Wednesday, January 24, 2007

STOP PUTTING THE CART AHEAD OF THE HORSE - A Sons Need To Feel Valuable To his Father Written by: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC

My last article focused on the growing issue of mother/son conflict and the response I have gotten has confirmed the trends I am seeing between moms and their boys. However, it is important for me to note that the relationship between fathers and their sons is still primary to emotional health and the overall development of boys.
In this article, I want to caution all of us dads out there to make sure we don’t put the “cart ahead of the horse”. You know, make sure first things are first when dealing with our sons. This is a sensitive area because the truth is that many of us guys don’t have a clear idea of how to build a healthy relationship with our boys. The reason for this is because many of us had fathers that were equally uncomfortable in the process of building intimate relationships. It is so true that many of us grew up with dads who were much more comfortable in their roles at work than they were in their roles at home. In general, men have more difficulty than women in developing intimate relationships. This is a well-known dynamic that is common in marriages and in parenthood. Women tend to be more verbal and have a much higher value for relationships than men do. This is certainly not across the board (my wife has often urged me to stop talking... ha ha, but it is fairly common in the relationships between men and women. The truth is that, if this is not dealt with, that same dynamic carries over into the man’s relationship to his sons. To make matters worse, those sons often struggle themselves with the idea of emotional intimacy and the building of relationships. Therefore, it is not unusual for a father and son to have little idea how to reach out to each other. So, many men just pull away and leave the sons to fend for themselves in the pursuit of manhood. Some men spend time with their sons but do so in a vacuum of silence; neither male knowing what to say. So, in this case, the two males may fix the car together but never say a word more than “pass me the wrench” or “let’s go in for dinner”.
Now, one of the biggest problems occurs when a father demands achievement from his son before he has built a relationship with his son. One of the fundamental truths about boys is that they strongly desire to feel valued by their dads. Believe me, they pine for it. Especially during middle childhood and into early adolescence, most boys will go out of their way to get the attention of their dads. However, if the father has not reached back for his son; whether it is out of self-centeredness, busyness, or a perceived inability to do so, the boy may begin to rebel against his dad. This is often where problems arise.
Many times, a father expects and even demands high achievement from his sons. Often, it is because the father truly wants his son to experience a better life than he himself has lived. Lots of fathers have come to realize the importance of a good education or they want their sons to excel in athletics because of their own unmet needs. It sounds cliche, but it’s true that many fathers want to live through their sons. There is a plethora of men who reach a point in their own lives where they become disillusioned with how far they have come. Thus, they want their sons to achieve at higher levels than they have. It is at this point that they really push their sons to get good grades, or practice incessantly for sports. Men are “fixers” by nature so when the son gets into trouble the first thing many men turn to is stronger discipline. The idea is that they can force their sons to shape up. Boundaries get tighter, privileges are taken away, and arguments become louder.
Here comes the rub: If a son does not feel truly valued by his father, he will (more often than not) resist the father’s attempts at discipline or guidance. Conversely, if a son feels valued by his dad, he is much more likely to take his dad’s advice to heart and, eventually, take the right path. When I say we, as dad’s, need to stop putting the cart before the horse, I mean we must work (and it is definitely labor for some of us) to develop an intimate relationship with our sons BEFORE we drive them towards achievement.
I was lucky in this regard. My dad was a great guy and showed me that I was loved. Now, he was not perfect and I certainly have my own “father wounds” that I’m working to deal with, but I never doubted that my dad loved me. In fact, I lost my father just over a month ago and it has left a void that will never be filled this side of heaven. As I grieve over the loss of this mammoth figure in my life, I am challenged to make sure that my own sons know that I love them as much as I felt loved by my own dad. I didn’t always listen to my dad’s advice and I definitely made bad choices in my early adulthood, but I always returned to my father’s example and legacy. Why? Because I felt loved by him and, in return, he was a man I adored and revered on a grand scale. My life will never be the same here on earth now that he has gone to be with the Lord.
Fathers, don’t we all want our sons to respond to us like that? Don’t’ we want our sons to love and respect us enough to try to carry on our family legacy? Don’t we want a strong bond with our sons?
If so, we must strive to build that relationship with them. I know it’s hard for some of us. I know it may even be uncharted territory for some dads out there. But it is so worth it to blaze that trail. When we are older, don’t we want our sons to proudly come to us with their successes, failures, and hearts? Don’t we want our sons to feel so valued by us that they can’t wait to have sons of their own to pass on that legacy? I know I long for that more than anything and I’m working to make it happen.
For those of you who aren’t sure where to begin, here are some suggestions on how to build a relationship of value between you and your sons:

1. SPEND TIME WITH HIM. I know this sounds elementary but “time” is something that doesn’t just free itself. We have to MAKE time for our sons. I try to encourage fathers to spend 20 minutes of time with their children, each day, as much as possible. You will be amazed at how much this bonds you with your son AND helps you with discipline later on.

2. DO THINGS THAT HE LIKES TO DO. Bringing your son along with you to do things you want to do is great; but only if you balance that by sacrificing your interests in order to enter his life and interests. This is a part of the “20 minute” rule I mention above. When you spend that 20 minutes with him, let him lead the play or the interaction. Is it always fun to sit on the floor and play with trucks? Is it just a blast to go out in the yard and try to play ball with your son, only to have him play it the wrong way? No. It’s not always fun for us but it IS fun for them and, when they see that you will do things that they like, it will go a long way in building that feeling of value between you.

3. LISTEN: DON’T LECTURE. It’s okay to offer wisdom to your son. They need that. BUT, they won’t respond to it if they don’t feel like you are paying attention to their feelings or thoughts. Again, I know we guys like to make things better but, sometimes, we need to just be quiet and really pay attention to what our sons are telling us about themselves; their hearts, their fears, their lives. I have never met a boy that didn’t want to be truly KNOWN by his father.

4. SHOW HIM HEALTHY AFFECTION: I know.............many of you just groaned at reading this sentence. I, myself, just had an urge to go pump some iron or hit something really hard, just to prove that I’m still manly after such a taboo suggestion. But, honestly, our sons need us to touch them in appropriate, encouraging manners. I don’t mean that you have to embrace them constantly, although would that really hurt us? I mean...............pat them on the back often, squeeze their shoulder while you talk to them, high- five them, play-fight with them (yes, girls, we see this as affectionate), wrestle with them. And, yes, sometimes just give them a hug or even a kiss. If we are honest with ourselves, didn’t we all want to receive affection from our dads?

5. TEACH HIM HOW TO DO THINGS. Don’t be so impatient that you just work to get things done as fast as possible. Take the extra time to show your son how to build a cabinet, how to manicure the lawn, how to fix a car, or how to hit a baseball properly. No boy is born with the knowledge to do any of these things. We must show them.

6. WORK ON YOUR OWN ISSUES. If you have trouble reaching out to your son or your wife or anyone, get help from someone. Is it really more manly to alienate your family than to ask a professional how to improve those relationships? Wouldn’t you rather grow in this area than end up divorced or estranged from your kids? I know I would.

7. BE SUPPORTIVE OF HIS INTERESTS. This is similar to #2, but it expands the meaning. As your son becomes involved in sports, or band, or debate, or the scouts, or him support. Even if it is an activity that you wouldn’t do, show him that you support him no matter what. For instance, where I grew up, well, ahem..........our view of soccer was............hmm.........(cough, cough)..........that it was not so............what’s the word?...........manly? :) Yes, I know it is the world’s favorite sport but it wasn’t in Beverly, Ohio! :) However, if my son chooses to go down that destructive path, who am I to stop him??? :) Seriously, your son is unique. God made him that way. Encourage him to be the man God made HIM to be; instead of pigeon-holing him into who YOU want him to be.

8. EXPOSE HIM TO HEALTHY MALE FELLOWSHIP. As he grows older, take him with you outings with your guy friends. Send him to basketball camp to learn from a strong coach. Get him involved in his youth group. The more godly men he is around, the better his chances to develop into a godly man himself.

9. BE WORTHY OF HIS RESPECT: Be a good leader in your home. Be a loving husband. Take care of yourself. Let your son see you doing things that you are good at and you like to do. Exercise to stay healthy. Be a man that faces his fears and handles the hardships of life with courage.

10. TEACH HIM TO KNOW CHRIST. There is no greater lesson he can learn. If you continue to grow in your relationship with Christ, make sure you teach your son how to do the same.

Guys, I know that building relationships is harder than excelling at your job. At least, for most of us it is. It takes courage. It takes effort. It takes making yourself vulnerable. It takes time. And, truly, it takes desire. But, boy, is it worth it! Dads, your son needs you so much. He desperately desires to feel valued by you. No matter how old he is, that longing is still in his heart. I pray that all of you who are fathers will resolve to build that relationship with your son and, THEN, encourage them to achieve. Anything putting the cart in front of the horse........and we all know how effective THAT is.

About the Author: Aaron Welch is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Nationally Certified 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.

Monday, January 15, 2007

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

What Motivates a Man? Written by: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC

I’m sure that many of you who are reading this would LOVE to answer the question of what makes a man do what he does. I would dare say that this is a burning question in the hearts of many of those readers who might be, well...........of another gender. Just as men often question why females act the way they do, women have to wonder why on earth the men they love handle life in the strange and mysterious ways they do. Certainly, there are many facets and underlying factors in what drives a man to pursue life in a particular manner. I mean, we’re truly not the simpletons we are painted out to be, are we? (Notice I am now writing in 1st person, as I fit into the “male” category). Actually, “simple” is the last way I would describe my fellow comrades. In being truthful, every man is different and every man is unique; each of us develop our ways of coping from a combination of natural temperament and the environmental factors we were exposed to as we developed. It would not be fair for me to say that “every” man is motivated in the same way. HOWEVER (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), I do believe that there are some common factors between us.

In my research and experience in working with men of all ages, I see a common thread of a man’s need to do something important or to be something significant. I believe that, deep down, every man wants to make a difference; to even be considered GREAT in some way.

General George Armstrong Custer said it plainly: “In years long-numbered with the past, when I was verging upon manhood, my every thought was ambitious-not to be wealthy, not to be learned, but to be great. I desired to link my name with acts and men, and in such a manner as to be a mark of honor-not only to the present, but to future generations.”

In the excellent western mini-series, “Centenniel”, McKeag asked the great trapper Pasquinel, why he was so obsessed with finding gold in the mountains of the new country. McKeag wondered why Pasquinel couldn’t just be satisfied with the beauty of the untamed wilderness. Pasquinel’s response? He said he searched so diligently for the gold because he wanted to be more than he already was. He wanted to be more than just “Pasquinel the Trapper”.

Although “greatness” means different things to different men, I do believe that most men deeply long to be significant in their own eyes and to those around them. Even Jesus’ disciples fought over who would be the greatest in the kingdom; they argued over who would sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in heaven. Whether men pursue wealth, power, fame, or just to be known as having the nicest lawn in their neighborhood, something drives us to be greater than we already are.

But what actually makes a man great? This is a very difficult question to address. However, it is a very pertinent question; one that is worthwhile both in asking and in the pursuit of an answer. I cannot answer this question fully at this time. However, I believe that Jesus set us on the proper course. Jesus taught that, to be great, means to be less. He said that it is the last who will be first. How confusing! Doesn’t this go against all of the ideas of “greatness” that we are exposed to in our culture? Well, in a way it is but I believe that it is not as different as I once believed.

I believe that true greatness comes when a man is in intimate relationship with God. I don’t mean that he knows ABOUT God. I don’t mean that he simply talks to God. I mean.......I believe a man will make a significant mark on our world when he learns how to truly KNOW God. I love the book, “The Papa Prayer” by Larry Crabb. He does a wonderful job of challenging the ways we view prayer in our society. Most of our prayers involve thanking God for things that we wanted and that actually occurred or our prayers have to do with asking God for lots of different things; both the godly things and the selfish things. His premise is that the goal of prayer should be relational, not petitionary. He convincingly argues that prayer should be about knowing God intimately, listening to Him more than talking ourselves, and allowing God to powerfully work through our lives and into the lives of others. When we know God, we are able to hear His voice, know His will for our lives, and pursue those plans with confidence. It does not mean life will be easy. On the contrary, with greatness OFTEN comes adversity. It is naive for us to read about the great men of history and only focus on their moment of greatness. Almost always, enormous hardship is an integral part of the lives of those men. The truth is that we want the “greatness” without the “hardship”. This is an unrealistic expectation and often leads to men who are disillusioned when the rough moments do come (and they will). In fact, when men face hardship and adversity and persevere through them it sets up a great backdrop to the victory that God brings later.

I truly believe this: that men who give themselves totally in relationship to God, can expect the Lord to lead them into paths of great adventure, great trials, and great significance. It is when we want to maintain our own control of our lives and refuse to submit to the Lord’s will, that we forfeit our best opportunity for greatness. God wants to use us in His plans for this world. He desires men who are willing to face the dangers and difficulties of this world. He searches for men who want to know Him intimately and let Him take control. Look at what he did with the apostles. Were their lives easy? Were they always comfortable? No. But they were the catalyst for a movement that truly changed the world. They were great men.

Guys: greatness and comfort rarely go together. God wants to know each of you. He wants to know me in a way I’ve never let Him. He wants to use us to be significant in His kingdom. He won’t force any of us to do this. But he invites us to come. And, although I have been a poor example of a man who would let God all the way in, I desire to become that man. I want to know God and be able to hear His voice like Moses did, or David did, or Paul. I want to know Him so well that I can courageously face whatever He has in store for me. I want to be known as a “friend of God”.

Do you know why? Because, secretly, I want to be great. Shhhhhh.........don’t tell.

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