We were outside, sitting in the filtered summer sun, under a group of large trees. At our community library event I was sitting at the back of a large group of mothers with their children.
The woman right in front of me had one 3 or 4 year old son. At one point, he walked up to her, and without any apparent reason, hit her in the arm.
Then he looked up at her face. (confession: I was looking, too.)
Here’s what was clear:
- he was out of control, and somewhere in his little soul, he knew it.
- she was irritated by his aggression.
- she was embarrassed because of the setting.
She forced a thin, unconvincing smile on her face, and tried to refocus his attention on the outdoor program we were all there to watch.
Her son milled around for another 2 minutes or so, seemingly determined NOT to pay attention to the thing she brought him there to pay attention to, and then circled back, and hit her, harder, in the exact same spot on her arm.
Now, she was mad.
He knew it.
She knew it.
I knew it.
But she looked around, pretending to be smiling and nonplussed by his actions, vaguely pointed him in the direction of the presentation at the front, and went back to ignoring him.
But she wasn’t just ignoring him.
Three or four times, this same thing happened. He milled around, came back to hit her, and she used the ineffective combo of fake smiles, ignoring, and/or distracting.
Then he came to punch her again, this time harder than ever.
Her hand whipped out, lightning-fast, and grabbed the top of his arm, squeezing it so strong tears came to his eyes. He squirmed to pull away, but to no avail. Her fury was commanding the moment. Angrily, she whispered something loud and insistent in his ear.
He wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying.
She probably wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying.
This was revenge, not discipline.
Though her initial goals were probably:
- enjoying the event
- avoiding embarrassment
- and perhaps (I would guess, given its popularity and her initial uncertain-and-angry-but-trying-to-be-cheerful reactions) something like “positive parenting”
what she was actually doing was training her son that he could do whatever he wanted (not pay attention), then systematically hurt the woman he loves, as much as possible, pushing to the highest possible degree, until she reached a breaking point.
She was, with each interaction, training her son to be a monster.
The longer I raise sons– (considering both the things I do well, and the things I do poorly)– the more clear this principle becomes:
A boy learns from his mother how he should treat women.
- Will a woman who loves him let him push her around?
- Are women to be respected?
- Should he joke about women’s bodies, or bodily functions?
- Is it OK to physically hurt a woman?
- Will she just “take it,” in order to avoid confrontation?
- In what ways are women different from men?
- Will social embarrassment keep her from speaking up or doing anything when he’s actually crossed the line?
Mama, if you have a son, you have the privilege of being the first one to teach him the answers to these questions.
And if you don’t teach them, he may yet learn the lessons, but it will most likely happen through pain he inflicts over years or decades. The real ones who will pay the price will be the young women he attends college with, dates, and the woman he marries.
Other women will reap the seeds you are sowing.
And most likely, it will be a woman you come to love and desire relationship with.
So instead of letting him get away with things you know are unpleasant, unkind, cruel, and/or uncomfortable for others, teach him:
- He can’t hurt people and have it go unnoticed and uncorrected.
- He is expected to control himself well before things “go too far.”
- DO NOT force grins and fake “positivity,” no matter what he’s like.
- Give him REAL smiles when he does things that merit real smiles.
Your son needs a mom committed to draw out what is TRULY good in his life. He needs you to hold boundary lines that teach him what is appropriate and good in his treatment of others.
For his own good, and for the good of all the women he will encounter in life, he needs you to stand up to him when he crosses the line, especially in regard to using his physical strength to harm others. (Including you!!)
He needs you to tell him things like:
- When you’re changing his diaper: “No no; that hurts mama when you kick my tummy.” (even if it’s only at the level of being mildly annoying, barely noticeable, or only slightly-painful)
- “No no. We don’t hit. Be GENTLE.” (<—–a video of doing this with my 10-month old)
- “No, we don’t EVER hit a baby. We protect babies. We are GENTLE with little ones.”
- “You be GENTLE” with Mama’s face.”
(all those things ^^^ are things I’ve said probably dozens, or even perhaps hundreds of times)
Mama, you have a central role to play in whether or not your son turns out to be a monster toward women, and those who are (or will one day be) weaker than him, or if he learns to be gentle and protective.
And please don’t take this as an eternal guilt trip, especially if you are thinking about sons who are already grown. We don’t control who our sons become. God is sovereign– not us.
BUT we DO heavily influence the grid through which our children view the world. For those of us who still have sons in the home, we CAN use our position as mothers to shape our children’s attitudes and approach to life.
This does not mean he can’t physically *play* with you (here’s a video of play ideas from our home), but whenever it moves (even slightly) from playing toward him using his physical strength in a way that would hurt you if he was stronger than he currently is, your responsibility is to shut it down and teach him self-control.
(Interestingly, though he gives long lists for young women, older men, and older women, the Apostle Paul’s ONE command for young men is: “be self-controlled.“ It’s the thing that a young man must learn first in order to be productive and beneficial to the society and people around him.)
It is not merciful to look the other way, or force a plastic smile on your face, when he hurts you.
For his own good, he needs you to stand up to him and refuse to let him get away with hurting you. And this is easiest done before he reaches ages where he can actually do REAL physical harm to you.
When your son is being physically domineering, don’t let him get away with it.
Don’t let your son be a monster.
- Teach him to restrain himself.
- Teach him to be kind and tender and gentle and protective toward those who will one day be in the categories of people who will be weaker than him.
- Teach him that he can not get away with using physical harm to dominate others.
You will be blessing any younger siblings he might have, your future self, his wife, the world. He, too, will be blessed because he will not be a menace. You will have raised him to be a decent, self-controlled man who looks out for others and does not use his strength against them.
This is the opportunity we have as we raise our wonderful, testosterone-filled, growing sons.
God, help us to seize each opportunity we have and be faithful in our job as mothers!