we didn’t connect all the time—because I’m from Venus and they’re from Mars, and there is a HUGE gender gap between masculine and feminine! John Gray didn’t discover it; God created it, with great delight and a big smile on His face.
For example, boys, being male, are wired to be self-reliant. They act like they get extra brownie points for doing something on their own. One of my son Curt’s first whole sentences was, “I do it!” For boys, accepting help is perceived as weakness. For us relationally-oriented ladies, offering and accepting help is a way to make a heart-connection with another person. So when I would say, “Let Mommy help you,” they would be offended and I never knew why. If I could do it over again, I would tell them, “Let’s see if you can do it on your own. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be glad to help.”
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned about mothering boys is that the male mind is linear, life is handled only one piece at a time. This impacts both their thinking and activity.
Males tend to think on one thing at a time. I now know that when my husband or sons are reading, it’s not safe to start a conversation until I get their attention and they’re looking at me. I used to frustrate the dickens out of my sons on soccer game days when they were dressed in their soccer uniforms, their soccer bags were packed, they had their game face on, and there were 15 minutes left before we had to leave. And I, being the ever-efficient one, would try to get them to use that time wisely to clean up the living room or fold laundry. They never, ever, cooperated willingly! And now I know why. I’d love to go back and change that part of mothering.
This linear approach also has a major impact on their activity. They are created to do one thing at a time before moving on to the next event. If I wanted their attention while they were watching TV, I would have to physically stand in front of the screen to break their attention and have them look at me. I, on the other hand, am a natural multi-tasker, because if mothers couldn’t do more than one thing at a time, humanity wouldn’t last more than one generation. So I would have conversations with my boys or direct homework while doing the dishes or cooking or a multitude of other things. I finally realized that because my kids can’t multi-task, they never believed that I was actually paying attention to them if my hands were busy.
Knowing this, I have learned that when they start to tell me something, I put down whatever I’m doing, turn my body to face them squarely, and give them my full physical attention. It’s been wonderful to see the difference; they now feel I am truly listening. I’ve shared this insight with several of my friends, who report that it’s made a major difference with the boys in their homes as well. Their girls never gave it a thought, because girls intuitively know you can wash dishes and talk at the same time!
Where girls are more verbal, boys are usually more physical. I have a friend who wanted her boys to always move quietly and slowly like girls, and had a “no rough-housing” rule in the house. This is the fast track to killing a boy’s heart, because boys were made to wrestle and tumble and be loud. This isn’t a design defect. It’s the way God was pleased to make them. While it’s not good to break lamps, of course, boys need to be able to MOVE while their moms smile and let them be who they were made to be.
Another thing I’d go back and change is trying to pry conversations out of my sons. I didn’t understand that females naturally generate three times as many words as males, and we talk to build community and knit hearts together. Boys and men talk for one reason: to convey facts and information. If they don’t have anything to convey, they don’t talk. A wise counselor finally explained to me that if I waited for my sons to initiate conversations on their timetable, I would get what my heart longed for. I also learned that one of my son’s love languages is physical touch, and if I would go in at the beginning or the end of the day and silently rub his back, he would often start talking. It’s amazing what meaningful conversations can happen at bedtime when the kids are trying to forestall sleep!
John Gray says, and it’s my experience as well, that a man’s primary need is to be respected. It starts when they’re very small boys. When a boy’s mother shows him respect, especially when it’s backed by a father’s respect, that fills boys’ “respect buckets.” Because they are made in the image of God, that alone makes them infinitely valuable and precious and worthy of great respect and dignity. I showed them respect by giving them significant choices, and honoring those choices. It started with choosing their clothes and making various school-related choices, and grew into choices like room colors and what sports they would pursue. I showed them respect by listening to them and not interrupting, by not being sarcastic, and by not saying shaming and condemning things. My son has commented that it’s important to remember that kids are “little MEN from Mars,” and not talk down to them as inferior beings simply because they are not adults. He is glad we didn’t do it, but it really bothers him when he sees grown-ups do it to kids.
One last thing I’ve learned lately is the importance of supporting and cherishing our children’s gender to help them grow into healthy adults. Little boys need to know that being a boy is a good thing, and of course the same holds true for girls. After sharing this with a group of mothers of preschoolers, one friend took her little boy for a walk down to the lake. Along the way she said, “Parker, let’s look for frogs and toads. Mommy is so glad God made you a little boy so you could like yucky things like frogs and toads.” When they got back to the house, his grandmother asked, “So how was your walk?” and Parker said, “Mommy’s glad that I’m a boy because I like yucky things like frogs and toads.”
When my first son was born, my mother told me that mothers and sons, and fathers and daughters, have a very special relationship. She was so very right, and I thank the Lord for His good, so very good, gift of my sons.
Copyright 2002 Sue Bohlin
This blog post was originally published on February 26, 2002.