Why Less is More, or a Boy Mom Learns to Play Hard to Get

I had breakfast with one of my sons this week. Somewhere between our first cups of coffee and our last, he looked at me across the table and said, “We should do this more often.”

If you are a mom of a boy, especially a boy who is old enough to drink coffee, and even more especially a boy who is a man with a wife and children of his own, you understand how this comment made me feel. I don’t have to describe the little flip-flop that happened in my heart.

But it wasn’t all that long ago when the flip-flop could have ruined the moment.

This the danger zone between moms and their boys. I will not say we love them too much, but I do believe we express that love—say it, hug it, text it, call it, emote it, ooze it—too much. Come on, you know this is true.

Bill and I recently talked with some young married guys about the phenomenon of the man cave. We acknowledged that, for most men, the man cave is necessary to their survival. But they’d better not live there, not if they want healthy marriages. We talked about how moms and sisters and wives don’t understand the man cave at all. We don’t know how important it is to respect it. One guy said, “My mom didn’t invade my man cave, but she would stand at the mouth of it and chirp at me.”

I speak chirp, so I knew right away what he meant. For a boy, I’m just a little too enthusiastic in the wrongest moments.

Bottom line; boys need space. Most of us moms find this out the hard way. When our sons don’t tell us anything, when they answer our probing (normal) questions in monosyllables, when they shrug off kisses, and when they sometimes even act like we don’t exist, it’s their way of carving out the space they need in order to breath. They’re on their way to becoming men, and oxygen is vital.

Women take up space. Lots of it. Yes, we speak more words than our men, especially the adolescent ones, but there’s more to it than that. We feel more feelings. We require more feedback. We take things a lot more personally. We look them in the eye for longer than they like. (According to our boys, I made inappropriate scenes on TV more awkward by staring at them during those scenes.) I know I’m generalizing, but I’ve had years to observe this need-for-space vs. take–up-space dance between boys and girls and, later, men and women. I remember overhearing the yeah… uh huh… okay phone conversations our boys had with random girls, and wishing I could have seen what those calls looked like from the boy’s side when I was a teenaged girl. I had no idea. I thought they liked talking on the phone.

Boys love us, but they don’t show or experience that love the way we do.

And then there’s the fact that we love them so hard. There’s nothing wrong with that. But love is not a right. Sometimes, as our soft, cuddly little boys are morphing into hard, angular men, we fool ourselves into thinking we have the right to express our love any way we want to. 

If you think about it, it’s obvious when our love, aching and all, moves from a privilege (ours) to an obligation (theirs). We troll for intel on our son’s dating lives. We lament the lack of response to our calls and texts. We use tradition, food, money, and, worst of all, guilt to bribe our grown sons to visit more often. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. Our bleeding, pathetic hearts.

Beth Corbett was the only teacher all four of our boys had. I got to hear her parent speech on the first day of seventh grade three times (Matt didn’t enter her class until February, so we missed it that time around). Moms, she’d say, it’s time to let Dad step up. It’s time for you to be in the supporting role. Bake cookies. Cheer them on. Let Dad do the heavy lifting when it comes to discipline, especially with the boys. If there is no dad at home, enlist a man to help with this. In certain terms, Mrs. Corbett told us moms it was time to play hard to get just a little.

I have this theory that a man can handle only one woman at a time. And when your son marries, that one woman is not you. Thanks to those 7th grade speeches, I began stepping back long before our boys met the women they married. When it came time for them to leave and cleave, I’d had some practice letting go. So, Beth Corbett, if you’re reading this: Thank you.

For moms, not doing something is often the bigger sacrifice than doing something. But I am convinced that if you take a few steps back, maybe even as early as your son’s 7th grade year, you’ll experience a great return on that investment in the years to come. Pulling back is not easy for moms who love hard and strong. But when you give your son the thing he wants and when that thing is antithetical to what you want, it’s like giving grace. When you give it with your whole, pure heart, it’s a miracle.

I’m not saying be less loving, I’m just saying step back and examine that love before you say it, write it, text it, bake it, share it. Create some space, a place for him that is void of you. It’s what a boy must have. And if you do this, going against the grain of every mother instinct you possess, you’ll make a wide open road for him to travel back to you, not completely, but in rare, magical moments when over breakfast he might say something like, “We should do this more often.”

Yes, that would be nice.

The Number One Best Outcome When Your Kids Go Crazy (Or Life is Hard)

If you had told me back when he was thirteen years old that we would wait over a decade for our prodigal, our firstborn son, to make his way back home to Jesus, I’m not sure I would have felt relief. More like despair.

I see it on parents’ faces now, the ones who suspect even before the sucker punch of adolescence hits, that the innocence they once prized in their child may have already left the building of that child’s heart. That rebellion has already opened the door to some rough years ahead. That maybe they’ll survive, but maybe they won’t.

Our complete and substantial and abiding joy in Matt’s return is small comfort to a mother or a father who waits. Because what if they have to wait ten more years for God to act? Or longer? And what if… well, it’s just too painful to consider all those what ifs.

While the locusts are gnawing away at what feels like your child’s best years, restoration is almost impossible to imagine. Your hope—that God will intervene—is slippery at best.

This is why I love the Psalms with a passion. The circumstances that prompted David to write them are eerily similar to my own circumstances or the circumstances of people I love. A flaw that grew into the monster of sin. Betrayal by friends and family. Fear. The loss of a child, either to death or to that own child’s defiance. Worse case scenarios coming true.

The other day I read Psalm 28, and I was reminded of what I believe was the best outcome during those long years of waiting. David said, “To you, O Lord, I call. My rock, do not be deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me I become like those who go down into the pit…” (Psalm 28:1)

David was right. The best outcome to your worst nightmare is not that God will act, but that he will speak.

Does this mean I don’t ask him to act? That I am not allowed to ask him for the timetable he may never reveal? Of course not. But I am certain of this, that the greater miracle to be found in begging God to act or asking him how long is not in getting him to do what we want when we want it, but in hearing what he has to say to us smack in the middle of our asking.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Nothing touches our lives but it is God Himself speaking. Do we discern His hand or only mere occurrence? Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.”

To think I almost missed the romance by insisting on God’s intervention at all costs, as if I could force his hand.. By putting my children, my circumstances, my life itself on the main stage of my heart. By shifting the spotlight away from the Light of the world, my world. By clinging to the answers that did come as if they were the currency of love instead of clinging to the One who does indeed act, but who longs for our ears to open to him before our hands.


When the Word Lies Dormant, Hope Does Not

I woke last Black Friday morning with an unfamiliar ache. I’m not being figurative here. My thighs ached. I reached for my friend Advil to go with my coffee. Then I remembered my run in the sleet with our sons the day before and my little “sprint” up the last hill. Sprints make me ache.

We had a lively discussion on our run. (Bill and I think our son’s love language with each other is debate. They like to mix it up over everything from Calvinism to Comcast. Most of the time, the effect of their vigorous conversations feels, to me, a bit like the blaring ambient noise of a TV commercial with the volume up too high. They start and end with love, really, they do, but they are young men who have not yet been gentled by sorrow and failure. And so they scuffle around with words like Great Dane puppies.)

Thanksgiving morning, as I ran with them, I finally got the breath to interrupt at the bottom of the last hill. I said something maternal and slightly wise… and confrontational. Then I took off up that hill. For the first time in our four miles I was a step ahead of them.

David did not skip a beat and picked up the thread of discussion, but Matt stopped him and said, laughing, “Wait a minute, David. Mom just laid Oswald Chambers on me. I need to process this for a few hours.”

And then Friday morning, aching, I read this verse:

“We have good reason to give thanks to God without pausing, for you have taken into yourselves the word of God we brought to you and received it as a message from God—not just something whipped up by someone like you or us—and that word is at work in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2:13)

I was sore from those few fleet steps up the hill, but I also had good reason to be thankful, more thankful than most of you can fathom, for boys who are now men, who, though they love to spar with their words (better than the fists they used to use), love the Word of God best. All of them. They now know that this Word, which their father and I planted in them continually from birth, was never ours. And, being God’s, its work in them borders onto the miraculous. It has made them the strong, kind, purposeful men they are today. Now that is worth sprinting up a hill about.

So, young parents: Don’t give up in your task of planting the Word of God in your children. Don’t do it anxiously or overbearingly or tentatively or even excessively, but do it. Don’t despair when they are restless or blank when you read it to them. And don’t give them a word that is “whipped up by someone like you.” Tussle with this word yourself so you’ll know it well enough to plant it in them pure.

Parents of grown or almost-grown children: Don’t stop hoping in the Word you planted years ago. It’s still there. Don’t stop praying it will take root. Don’t stop letting that same Word comfort you as you wait. Don’t despair if quoting scripture or Oswald Chambers is met with scorn. (This is just me talking, but there was a season when I quit doing that and let the seed rest, dormant, in the ground without any more help from me.)

And then one Black Friday or any Friday, I pray you wake up with a sweet, satisfying ache from the years of handling the Word and the hard work of handing it off to your sons and daughters. I pray you’ll discover the joy of knowing, not that they have become your picture of godly or spiritual, but that they have received the Word you gave them, even if you didn’t give it as well as you could have. It isn’t your Word after all. And I pray you see glimpses, as you continue running the race of life with your children who are now your peers or will be before you know it, that it is at work in them the same way it has been at work in you all this time.