My son is pushing away from my wife. He’s fourteen years old. I’ve noticed a growing embarrassment from him toward his mother. I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but he hardly responds, only to say it’s weird to be still hanging out with mom. He’s a good kid and seems to have a heart for God. This issue is one of those rare times where he has been obstinate. How should I approach him? What would you advise?
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You may want to read:
- I Got Angry At My Daughter the Other Day
- Being Afraid of Your Daddy Will Make You Afraid of God
- The Angry Dad
The short answer is your son is becoming a man and he’s struggling with insecurity. What he is going through and what you all are experiencing is normal for many families with boys maturing to men. There are more profound theological implications here as well, which I will address.
Start With Your Heart
The first place to begin any mentoring opportunity is in your heart, not the other person. I know you know this, and I’m preaching to the choir, but there is a chance that every reader of this site is not “in the choir.” This perspective may be new news for them.
Jesus lays out clearly how we are to approach other people inMatthew 7:3-5. This truth is one of the most important things you’ll read here. How you begin this process will impact the outcome; if you do not start well, you will not end well.
Before every counseling session, I remind myself of this singular gospel truth: my sin against God is worse than what this person I’m caring for has done. Of course, I’m speaking from my perspective. Hopefully, the other person has a similar view about himself, but that is not something I can control. What I can evaluate and protect is my heart, and this gospel perspective is the perfect remedy (1 Timothy 1:15).
It’s easy to become irritated with challenging people. If the realities of the gospel do not adjust my heart, my affection for an obstinate person will diminish, and I’ll become frustrated with them. This idea is one of the things that fascinates me about the great apostle Paul. He discipled some of the most obstinate people in the New Testament—the Corinthians, but his affection for them was stellar.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4).
You will know if you have affection for a person by how you think and talk about them. If you don’t have a loving attitude toward them, you will more than likely disqualify yourself from helping them.
This concept leads me to a question for you and your wife: How is your heart toward your son? Are you irritated with him in any way? If you are, you must reorient your mind back to this gospel truth: your sin against God is worse than whatever he is doing to your wife.
Has God given you humility toward your son? Can you approach him with grace and truth? Once you properly adjust your heart toward God and your son, you will qualify yourself to serve him with God’s Word.
Your Son’s Identity
Boys and girls are different. God made them male and female (Genesis 1:27). There are clear distinctions between the genders. As our culture is pressing toward equality between the sexes, they are obscuring gender identities and realities.
Parents need to understand the differences between the sexes, and what they mean to their unique children. They must know how to care for each gender according to how God has made them. For males, there are common universal traits.
What does it mean to be a man? I often ask in counseling situations, “What is one of the worst things you could call a boy?” All men know the answer to this question—you never call a boy a girl. If you want to pick a fight on the playground with another seven-year-old boy, call him a sissy, momma’s boy, or some other effeminate name.
To be equated with a girl is something within all men that repulses them. God made him a man, not a woman, and to call him a woman is to curse his God-given identity.
Within the male psyche are intrinsic qualities and realities that mean something to him. Being a man is not just a shell over a soul with no inward meaning. The television may characterize us as being dense and dumb, but we are not that way at all.
We know who we are and what we want. There are unique qualities that are important to the male. One of the best things you can do for a boy who is growing into a man is to let him know when he is hitting the mark by fulfilling his role as a biblical man.
For example, here are three of those qualities: (1) being strong, (2) able to manage, and (3) able to lead are God-given qualities for men. God has called men to protect (strength), care for (management), and lead (leadership) their wives. They are not supposed to follow their wives but protect, love, and lead. This concept is just one way a man can be a man.
It is commonly understood in “male-dom” when two guys meet that you ask, “What do you do?” Men find their identities in their ability to do things, which always has something to do with strength and leadership. Weakness or to be weak is the male’s kryptonite, and I’m not talking about the sinful side of strength, which is self-reliance.
When he is exercising his inherent manliness biblically, he is doing what God has called him to do, and he enjoys the Father’s pleasure (affirmation). A man being affirmed by God for fulfilling the role that he was created for is the height of biblical manhood.
The problem with most men is how sin has more effect and governance over these qualities than the Word of God or the Spirit of God. These sin-governed men find their inner man satisfied by dominating women or building kingdoms. Sin always takes the good things from God and turns them into evil opportunities. Sinful men will misuse their “man gifts.”
Rather than being a humble protector, lover, and leader, they exercise power in corrupt and destructive ways. The culture overreacts to this travesty by emasculating the male. It’s no longer cool to be a strong leader because the only version the culture will accept is an unbiblical one. The solution is not to emasculate the male, but teach him what it means to be a biblical protector, manager, and leader.
The Important Role of Fathers
Coming of Age
The most qualified person on planet earth to teach a boy how to be a biblical man is his father. The adage is, it takes one to know one. It does. The reason the father is the most qualified person is that the son should be following his example. His father is the first and primary male influence in the boy’s life.
Only a man can teach a boy how to be a man. A woman cannot do this well. Let me put it to you this way: if you are a man, do you think you can teach your daughter about the intricacies of biblical womanhood? Of course not.
When our girls were younger, Lucia began teaching them about the facts of life. We prepared a multi-day stay at a remote location to properly care for our daughters, knowing the information that they needed to process about coming of age would be world-altering.
My wife was the only person qualified for this task. I was not about to take our daughters to the mountains for a week and talk about erections, sex, periods, and pregnancy—along with other conversations. But when it was time to talk to my son, I was the one to do it. My wife should not have this talk with him. Quite frankly, it would be weird, awkward, and slightly off target for a father to teach his daughter how to be a woman, or a mother to teach a son how to be a man.
This vital idea is part of what is going on inside your son. He is not rejecting your wife, but he is “separating” from her. This response is typical in the sense of what I’ve been saying. He is in a transitional time of his life, where he is transitioning from being a boy to a man, which can be an insecure time for many boys.
Like Father, Like Son
One of the standard peculiarities of this time in a boy’s life is his desire to be what his father is—a man. All boys want to be men, and typically the prototype of what a man is like is some version of the only one he knows, which is his father.
Boys long for their dad’s affirmation and approval. This kind of affection from a dad is the precursor to the acceptance that he will seek from his heavenly Father. If dad does this correctly, it will be easier for the son to have a relationship with God.
I have talked to many 50-plus-year-old men who have told me in tears how they still long for their dad’s affirmation. I have never had a man emote like that about his mother’s acceptance. A boy wants to know from his dad if he is growing into a man—if he’s doing it right.
How can a girl (mother) affirm these inner desires to be manly? She can’t. Not only will a boy reject being called a sissy, but he may push away from his mother too. He cannot be associated with or accused of being a “momma’s boy,” especially if he’s insecure like your son.
If you ask him about this, he will not be able to articulate what I am saying. Few boys have enough biblical awareness to put in words what he is feeling deep inside his soul. And you will become frustrated if you expect him to understand the dynamics of becoming a man or how he is compelled to distance himself from anything that is anti-male.
He Is Not Rejecting Her
He is growing toward manhood while trying to figure out and get comfortable with what it means to be an adult male. It’s common for this process to step on a few toes, especially the mother’s. I’m not giving him an out for sinning against her. There is no excuse for being rude, unkind, uncharitable, harsh, or inconsiderate. He needs to repent of these sins, but you also need to know that there are deeper issues happening.
You said your child is a good kid, which is your clue that he has not gone off the deep end. He is wrestling with biblical manhood. That’s all. There is an embarrassment factor (insecurity) involved in hanging with mommy.
- Don’t call me a sissy.
- Don’t call me a momma’s boy.
- Why does mom have to take me to school?
- Mom, stop adjusting my collar! I can do it myself.
- Please stop mothering me.
I have heard all these statements in the counseling office and scores more. Boys want to be men, and there may be a season in their lives when they distance themselves from anything that would give the perception that they are not men.
In time, your son will become comfortable in his masculinity, and will “come back” to his mother and love her like never before. He will have made the transition from boy to man, but for now, he’s still working it out.
We live in a fallen world. One of the tragedies of our fallenness is fathers who do not understand what I am saying. There are three common ways a father can misapply this teaching and abuse his parenting privilege.
- He can die, which is out of his control.
- He can divorce.
- He can abdicate his role as a dad.
When one of these things happens, there is a strong possibility the boy will be a skewed man. He won’t learn what it means to be a man during this season. If he does learn, like me, it will be after he’s an adult.
Angry, passive, unkind, condemning, or mean-spirited dads are just some of the ways a parent can mess up a boy. The child will be insecure regarding his manliness if the father does not affirm him as a man, and this can tempt him to find affirmation in other ways.
For example, an angry dad communicates rejection. A passive dad does the same. Though they are opposites, the interpreted message is similar: “There is something wrong with me because my dad rejects me.” The angry dad rejects overtly by his anger. The passive dad does it with his distance.
In time, the young man will stop looking for his dad’s affirmation and will seek it in other ways. The most common way a boy will feel affirmed as a leader is when a girl starts to “follow” him. Welcome to the misguided world of dating.
Another illustration of how un-affirmed boys find their cravings for affirmation is through the portal of success. Where teen love is the most common trap for young men, materialism and reputation are the most common pitfalls for adult men. If a dad falls down on the job, the boy will not stop craving for affirmation as a man. He will hunger all the more. The dad’s failure will only make the desire intensify.
Satisfied In Christ
He will find unsatisfying fillers, which will further distance him from the only One who can help him. The correct solution is for the worshiper to find satisfaction through Christ alone. And you are the connection between him and God.
You are a picture of God the Father, and your affirmation will be vital in setting the stage for him to fully understand what it means to do life with the Father. Remember, he first learns of the Father’s love through you.
The more he matures in Christ, the more Christ’s strength will work through him. Perfect manliness is found through Jesus alone. When a man learns how God perfects His strength through His creation, he will be an authentic biblical man.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
There is a true gospel-contradiction in play here: worldly men understand manliness through self-reliance, while biblical men find manliness through Christ-reliance.
As you have deduced, your affirmation will only partially fulfill what he needs. Your goal is to lead him to where he needs to be, which is our heavenly Father. You will affirm him as man, but Christ will teach him how to live out his manhood biblically.
Your wife has played a valuable role in this process. She brought him into this world and nurtured him as a child. It’s your turn to take the lead by showing him what it means to be a man in God’s world. In time, you both will have to let him go. And he won’t be rejecting either one of you, but fulfilling the role God has called him to.