Inside: What I learned as a single mother raising sons from elementary school, through teenage years and beyond. My professional advice to single moms parenting boys is guaranteed to make surviving being a single boy mom easier.
What Surprised Me from Having a Teenage Son
I have learned so much about myself, my sons and men in general from raising boys. As a professional individual, family and couple’s counselor, my best education in understanding how men communicate and how men are different from women did not come from the textbooks I read (though I read plenty).
I learned how men and women are different from being a single mother of sons. It amazed me when puberty hit how much my boys changed. Not just physically, but how the way they thought changed almost overnight. They suddenly viewed and experienced the world so different than the way I saw the world. They no longer preferred to communicate and connect the way I preferred to communicate and connect.
But let’s start at the beginning because as babies and little boys they are less different and more comfortable with a mother’s way of viewing the world.
Raising Baby Boys
Cuddle them and love them. You can’t spoil a baby. They all need unconditional love to develop a sense of trust and safety. I only have boys, but I imagine raising baby boys is much like raising baby girls except you need to be a little more on guard when you are diapering them, so as not to get a quick sprinkle.
I remember cuddling my first son after he was fed and asleep. I was so exhausted and yet loved him so much my heart couldn’t contain my love. Tears started running down my cheeks. I was feeling so emotional. My mother, who was visiting asked what was wrong. I sobbed, “He will leave me one day. It will hurt so much when he leaves. How will I bear it”.
She looked at me smiled and said, “God has a way of preparing you for your kids to leave you. You will be ready when the time comes” At that moment I could not believe I would ever want this precious being to leave me. If you have little boys you may not fully understand my mother’s wisdom yet. If you have teenage sons, you are in the season of being prepared for them to leave you. Don’t worry they will come back to you.
In the meantime setting up a newborn and toddler routine will minimize your exhaustion. At this stage you need all the sleep you can get, so sleep when you can.
Parenting Little Boys
When boys are little their behavior may not be that different than girls. Oh some of them are more rambunctious and they may prefer trucks over dolls, but communicating with them isn’t all that different from communicating with little girls. They still like to cuddle and seem to understand and accept the way we as mothers communicate.
Little boys and girls like it when you play with them. They want to show you the little things, which are big things for them. Take the time to listen and admire the rocks they find, pictures they draw and creations they make. Spend quality time with them making memories.
Soon enough you won’t be the most important person in their life. They will want to be with friends more and you will have more time to yourself. This time will be gone before you know it, so do your best to be present in the moment and cherish this time.
You are probably still exhausted so sleep when you can.
Single Moms Parenting Boys in Elementary School
Elementary school years are an important time in parenting. It is sometimes referred to as the honeymoon of parenting. The total dependence and intense need for you to do everything is over. You’ve made it through potty training. You may have thought you would never be done with diapers and bottles, but you are. Your boys can now dress themselves, feed themselves and buckle their own seat belt. You can take a breath and maybe even use the bathroom alone.
Even though life is easier this is one of the most important times to spend quality time with your children. Take the time to listen to the little things. Admire their drawings, the things they build. Take time to read to them. These are the years your boys will be most open to sharing what they are thinking with you. Listen and let them know you value what they have to say.
Six to ten or eleven is the time your boys will be most open to hearing what you think. This is the time to teach them what you value. Now is the time to teach them to make good decision making and effective problem-solving. Go ahead and teach them about all of these things with your words, but remember your actions speak so much louder than your words. What you show them with your life is infinitely more important then what you say. I developed a house rule that made my life infinitely easier. Respect was a core value in our home.
Parenting Tween Years
You are becoming less important in your boys’ eyes. They still need you. They need to know you are there, but they are starting to become men. We all value independence, but men in our society especially value independence. Being a mama’s boys is not a compliment. I noticed as boys start to move into puberty the characteristics we value in men started to become stronger.
Insist on respect. Respect for you, their siblings, and peers. Respect for you includes speaking kindly and pitching in with chores. It also includes making good decisions, because poor decisions cause you as the mother extra work and extra worry. Causing the mother extra work or extra worry is not respectuful.
Raising Teenage Sons
At this point, your teenage sons may feel embarrassed to need or even have a mother. The smallest normal thing you do can be cause for embarrassment. At this stage, it sometimes seemed that one of my boys thought he came to this earth half grown without need for a mother. When you “mom them” they feel small and incompetent. Listen to them more than you talk.
By this time you have taught them how to make decisions, how to solve problems and what you think is important. Their capacity to listen to you is limited at his point in life. You will probably notice that you are becoming less intelligent in their eyes as the weeks go by. Fear not in a few years you will become not only smarter but wise.
Listen to your boys when they want to talk. It may be at the most inconvenient times, but listen when they want to talk. Things are shifting your job is to be available when they want to talk. Car time is a valuable time. Don’t talk on your phone in the car when your kids are with you. It is easier for boys to talk when you are not looking directly at them and you are slightly distracted.
A valuable time with my teenage sons was when they helped in the kitchen before or after dinner. Make time to have one on one time with each of your children. It could be going out for a walk or coffee, but it can also be working on a chore together.
Deeply listen to them not only what they say, but also be aware of their nonverbal communication how they say what they are saying and their body language. This is an important reason to get off your phone, computer and TV when your children are talking. You will miss much of their nonverbal communication if you are distracted with something else during the times they do decide to talk to you.
When you deeply listen they will ask your opinion. This is the time to share your opinion or better yet ask them questions to think through the decisions they are working on making.
How Moms Can Guide Teenager’s Decisions
We start to make the most important decisions of our life when we are teenagers. Will we have a life partner? What is important in a life partner? What will my life’s work be? When and with who will they be sexual?
Teach your boys that no means no. Be sure they know that they are 100% responsible to not become fathers before they are ready. Do not assume they know how to prevent becoming fathers or that their dad is taking care of that part of their education. If you have daughters they are also 100% responsible to not become mothers before they are ready.
In the heat of the moment, 2 people who are 100% responsible for not becoming parents before they are ready is a much better plan than one who is supposed to be responsible and one who is assuming the girl is responsible.
What your son does after high school is his decision. You can provide guidance when he asks. You can ask questions to help him clarify his decision, but this adult decision is his to make. Your job is to be a consultant when he is deciding if he will work, go to a trade school, or go to college. Be available to go with him to check out schools if that is what he is thinking about.
What Teenage Boys Need From Their Mom
They need to know you trust them. They need to know you are proud of them. Be generous with your words of affirmation. Tell them when you are proud of them. Tell them when you think they made a good decision. Even though they may act like they don’t care what you think your pride in them means the world to them.
When Sons Leave Home
Your sons will eventually leave home to work or go to school. When this happens one of the sweetest times in parenting is just around the corner. Their friends are still extremely important, but they will also begin to value family in a different way. Your sons will begin to appreciate the things that they took for granted like how often you cheered them on at a game or went to a concert. They will appreciate the meals you put on the table as they begin to buy their own food and cook their own meals.
They will even seek you out to talk things through, ask for advice or comfort them when they are hurting. Your job is to be there when they need you and celebrate their independence when they do not.
When Your Sons Become Men
You will always be their mother. You will not be the most important woman in their life, if they marry a woman. That spot belongs to their wife. Celebrate that you raised your boy to be a good man when he chooses his wife over you.
He still wants and needs you to be proud of him and celebrate his achievements with him. Affirm him in all the good he does in life and trust him to handle his problems. You can be a resource, but they are his problems to fix. Don’t belittle him by meddling too much.
When you have raised a good man it is one of your most important accomplishments. Good men and women make the world a better place. Celebrate your part in making the world a better place not only in what you yourself do, but in the fact that you have raised your children to be the kind of people our world needs. This is no small task and as a single mom, your job was even harder, but doable and so worth the effort.
A man is never too old to get a little advice from his mama. Here is the letter I wrote to my sons before their wedding day.
Do you need support and encouragement in raising your children as a single mom? I made a private Facebook group, Empowered Single Mom Tribe, for moms like you. We support and encourage each other on the single mom journey. Join us here.
Hi, I’m Tamara the creator of Empowered Single Moms, a single mom, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and the author of Thriving a Single Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Positive Life and Thriving a Single Mom Journal. I have a solo private psychotherapy practice where I treat anxiety, depression, and relationship issues.
As a member of the Empowered Single Moms community, I believe you can stop carrying the weight of the world alone and build a life you love. Join my mailing list and get 5 Keys to Single Mom Success.