7 Ways to Respond When Your Teen Son Pushes You Away
- Rhonda Stoppe Speaker and Author
- 2022 8 Aug
Last month my son, Brandon, and I spoke at a mother-son retreat. Brandon led worship and encouraged the boys to honor their mothers, while becoming godly men. But it was Brandon’s insights to the moms that truly rocked their world!
Brandon gave mothers insights into why adolescent sons push their mothers away. The moms were hanging on Brandon’s every word when he said, “When I could get my mom to cry I knew I had gained control.”
Maybe you can relate to how Brandon acted when he exercised his own version of adolescent distancing from me:
- not letting me hug him in public
- hoping I would keep my distance
- tuning out when I talked
“There’s no coming of age ritual in our culture, except don’t be a momma’s boy,” is a statement I share at parenting conferences.
The Need for a Coming of Age
Other civilizations seem to understand the need for a coming of age ritual, but somehow we didn’t get the memo. I wish we could send our boys on walk-about, pee on a rock, and kill a fatted calf while declaring, “I’m a man!”
But since no ritual exists, it took time for me to recognize how distancing from me was Brandon’s attempt to transition from a boy to man. I don’t think Brandon even knew why his attitude toward me changed so abruptly.
In immaturity, the steps he took to earn my respect only made me mother him all-the-more, which was a disaster!
In my book, Moms Raising Sons to Be Men there’s a section entitled, Control Freaks Raise Freaks. While speaking at an event, moms usually laugh when I share this insight. But laughter is often a sort of nervous admission to our own guilt––right? My hand is raised here too, friend.
The Losing Game of Control
In more than 18 years of youth ministry, my husband and I observed sons rebel against well-meaning mothers who thought the best way to keep their boy on the straight path was to control his every move.
“Let me live my own life,” one son shouted to his mother after she had attempted to control his choices.
I understand the mom who wants to guard her children against consequences of bad decisions. I get it––truly I do! But in so many years of watching countless mothers and sons wade through these uncharted adolescent waters, I learned that controlling tendencies were not an effective way for moms to influence sons.
But, as I observed the rub between moms and sons, I secretly thought, That will never be the case with me and Brandon. He’ll never distance from me like that.
So, you can imagine my surprise when my sweet son pulled away. At first, I was deeply wounded and felt betrayed. And Brandon was right when he said getting me to cry gave him control. He’d say things like, “If you loved me you would let me go do this or that with my friends.”
The very thought of Brandon thinking I didn’t love him would trigger tears. When I explained how my love for him was what compelled me to protect him it only made him distance from me all the more.
I wish I could say the realization came to me early in Brandon’s adolescence, but it took a while to work through my own feelings of betrayal and offense. It wasn’t until I repented of my controlling tendencies, anger, and hurt feelings that I could see more clearly the way God would have me draw my son back to my heart and away from his self-imposed quarantine from mom.
Let’s visit a few insights from my book that you can practice while at home with your son.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Ben White
1. Talk to Him––Not at Him
While you’re working from home, making dinner or on your computer, barking orders at your son amounts to talking at him––not to him.
It takes a concerted effort to learn to talk to your adolescent son. Stop what you’re doing. Put down your phone and give him your full attention. When your son feels like you’re respecting his thoughts and feelings, he will be more likely to hear you when you talk to him.
2. See through His Eyes
Learn to listen. Ask him questions that will help you see circumstances through his eyes. Rather than pouncing to correct his wrong thinking, begin telling him you understand how he feels––even if it is irrational. Remember, adolescents are irrational, it’s part of their hormonal swings. Listening well can open the door for you to redirect his moody responses.
3. Let Him Know You’re in This Together
For example, when Brandon wanted to know why he couldn’t play secular music, I explained how, for him, feasting on secular music might interfere with his dream to become a worship pastor.
Brandon didn’t agree at the time. But I tried to helped him realize my goal was to help him achieve his dreams. Years later Brandon revealed how that conversation helped him trust that I was for him––not against him.
4. Show Him Respect
Learn to love your son how he needs to be loved. I often advise moms, “In the first decade love, cuddle and squeeze the snot out of your boy. But once he hits adolescents realize how God made men feel loved by how they are respected.” When your son feels respected by you, over time, his heart will be drawn to you.
As a note, it’s still important to touch your son. So, if he resists your cuddles try scratching his back.
5. Celebrate His Accomplishments
Your son needs to know you’re proud of him. When Brandon was a boy he sang in a school program. As I whistled loudly and applauded, he winked at me. To this day, whenever I’m at one of Brandon’s events and he hears me whistle, he finds me in the crowd and winks at me.
6. Enlist the Help of Others
Titus 2:4 instructs older women to teach the younger how to love their children. As an older mentor, I spend this season of my life helping women guide their sons toward a no regrets life. Find a mentor, be a mentor. It is God’s plan.
7. Pray, Pray and Pray Some More
First Samuel 12:23 says, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” The most neglected resource moms have at their disposal is a powerful prayer for God to capture the heart of their sons––and daughters.
If you’re quarantined God’s providing you with time to pray like you’ve never prayed before––use it wisely. And if you’re an essential worker who’s now busier than ever, thank you for your service. And please know that we will stand in the gap praying for you––and for your children.
In this unprecedented season, may history record this as a time when son’s hearts turned to the Lord, and when mothers prayed like never before!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages
Rhonda Stoppe is the NO REGRETS WOMAN. With more than 30 years experience of helping women build no-regrets lives. I could have listened to Rhonda talk all night, is what women say about Rhonda’s enthusiastic, humorous, transparent teaching and zeal as an evangelist. She’s committed to fulfilling the Titus 2:4 commission by mentoring, teaching, and writing books that are inspiring, grounded in Scripture, and easy to read––like you're visiting with a friend over coffee.
Rhonda is the author of 6 books and appears on numerous radio programs, including Focus on the Family, Family Life Today and Dr. James Dobson’s FamilyTalk, & hosts The No Regrets Hour. Her new podcast, Old Ladies Know Stuff, just launched. She’s an evangelist and speaker at women’s events, College Women’s Chapel, Pastor’s Wives Conferences, MOPs and Homeschool Conventions. Sharing the gospel at her NoRegretsWoman Conference is her sweet spot. Rhonda is a regular contributor for Crosswalk and many other magazines. Rhonda ministers alongside her husband Steve, who for 20 years has pastored First Baptist Church of Patterson, California. They live out their own Real Life Romance writing books and speaking at their No Regrets Marriage Conferences, but their favorite ministry is their family. They have four grown children and ten grandchildren. To learn more about Rhonda’s speaking topics, watch her teaching, and book Rhonda for your next event, visit: NoRegretsWoman.com.