Listen – Cheri Fuller talks about what a son needs from his mother
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Leigh: When a good parenting expert comes onto our radar at Open House, we pounce. We're very keen to tap into their wisdom and experience in an age where parenting, and growing up as a kid, is all so challenging; so complex; so much of it is up for grabs. My next guest is laying the many significant lessons she's learned, together with many others, on what a son needs from his mum so they can both survive and thrive. Cheri Fuller has authored more than 40 books with sales of one million plus. She has two boys and a girl, and is in great demand as the Executive Director of the Redeeming the Family organization, and I'm so pleased to say that she joins us now on Open House. Cheri, welcome.
Cheri: Thank you, Leigh. I'm delighted to be on Open House.
Leigh: It's a great privilege for you to join us, thank you so much. When you had your first son, now 41 years ago Cheri, how equipped were you for the tasks that lay ahead, raising 2 sons?
Cheri: Well, I really didn't know very much about boys, to tell you the truth. I grew up in the middle of 5 girls, and I do have a brother, but believe it or not, he survived having 5 big sisters. He was almost 6 years younger than me, so really I was raised in a “girl world” of dolls and dancing and tea parties and games and ruffled dresses mother made for us; and we did girl pretend play.
I should mention too, my father died when I was 11, so I really didn't grow up around men. So, from a young age my oldest son Justin was very adventurous. He came by it naturally because his father is, but he's very adventurous. I tell about it in the very beginning of the book, how he loved to climb. I mean, he loved high places, and when he was 18 months old I found him on the roof. He had found a ladder that men who were fixing our roof had left up, and he somehow got himself out, he figured out how to unlock the front door and went out there, and I found him on the roof.
Leigh: Good grief.
Cheri: And I would have never thought of doing that, so from a young age, both of our sons Justin and Chris's favorite costumes were cowboy and army wear and Superman and Batman capes, and all of that was a little foreign to me. So I would say that raising boys was really a learning curve for me. I mean a great learning curve.
Leigh: What do you think has been the best thing about boys, and what do you think has been the most challenging thing about them?
Cheri: Our sons, they are both very, very focused. Just seeing them go through life; one of them decided when he was nine that he wanted to be a doctor. He wanted to help people by being a doctor, and he was very, very focused on that. He is a doctor today, he's a dermatologist. Seeing their lives unfold through the different stages, what they were interested in, how God led them, all of that, to me, is just a marvelous wonder. I really love that because they're both very different from me.
As I point out in the book, boys are very different from girls, but you also have personality differences. So that was very interesting to me, as I'm very interested in individual differences. I'm very interested in how God wires everyone up with their own gifts and talents. That was really fun watching them develop.
I think one challenging thing was by the time they were in middle school, they were past sitting down and having tea with mom, or just sitting down talking with me. They were both really athletic, really “guy’s guys,” and it would have been challenging to really connect with them around the dinner table and things like that.
I learned to get on their turf, and I share this in the chapter on connecting with your son. I learned to get on their turf even from the time that they were little boys, and then continuing on through middle school and high school. I would sit down and do what they were interested in doing. When they were little, that might be playing with Lego's for a few minutes. When they were in middle school and up, I'd go out and shoot a few hoops with them, throw a football with them, throw a baseball after school; and in that activity is when they would share something or tell me something that had happened at school. It was kind of a "no strings attached" type of time together, not with me asking a bunch of questions, but just being together. That was a really wonderful thing that came out of that challenge.
Leigh: Cheri, how early does this task of equipping sons begin?
Cheri: Well, I really think it begins when they are very, very little. Because, maternal love, as I share in What a Son Needs from His Mom, is really the most powerful positive influence in a son's development. That's why, in the first chapter, I have this wonderful quote by the American author Washington Irving from a few centuries ago, it says “There is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart.”
And it's this tenderness which she has for her son, that helps her son develop a secure attachment to his mother, and that forms the foundation of the loving trust which all his other relationships build on. As mothers, from the time they're very little, when we nurture, cuddle, reassure, encourage, and teach them all the little things we teach them around the house; just how we love our boys determines their capacity to have a healthy beginning in life.
Also, the home that we create, somebody has to have a heart for the home and mothers can provide that place of safety and refuge that enables boys to have the courage to explore and grow outside the home, because they have a place of safety and love and support and comfort.
Leigh: What does the research say, Cheri? What have you found in studies about how to help boys grow into healthy, balanced, confident, competent young men?
Cheri: First of all, I was just talking about nurturing. At the same time, our sons, our little boys, from the time they are little on, they are going to be developing autonomy. In the chapter that I have on developing confidence in your son, that's something a son needs is a mom that will help him develop confidence.
In other words, a way I say this is to “prepare the tyke for the flight,” is to have the big picture in mind, which is that we are raising our sons to leave us. We are raising them to not need us at some point. As they grow up, and as they go through the adolescent years, and they go to college or university or to whatever they're going to pursue. So, in the third chapter I talk about developing confidence in your son.
One of the ways that I talk about is giving them choices and not controlling them. If we control our sons, we make them very needy and then they really don't develop confidence. I share, for instance, that raising a confident courageous boy involves letting them do things by themselves and make mistakes. Let them make a bed even if it turns out a little messy, have him pulling on his jeans alone just as soon as he's able, instead of saying, “Oh, I'll do that.”
And then when they get in school, I taught school a lot of years, and I would hear moms say, “We have a test tomorrow,” or “We have a project due,” and she's talking about she and her son, and that takes away their ownership so that they're not really doing it themselves and developing the confidence of a job well done. I take the attitude of helping them figure it out. Saying to them, when they get a little older and they have a problem, instead of me solving the problem or the mom solving it, just say, “You will figure it out. Let's brainstorm about that.”
Little ways I share in the chapter on boosting their confidence or lifting their confidence, is that as soon as your son is able let him order his food at a restaurant instead of you always ordering for him. That's just some of the ways, and I think it's important because we live in a world that tears our kids down and they have a lot of discouragement around them on the playground, on the news, and I think a mother's encouragement is very important.
Leigh: I find it interesting, as someone who's helped raise one son and three daughters, that's me; you say that raising a daughter is less confusing for a mother.
Cheri: Research shows that it is in that you understand the gender. You are that gender, and you understand it. Now it doesn't mean there won't be conflict, it doesn't mean that. I have one mother who said, “You know, I realized I was in charge of raising a human being who acts and thinks and looks exactly the opposite of me in every way there is,” and so she felt under qualified and I think sometimes mothers do feel that way raising boys. At the same time, it's a great adventure raising boys.
Leigh: It is. On Open House we're with Cheri Fuller on what a son needs from his mum. Cheri, you address at some length the question of a boy's character and how to develop it. What would you say is the key to that?
Cheri: I think, first of all, realizing that your role model is really your most powerful way to impart strong character. In a little section called “Actions speak louder than words,” boys as well as girls learn the most by imitation. They learn by watching the adults around them. Even if we don't think they are watching, the really are watching what we do.
For example, if you want your son to persevere on the soccer team even though they are losing every game so far, then let him see you sticking with a difficult project at work, and not giving up. A good example would be, if you want your son to communicate with you and to stay tuned in or you want to connect with him in other words, be a good role model of someone who doesn't stay on their smartphone all the time. Be a good role model, that's the first thing.
Then, realize that building character is one of the most important things we do as parents, and a lot of it is really developed in the home. You won't learn good strong character from a workbook. You learn it from being and doing and from the central core values that your mom and dad are teaching you. Good character and virtues are transferred through daily life, through our relationships and through family life.
It's a slow process, but I encourage moms, and I would encourage your listeners that if you're deciding that it's really important; that honesty, persistence, perseverance, commitment, loyalty and respect are all important - those are some characteristics and values that I want to impart to my son, If you work on these in certain ways, and you model these, then you will get 1% growth in your son's character each week. That sounds like a little, but in a year, you'll get 50% growth because it's day by day, and precept upon precept.
Leigh: Would you say that a critical part of all of that would be the way that Christian faith informs the whole process?
Cheri: Oh yes indeed. Faith is really what gives a boy a sense of worth and purpose. It helps him thrive no matter what the obstacles are that he's going to face. I personally think that children today, young people today, all over the world; in our country and in Australia, they need to know that there's a future and a hope. That comes out of the Bible.
God has a future and hope for every single boy and girl and adult. His word says in Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord says, “I have a future and a hope for you, not calamity; and when you seek me, you’ll find me when you look for me with all your heart.” So I think imparting to this generation of children and young people that no matter how things look in the economy, or in the culture, God has a future and a hope for them. They're going to find that as they begin to grow in Christ. They're going to find that purpose, and what a marvelous thing when a young boy gives his life to Christ and has his whole life for that destiny to unfold. I think it's a marvelous thing.
Leigh: I think this is also an inevitable question, while you address the whole issue of mothers and sons, there's that critical role of the dads. You're not denying that?
Cheri: Oh, I'm not at all. It's just that I was not addressing dads in this particular book. I don't know about in Australia, but there are many custodial single parents in our country who are mothers, in fact, research shows that 85% of custodial single parents are mothers. Custodial means the parent who has custody of the children. They may have a dad involved in their lives, and hopefully they do, but it's the mother who is actually raising them.
Fathers are tremendously important, but at the same time mothers are as well. In this book I was trying to encourage mothers about the imprint that they can have on the lives of their sons. In their spiritual lives, in their character, by encouraging them, and then by releasing them to manhood because that's our ultimate gift that we give to our sons, we release them to manhood.
Leigh: Yes, you have some great wisdom on how a mum can successfully let go of her son. When do you say the right time will be for that, and how will that process best happen?
Cheri: When your son becomes an adolescent, I think it becomes obvious. We begin to realize that they are pulling away from us. They are. In the adolescent years, a boy has to ‘grow away’ from his mother. It doesn't mean he's leaving home yet, but he has to individuate.
To individuate means that he begins to pull away in certain ways. In other words, he's not sitting on his mother's lap, in his adolescent years as a boy. It's so that he can stand on his own two feet one day, and I think one of the gifts we can give our son in leading him eventually to manhood is to realize that rather than resenting his God-given desire to be independent, which begins early on in a boy’s life and accelerates in the adolescent years; little by little, we can transfer responsibilities to him so that when he leaves, he won't need you. Think of the areas that you can allow him to make decisions.
Leigh: It's a very tough thing for a mother to do, though.
Cheri: It is very tough, and that's why I have a whole chapter about it. That's why I talk about it quite a bit, because the truth is, I think that is a very challenging thing about mothering sons or daughters. We need to be getting them ready for adulthood, and often as mothers we don't think about that. We think about nurturing them.
One of the things that adolescent boys complain about with their mothers is that their mothers still talk to them like they were little children. One way we can tell is when your son takes a little leap or bound towards independence, don't take that as rejection. Don't take that personally. They still love us. They still love you very much. But they must separate and be autonomous eventually so they can stand on their own two feet, and then have a God-ordained family of their own someday.
Leigh: Cheri, at the end of the day, is there also another necessary piece of wisdom to relax a bit, not to become overly anxious about the whole thing, particularly for those seeking to do it all in the wisdom and power of God?
Cheri: I really think so. That's why I say that as moms, if you've lost your sense of humor, we need to develop that. We need to be a little more lighthearted about the whole thing, and we need to, in our own time with God, come to a deeper trust that He loves our boys much more even than we love them. We can trust them to Him. When you entrust your child to God, it doesn't mean you're abdicating your responsibilities, it means that we're rolling our burdens and our cares and our concerns for our children upon the Lord who promises to carry those.
First Peter 5:7, for me as a mother, was my watch word. It a great comfort to me to bring God my burdens, because it says, “Cast your cares upon the Lord', and in the amplify it says all your burdens, all your anxieties, all your worries; because he cares for you affectionately and watchfully.” That's First Peter 5:7 in the Amplified.
Any mother carries a lot of burdens for her son. She worries, is he doing alright in school? Is he excelling in sports? How is his heath? All these things, and I really think that if we can roll those upon the Lord and trust every single one of those day by day, if we just continue to cast those upon the Lord, we're going to be a mother who has more joy. A mother who is being an example of the faith that we're trying to raise him in.
Then we're trusting God, and when we trust Him and when we really believe his word, then we can begin to rest in this mothering role and enjoy it. It's such a short period, such a short season.
So, if your little son comes in, and he has dirty hands because he's been outside playing; and he puts his hands on the nice white walls, and you say, "Oh no. I have to scrub that off. "But those hand prints are going to get higher and higher and then they're going to disappear. It's such a short season, that if we can entrust our son all along the way to the Lord, He'll give us wisdom.
I'm speaking to all of the mothers who are the listeners of this program and saying that God picked you out to be the mother of your son, and that's a great privilege, and also a great responsibility. God will give you the wisdom you need for your son, if you will just ask Him.
Leigh: Cheri Fuller, I'm so glad you joined us.
Cheri: Thank you, Leigh.