BUT HE IS STILL MY BABY! A Closer Look at Mother/Son Conflict During Adolescence. By: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC

Oh, how things can change. Maybe it’s all in my head but I am noticing a dramatic shift in parent/child conflict lately. It used to be that I would work with teenage guys and their big issue would be with a demanding and overbearing father. The common problem was that their dad was always wanting to control them and was in their business all the time and that these boys never could live up to their dad’s expectations. I would see lots of anger come out in these boys but, in this scenario, there was also a strong underlying sense of pride in their fathers and the urge to relate to them in a powerful way. I would have to say that this scenario was the norm for a long time. I believe I am noticing a real shift in the issues I see now amongst adolescent guys. Not that there are no controlling or overbearing fathers anymore. This is still a fairly common issue that I deal with in the counseling room. But, there has been a subtle but very noticeable movement in our culture. I dare say that the winds seem to be “a’changin”.
Now, at least as often as the above scenario and maybe even more so, I have noticed that there seems to be more and more conflict between mothers and sons. Seriously, this has become a staple in my work. I cannot tell you how many times a family comes to me and the major fighting and behavioral problems are between the son and the mother; especially when the son gets to be around fifteen or sixteen years old. The boys come to me with lots of anger and frustration, as well as shame and guilt in many cases. The mothers are full of hurt, rejection, and frustration. And, oftentimes, dad is not sure what is going on, when it really started, or how to fix it. Most of the time, the family history shows that the son was usually very close to his mother, mother was very involved with son and his activities, and life was harmonious.........until now. (Dramatic music here)
So, why the shift? Why does a loving and dutiful son suddenly become so angry at his loving and attentive mother?
Obviously, as with any emotional issue, there are lots of reasons that come together to spin a complex web of trouble. For the sake of brevity, let me submit a few of the more common reasons that I see.
First, I believe we are reaping the consequences of becoming a more and more fatherless society. Too many boys are growing up in homes that are void of a dad. This can mean that the father is not there physically, due to divorce, death, or apathy but it can also mean a home where dad resides but is not emotionally involved with the rest of the family. In dealing with the former scenario, I cannot remember a time when I have met more boys that have less contact with their fathers. Seriously, whether I have been in the classroom, on the athletic field, or in the counseling room, I have met countless young men who haven’t even met there dads. It is heartbreaking to hear boys, in false bravado, joke about the fact that they were twelve before they met their dad, or that their father is in prison so they’ve never been together or that dad has decided to live far away and there is little contact. Young men joke or laugh about these things, not because they think it’s funny, but so they don’t show how much this deeply hurts them. Many teenage boys have some contact with their fathers but it is not consistent or meaningful. Children of divorce need to feel valued by both parents, even the one that is not the primary custodian. It bothers me deeply to see so many fathers that neglect the essential role they play in the development of their sons.
Because of this cultural dynamic, mothers are in a position where they have to step up and attempt to play both parental roles on a daily basis. God bless them for this! Please be sure to know that I am not scolding single mothers or blaming them for all of these problems. I hope the above paragraph was clear in showing that I firmly believe that, in many cases, the fault lies with the fathers who are not fulfilling their God-given responsibilities. However, when a home is fatherless, it leaves a boy with a void. It is a void in a young man’s search for what it means to be a man. Eventually the boy will strive for manhood and, without a strong father to emulate, he will have to find his own way. Because he will be learning as he goes, he is prone to mistakes and awkwardness that can often include things his mother will not understand, and it will lead to conflict.
The home with an overly passive father is also prone to mother/son conflict. If a father is physically present but is not a strong presence, mom will often take the lead role in the home. As the boy grows, he will want to look to his dad to figure out how to become a strong man. If dad is not a strong person, the boy will be confused about manhood. A son might even resent his dad if the young man sees that his father allows his mother to control him or push him around. The boy might also resent his mother for doing so and, in his heart, the young man might vow never to let his mom treat him the way she treats his passive father. The young man will still strive for manhood (all boys do) and might see rebelling against his mother as the best way to show he is strong.
Finally, boys often reach an age where they believe they MUST get out of from the shadow of their mothers. This especially happens when a son has always been coddled or protected by his mother. When a boy is young, this is great for him. His mother provides him with compassion when he is hurt, provision when he is sick, and shelters him from the harsh realities of his world. However, when a boy is on the edge of manhood, he wants to be dangerous and strong. A young man will want to prove that he is no “mama’s boy” but is a budding man to be reckoned with. If the mother resists this need for independence, the son will resist in return. If the mother REALLY resists the need for the boy to leave her side, then the boy will REALLY strive to pull away. Sometimes, a young man will go to great lengths to do things he knows his mother will hate and not approve of.........not because he necessarily wants to do them but simply to show that he is his own person. At this stage boys are like soap in the palms of their mothers; the more she tries to grab him, the more he will work to slip through her fingers. If a mother takes this as personal rejection, the seeds are planted and the situation is ripe for conflict.
Moms, if you can see yourself in this type of situation with your sons, let me offer just some bullet points of advice:

1. Research the masculine psyche. There are lots of books on the subject of boys: “Wild at Heart”, “Bringing Up Boys”, and “Raising Cain” are excellent resources for helping you to understand the needs and motives of young men. Read them with an open heart and mind.

2. Work to UNDERSTAND your son: not CONTROL him. It doesn’t mean you stop being a parent. Just be a parent that values your son enough to listen.

3. Remember your main role as a parent is to prepare your son to be an adult that can make his own decisions; not let you make them.

4. Look in the mirror: How much of the conflict is due to your own insecurities or need for control?
5. Allow your son to face the consequences of his actions. Don’t save him all the time. If you don’t allow him the freedom to make his own mistakes, he can always blame you when things go wrong. Let him have enough rope to hang himself sometimes. He’ll learn faster.

6. Be consistent and fair in discipline and setting boundaries and consequences, based upon your son’s age.

7. If possible, encourage his father to take a more active role in your son’s life. He needs his dad, if possible.

8. Expose your son to healthy male role models: teachers, coaches, youth leaders. Obviously, we want to be careful about this but a boy needs examples to follow.

9. Work on your ability to “let go”.

10. Be loving and graceful when he fails. Try to resist the urge to say, “I told you so”.

Being a mother is not easy. I realize that, in spite of my limitations (you know, that I’m a man). However, the truth is that being a young man is not easy either. There are lots of reasons that mothers and sons end up fighting. In fact, there are more reasons that we can cover in this article. However, I just want to remind you that there are even more reasons for mothers and sons to work out these conflicts so that they can remember how much they love each other and how valuable each of them are.

About the Author: Aaron Welch is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has devoted his life to reaching out and helping people to grow and mature through difficult life situations. Whether it has been through clinical counseling, pastoral ministry, youth camps and conventions, public speaking, leadership training, educational instruction, athletic coaching or small group ministry, Aaron has over eighteen years of experience in assisting people through life struggles and personal growth. His genuine love for people and his outgoing personality combine to create a safe and caring environment for putting the pieces of life back together

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