But then earlier this year, I saw that Dr. Meeker had just written another book called Strong Mothers, Strong Sons.
And that was something I could get behind.
This book explores it all: from babyhood to adulthood, Dr. Meeker talks about every stage and transition as well as the broader picture of what mothering sons looks like. There's a chapter about how to make your home a safe place where your son can learn how to express himself, make good choices, and live responsibly (and actually, this idea of home = mom = love permeates the entire book). Another chapter gives suggestions for how you as a mom can help him connect and form a lasting relationship with his dad. There's also a chapter about the importance of letting go and how to do it appropriately when he's a toddler, a teenager, and an adult.
By the time I finished reading it, my book looked like this:
So to say that I found value in it would be an understatement.
I'm pretty vocal (both in real life and online) about how much I love having boys. I think part of the reason I'm so vocal about it is that, as someone who began motherhood thinking I'd like to have all girls, to this day I'm still surprised with how satisfied, happy, and absolutely content I am with all boys. (See, On Having Four Boys for more about how much I love having only sons). It's not just that they're my own flesh and blood (although that certainly helps); it's also that I find their interests and personalities so fascinating and entertaining (and so wildly different from my own).
But one thing that I've said all along is that while I love having little boys, I'm terrified for them to grow up: I feel inadequate to deal with the struggles and temptations of boys. I worry that once they hit puberty they'll stop talking to me. And okay, if I'm being totally honest, I'm jealous of the girl each one will fall in love with someday who will steal all their affection and leave me the despised mother-in-law. (Incidentally, I have no grounds for this belief since I happen to love my mother-in-law and have never felt the least resentment from her for marrying her son.)
I regret to say, this book basically confirmed all those fears, BUT it also gave me tools for how to deal with those important transitions and gave me hope that many of the painful parts of adolescence are necessary to raise a kind, successful, and confident man.
One of the things I wasn't expecting (but that was a pleasant surprise) was the religious undertone of the book. There's even a chapter called "If God Wore Lipstick, He'd Wear Your Shade," which focuses on a mother's impact and influence on her son's spirituality. While I didn't agree with all of Dr. Meeker's beliefs, I agreed with this idea that mothers need to be firm in their own testimonies so that as their sons navigate the tricky waters of belief, they'll have a rock to lean on. The following quote is one of the many that I bookmarked:
"The best way a mother can teach her son to have hope is to lead by example. When you are down and feel that the future looks dark, you can articulate to your son, regardless of his age, that you have faith that things will ultimately work out well. This is far easier if you have a religious faith. If you do, you can hold on to a belief that God is real, that He is good and that He can be trusted with your life. Faith allows you to keep hope more concrete because it helps you put your trust for your future into the hands of a more powerful being than yourself."On a similar note, I also loved Dr. Meeker's thoughts about how having a strong core belief helps our sons (and daughters too) in those unavoidable moments when we, as parents, fail. It helps them to know that even though we might not be perfect, there is Someone who is and that even though we might make mistakes, there is Someone who won't. Even though I still have young children, I can see how helping them have confidence and trust in Someone other than myself would really empower them.
At one point, Dr. Meeker said that in those moments when we're failing and unsure of what to do, we can tell our sons that we need to pray and seek guidance from God. And then she said this: "Then ask your son to pray for you, just as you pray for him." For some reason, that was really eye-opening. I'd never thought to ask my children to pray for me during those times when I'm struggling to be patient, but I can see how this would be a really good thing, especially for my four-year-old who currently thinks I don't do anything right.
Another thing I really appreciated was the conversational tone of the book. Even though Dr. Meeker is a pediatrician and draws heavily on her experience with patients for much of the book, she is also a mom (of three daughters and one son). Of course she spoke from a professional viewpoint, but for much of the book, she just spoke as a mom . . . a mom who, just like myself, has made mistakes and worried and been afraid. I loved that she was able to write from both sides. It made the whole book much more authentic and made me trust what she had to say.
While I found all of the practical tips very helpful (and I will surely be revisiting the chapter titled, "Sex on the Brain and What My Mom Says" again and again in the the next 20 years), it was the overall message of unconditional love that really impacted me. Dr. Meeker said, ". . . our sons want to know--need to know--that if they did nothing else for the rest of their lives but sat in a closet, we would adore them."
I can't even tell you how many times I have thought about the importance of unconditional love over the last four months (the length of time it took me to read and think about and digest this entire book). It's safe to say it has changed the way that I parent.
Of course, if you'd asked me a year ago, "Should you (and do you) love your children unconditionally?" I would have said yes. Of course yes! That's an easy question in theory, but I don't think my actions fully reflected this belief. My kids are still young enough they're not even capable of making any really big mistakes yet, but I think I was still subconsciously withholding my love from them when they'd throw a tantrum or hit each other. In the last few months, that has changed. Now, even when they're having a complete meltdown at the zoo and screaming about how much they dislike me (that may or may not have happened this week), I try to still let them know (either through words or gestures or both) that I still love them.
I want them to know that they could have a dozen tantrums at the zoo and make me look like the worst mom on the planet, but that that love isn't going anywhere. It doesn't matter what they do or say, I will always, always, always love them for the simple reason that they are my sons. It doesn't mean that I won't teach them or discipline them or guide them. But if in the end, they don't heed any of my efforts, that love will still be there. It isn't tied to any action or accomplishment. It just is.
Yes, I loved this book. Yes, I hope I remember how to talk to them when they're angry or encourage them when things go badly. But if I end up forgetting all the details and only remember the importance of love, it will be enough.
Many, many thanks to Random House for a copy of this book. All opinions are entirely my own.