“How can I raise a confident, thriving daughter?” That’s the question parenting expert and pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker, has helped countless fathers answer in her wildly-popular book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. Now she’s back with more questions—and more answers—in her latest book Strong Mothers, Strong Sons. Recently, she stopped by The Dave Ramsey Show to encourage moms to lead (and eventually let go of) their sons with wisdom, strength and love.
Dave Ramsey: You say great parenting is about answering three, unspoken questions for your kids. What are those?
Dr. Meg Meeker: The first question is, What do you think about me? The second question is, How do you feel about me? And the third is, What are your hopes for me?
Kids are constantly reading their parents to find out who they think they are. That’s why face-to-face time in so important for kids. When kids get those answers from their parents, they internalize them, and then that’s how they shape their identities.
When does Mom need to back off and let her son grow up?
There are three critical points in a boy’s life when Mom needs to navigate carefully. The first time this separation happens is right at puberty. Up until around age 10 or 11, boys can still cuddle with and talk to their moms. They feel very close. But then, all the sudden, the boy starts developing into a man. And he’s a little creeped out by how close he is to his mom. So he pulls back, and Mom tends to feel hurt. But it’s very important that mothers don’t rush in and say, “What’s wrong? Why don’t you like me anymore?” You’ve got to give him his space.
The second time moms have to back off is when their son leaves home for college or for a job. He has to figure out how not to be so dependent on his mother anymore. And the third and final time is when he gets married.
Related: 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity
Why is this mother-son separation so important?
The reason it’s really important is that you have to break from your son and let him know he doesn’t need you. That’s very hard for mothers to do, because our whole lives are spent wanting to believe our kids need us. But that’s the worst thing you can do for a son.
A man who feels that his mother needs him (and he needs her) is a man who will have a difficult time cleaving to his wife and enjoying a good marriage relationship. And a mom should never get between her son and his wife.
Moms also play a big part in facilitating healthy relationships between father and child. How can wives encourage their husbands to be better dads?
Wives and moms play a critical role here too. We’re living in a culture that demeans our dads. But kids need to respect and look up to their dads even if they’re not perfect. Moms can help kids have a better relationship with their dads when they praise the dad and say positive things about him.
Some divorced moms who are in a lot of pain tend to dump on dads in front of kids. I tell these mothers: You can divorce your husband, but your child can’t. Your child is connected to their dad for the rest of their life. So the best thing you can do is facilitate a healthy relationship between them. Moms need to bring out all of his positive qualities and talk to their child about those—because every child needs a relationship with their dad.