“Can you come back?”
Four words that seem so ordinary left me feeling most extraordinary. These four words hit my mom ears and my heart filled with so much love I thought it might actually explode within my chest. As a mom of a 9-year-old boy who is growing less and less interested in being “mommy’s boy,” these words floating from out from under the pile of blankets on his big kid bed left ME floating on air. Can it be true that this big kid DOES still need his mom? Without hesitation, I raced to put on a movie for his little sister and quickly returned to his room to lay beside him. His warm little body snuggled up next to me as he sighed sleepily and rested his head next to mine. Mommy bliss. I had no sleep left in me and a hundred things to do, plus a 5-year-old waiting downstairs desperate for attention, but nothing could pull me away from him as he slept this morning. As I lay there the memories flooded my mind. The first time I held his tiny body in my arms and gazed into his perfect little face. Rocking him to sleep every night with stories of mommy’s love until he was long past the age to need it, but still far from the age of not wanting it. The inquisitive sidekick, his hand firmly secured in mine as we explored our cities together. The first day in school, crying as I left his classroom without a piece of my heart. The memories washed over me for the next perfect 90 minutes. I had my baby boy back, if only just for that moment in time.
“Can you come back?” Yes, my sweet boy. Forever and always I will come back to you. And I’m so grateful you still need your mom because your mom still really needs you.–
Many moms find themselves struggling to stay connected with their sons as they grow older. They long for the days of early childhood when both needs and hugs were plentiful. The mother-son bond is a strong one from the beginning for most boys. We’ve all heard “boys need their mamas.” Needs are high through early childhood and affection is free-flowing. As they age, children naturally begin to identify more with their same-sex parent and even more with their peers. Seeking independence and shying away from mom’s public hugs are normal behaviors and do not mean mom is any less important or less needed. Knowing this does not change the fact that it feels that way the first time your son refuses to let you hug him at school drop-off or asks to play nerf guns with his buddies after school rather than hanging out with his mom talking about his day. There is less of a desire to play with mom and more of a desire to play with friends. It’s a difficult time for the well-bonded mom who now has to learn to “let go” when she wants to “hold on.”
Here are some tips to keep that balance in your relationship with your growing son:
- Respect his boundaries. If it makes him uncomfortable to be hugged in public, then hug him before he leaves the house or before he gets out of the car. Or change to a “high five” if that feels better to him. Don’t make him feel bad for refusing a public hug or kiss. You can cry later by yourself!
- Include his friends. Offer to take him AND a friend on an outing rather than forcing him into an outing “just with mom.” There will still be times when it’s just you and him, but it doesn’t have to be EVERY time.
- Say “yes.” When he asks you to play catch, have a nerf war, look at bugs or play a game of FIFA soccer on the Xbox—make time, say “yes” and be enthusiastic.
- Find “your thing.” Find something you and he can do together that he’s not able to easily do with someone else. My son loves difficult strategic board games and I’m the only one who will play these with him. I may not love playing Risk for hours and hours, but he does and it’s “our thing” so we play.
- Savor your moments. There will be many moments when he needs and wants “mommy” still. Much like the moment I shared above. Take advantage of these moments and be “mommy” again whenever he asks. This is a reminder for you both that no matter how old he gets, he will always need you. The need and the love haven’t gone away, they have just changed how they look and feel.
- Remember you raised him. He is able to be independent and do things without you BECAUSE of the love and affection you have given him from the first time you held him, to the first time he walked, to the first time he made a new friend. He CAN do because of you, not instead of you.
- Encourage him to make new friends, try new things and to bond with males in his life. He needs good same-sex role models and peers. Don’t let these relationships feel threatening to yours.
- Talk to him about his day, about his friends, about his sports. Learn some of the players’ names on his favorite team. If you don’t know a lot about a topic he finds fascinating- ask him to teach you. My son loves to tell me all about soccer and have me guess what country each player comes from based on his name. He especially loves it when I don’t know the answer and he can help me out.
Fellow moms: Yes, you do have to “let go” a little as they grow but you still get to “hold on” to your mother-son relationship because it never fades, only changes as he grows. He will always need you and love you just as you will him.