Do you find yourself exhibiting controlling behavior when it comes to your sons? As moms, it’s ingrained in us to want the best for our kids, to protect them from danger, and to train them up in the way they should go. But sometimes we take these instincts too far and we start acting like people who need to control everything in our home and family. Marnie Hammar has three questions you can ask yourself when you’re wondering how to stop being controlling.
I was sitting on my hospital bed, still wearing those blue hospital socks with the grippy bottoms, when I told the nurse I wasn’t sure I knew how to change a diaper. I mean, I’d done it back in my babysitting days, but never on a newborn. Never for my own son. I followed the nurse’s lead, remembering the scene from “50 First Dates” when Drew Barrymore’s baby boy peed in her mouth.
That scene was prophetic.
Well, no, not in my mouth—but I was literally re-baptized into the whole diaper thing, by less than holy water.
That moment was my first clue that this snuggly little bundle of blue wasn’t quite like me, nor was he completely under my control. After we added two more boys to the Hammar clan, I learned much from the literal BLUEprint of my little testosterone-y family. I can tell you, it is far more enjoyable—and far less exhausting—to be a boy mama who chooses to ride the waves of raising boys rather than try to control the tide.
A Control Problem
Let’s start with a glimpse of where we began, and let’s just say, I might have had a control problem.
We mamas know that our sweet babes need nurturing. They need tender moments. Our boys need to know that hugs help, cuddles soothe, and quiet voices comfort. They naturally asked for hugs and tickles. They whispered, “I love you” and offered sticky kisses. It was in that season, perhaps in an effort to preserve that sweetness, that we made some ‘important’ decisions for our family:
- We decided that we would never own video games.
- We would never have guns. And water guns would be called “squirters.”
- We wouldn’t watch ‘violent’ cartoons. Like “Tom and Jerry.”
- Our boys wouldn’t say “butt.” Or “fart.”
My How Things Have Changed
Who is rolling their eyes with me? I mean, I don’t even like us after looking at that list! But, that was then. And three boys later, this is now:
- We own at least one of every video gaming system, including Xbox’s, Nintendo Switches, a Playstation, and even a Wii.
- We have invested in airsoft rifles and all of the necessary helmets and accessories and camo. We own all the Nerf guns, including the Nerf Ultra Motorized Blaster, and have a drawer in our basement dedicated to Nerf bullets.
- Tom and Jerry are just annoying now.
- Our youngest completely skipped “toot” or “bummy” as transition words, going straight to “butt” and “fart.”
Here is your invitation to please withhold any comment about our ridiculous ideas and choices on either end of the spectrum.
What were we so afraid of?
What were these decisions trying to ward off?
With three boys, it didn’t take us long to realize we might be missing something. Some of our decisions to control their behaviors and choices ended up limiting our thinking about who they were made to be. We missed embracing how they are wired.
As a recovering controlling boy mama, then, I’ve since learned some strategies for riding the waves of raising boys that have helped me to stop trying to control the tide. Those strategies include starting with some hard questions:
- Am I embracing or rejecting boyhood?
- What am I actually trying to control?
- What am I afraid of?
AM I EMBRACING OR REJECTING BOYHOOD?
Now seems like the right time to tell you, yes, they drive me crazy. As I’m writing this, my 13-year-old finds an unopened Nerf tennis set and asks if he can open it. I say, of course, and keep writing.
Then I hear thwack, thump. Thwack, thump.
They are using it inside my house.
When, in all of their living years, has this ever been acceptable? Just in case you need more evidence of exasperation:
- I get annoyed at all the socks and the wet towels and the trail of shoes and tiny little pieces of turf everywhere.
- I get irritated at the inevitable wrestling that occurs if two of them are given a task anywhere near each other. Dust, wrestle. Put clothes away, wrestle.
- I raise my voice because they never hear me the first time.
Why Am I Frustrated?
When I find myself annoyed, I have to stop myself and ask: Am I frustrated by a behavior or choice that needs additional teaching (clearly all of the above, ahem), or am I rejecting something about them?
As boy mamas, we have two options: We can embrace boyhood. Or we can reject boyhood.
As their mama, if even a tiny part of my heart is tempted to believe that something about my boys is somehow ‘less than’ me, then I am forgetting how God sees them. I’m forgetting how He wired them. When we reject who they are—when we resign ourselves to disappointment, or try to control and ‘fix’ them—we miss the wonder and the design that lies within who God created boys to be.
Because even if my sons are different from me, their boy-ness isn’t wrong.
John Eldredge, in his book “Wild at Heart” said, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. That is how he bears the image of God; that is what God made him to be.”
So, even in those moments when I’m asking God, “Um, are You seeing this, too?” I still cling to this mission He has entrusted me with: Love and teach these boys. I have important plans for them.
That my boys are different from me is good! God created men and women to think differently. Different from me is God’s design. Different from me is how he will become a man. I don’t want sons who are like me!
To raise godly men, I must believe that they are destined to be men of God.
Of course there are things I just don’t understand. I will never understand why even my husband still finds bodily functions hilarious. Apparently, this is funny for their whole lives, always and forever. And don’t be jealous, but truly, I have all the best pee stories and I can assure you, they don’t end with the pee landing in places it’s supposed to go.
But I’ve come to learn that, to hold that long view of how God will use these boys for His purposes some day, I must protect and guard my view of them now.
They know that I love them fiercely. I want them to also know that I find and feel joy in them.
WHAT AM I ACTUALLY TRYING TO CONTROL?
If I’m encouraging my boys to be who they are, but I still feel tempted to control their behaviors, then I need to ask. What is it that I’m trying to control?
In not allowing video games or guns, or even cartoons I watched at their age, we were trying to avoid meanness. What we didn’t understand was that we teach against aggression by teaching love and kindness. We can make informed choices of video games or guns or cartoons without eliminating all of any category. When we better understand what we are trying to control, we can educate rather than simply holding tight the reins.
Think about the areas you desire control. What is it you feel the need to control? Is there something under it that you’re actually controlling against? Most likely, there’s a fear or two or five sitting under there. Believe me, I know.
WHAT AM I AFRAID OF?
The desire to control is almost always rooted in fear. Understanding our fears is what sits between trying to control the tide and choosing to ride the waves. We feared raising ‘mean’ boys, and we thought avoiding certain things would help us. (Note: We have to protect our children and introduce them to age-appropriate activities—I’m not talking about that here. Rather, I’m referring to being controlling because of underlying fear.)
What is it you fear? Maybe you’re afraid your son will get hurt? Or he might be in danger? Perhaps you fear the choices he might make? Maybe you want to control his activities because you’re afraid of losing him? Perhaps you’re afraid you’ll be left alone?
When I find myself stuck in fear, I have to name the fear. Once I name it, I can lay it at the Lord’s feet. Those two steps begin to take the power out of it. It’s a process. But when we can trade our fear for trust in the Lord, we will embrace our boys’ journeys from a different perspective.
HOW TO RIDE THE WAVES
If a need for control is what is keeping us from riding the waves, then naming what we fear and laying down our fear of what may come opens us to seeing and feeling joy in the moment we’re in. That’s when we’re ready to step away from the shore and ride the waves of raising boys.
FOUR WAYS TO RIDE THE WAVES OF RAISING BOYS:
1. See His Heart.
I can’t count how many times, in my quick answer of “no,” I overlooked his heart. I saw risk and the need for limits, and I failed to understand the reason for his question or interest or pursuit. Instead of seeing the danger, I want to see his heart. What is it he wants to accomplish? Is there another way or a compromise? Is there a creative option he hasn’t considered that meets the same desire in a safer way?
His tender heart is still there, and he needs to know his mama sees him. As he grows up, it will look different. Watch for those windows and then find ways to be available. As my boys keep getting older, they like to talk later at night—past my bedtime! Time after time, it has been so worth it to stay up and really see him.
2. Let Him Be a Hero.
As mamas, we know how to protect. I am super good at it. When they ask me if they can go do X or try Y or race around Z, I list all of the ways any and all of those things could go wrong. I know how to provide cover and barriers and limits.
But there is a difference between protection and control. There is a difference between applauding adventurous activities and viewing their desires as reckless. There is a difference between playing in the rain during a lightning storm and being irritated by playing in puddles and dirt after the rain.
We must find the balance between control and protection, allowing for adventure and risk with agreed-upon, age-appropriate boundaries. We need to protect them, but they also need to feel like heroes.
3. Believe in Him.
Our boys also need encouragement and freedom to be who they are—who God created them to be. Are they interested in snakes? Dirt bikes? Minecraft? Sports you don’t know the words for? If it’s foreign to you, see it as an opportunity to encourage his interests and adventure. Buy him the rubber boots and the rake and sieve for the gross creek water. Sit down and try the video game with him. Go into the reptile house and touch the snake. Pick up the bow and arrow and give it a try. Swing at and kick and serve the ball with him. Teach him that God gifted him uniquely. Make him know that you support him as he pursues whatever it is and show him that you believe in him.
4. Entrust Him to Jesus.
Recently, as I was praying and listing all of the things I was worrying about for one of my sons, the Lord asked me if I trusted Him with my son. And if I trusted Him, why was I letting all of these concerns weigh me down? Why was I waking in the middle of the night over them? If I truly trust Jesus, then I can stop trying to control things for my son. Hasn’t He been faithful with me? He has brought me through so much. Hasn’t He rescued me, time and time again? Then won’t He do the same for each of these boys who have Jesus etched into their hearts? I must entrust them to my Jesus.
Dear mama friend, let’s not stay on the beach, trying to calm the waves and stop the tide.
I want to embrace the beauty tucked inside boyhood.
… to seize the magic and help him lasso the wonder.
I want to cheer and celebrate, even when I may not completely understand.
… to see and know his heart enough to endorse the risks.
I want to let go so he can find who he is meant to be.
… to ride the waves and feel the spray on my face and know that I am part of the beginning of a great adventure.
What does a struggle with control look like in your parenting? As a boy-mom, what fears might God be inviting you to name and lay at His feet? How did this article inspire you to more fully embrace your boy as He was created to be?
WANT MORE FROM MARNIE ON RAISING BOYS?
We invite you to check out the “Boy Mama Manifesto” printable Marnie created to help you ride the waves of raising boys. It’s a cheat sheet of sorts, with three questions to ask yourself, four principles to adopt, and a manifesto and prayer. You can gain access to Marnie’s Boy Mama Library by clicking the button below!
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Marnie, this is so good, and I am in awe of the truth of it. Who would have predicted that my own crazy crew of towel droppers and mess makers (and armpit farters) would grow up to be my favorite people?
I ABSOLUTELY love this perspective — and completely agree! As they get older, we laugh more and more together. It’s a joy to be a boy mama, isn’t it? Thank you for standing with me in this important role, Michele! We love our armpit farters!
Good stuff! So encouraging.
I’m so thankful you’re encouraged! The trenches are dirty and stinky, but golly, it’s such a worthy calling to be part of their adventure. 🙂
Thank you, Marnie, for “keeping it real.” I too own many things I said I would never own. I wish I had read this 20 years ago so that I could have seen that the root of my control was fear. Thank you for your wise words. I’m sure they will help many boy (and girl) mamas!
I’m thankful to know we aren’t the only ones! Ha! And yes, understanding the root of control is the most freeing step, both for us and our kids! I’m so thankful this resonated with you — these words come from a lot of missteps and hilarity. 🙂 All the grace!
Thank you for this! Such sweet reminders. Thank you for the encouragement, friend! Being a boy mom is such a gift <3
I’m so thankful you were encouraged by this, Lynn! And I completely agree, the gifts from being their mama outnumber the pee stories, for sure. 🙂 Much love to you!
Such a great reminder! Boy mama of four and it is a difficult balance. I am thankful for the privilege to ride the waves of motherhood with this crew of mine. Wild and crazy, we are a traveling circus, but we know how to have fun.
Christine, it IS a difficult balance! But I so agree — it’s just so very much fun! 🙂 Circus and all! Praying we can both hold onto that fun in the exasperating moments…
Absolutely love this article. I too am a mum of 2 teenage boys (and a delightful girl)and I am learning to let go of the things I don’t need to control and the things I’m trying to control out of fear. This is such a timely message and I love your humour. I need to learn to let my boys be boys and trust my Heavenly Father to take care of them. His plans for them as His warriors are awesome!
Melissa, I am still learning with you. It’s a constant check to ask the question of why I want to control a situation and to understand what’s under that instinct. He so has them, doesn’t He? And oh, His plans are gonna be so good. 🙂
Marnie, I am so encouraged by your beautiful words! (And I’m saying this right after a lively dinnertime conversation about…. poop!)
Sarah! Of course that’s the dinner time conversation… I’m thankful for His timing. Ha! Love you, friend!
“God will use these boys for His purposes some day, I must protect and guard my view of them now. ” Gulp! So true!! My kids are now young adults and I felt as if I were reading MY story – except you have more wisdom than I did then. While we love them fiercely, I realize a lot of what I feared was not only for them, but for how it made me look. Lesson learned and I charge on to embrace them! Thank you!!
Susan, yep, gulping with you as I re-read those words with you. I’m still in the thick of it and I get to “practice” remembering these things often. Let’s charge on together to embrace these dear boys! Oh, the adventures! Much love to you!