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Volume 12, Issue 1: Husbandry

Mothers and Sons

Douglas Wilson

Husbands and wives are different from one another, and one clear fruit of this is yet more differences—the differences between their sons and daughters. After this, things rapidly become even more complicated. We have, obviously, in the first rank, father/son and father/daughter relationships, as well as mother/son and mother/daughter relationships. But then at the second tier we find brother/sister relationships, followed closely by brother/brother and sister/sister. Add to the mix any complications resulting from pluralities—two sons, one daughter, or four daughters and one son, that sort of thing.

As the head of the home, the father is responsible to know the spiritual state of the home, how each member of it is doing in his/her relationship with God, and how each is doing with one another. If we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). If we are not in fellowship with one another, then (at least) one person is not in fellowship with God. But while the fact of any strained relationships may be easy for a husband and father to ascertain, the underlying causes of the temptations may be much more difficult for him to identify.
So the wisdom required in all this is considerable, and a good part of the task lies in teaching a wife how to understand her sons. Related to this, a man must also teach his sons about their future wives through teaching them to honor their mother. For this column, let’s limit ourselves to the first question. What principles should a man teach his wife about her sons?
The first is the need for a mother to blend the apparent contraries of respect and toughness. Mothers with a critical or harsh spirit certainly can be hard on their sons, but it is a demeaning and emasculating hardness. And at the other end of the spectrum, mothers can be respectful of their sons in such a way that they never require anything of them. This kind of respect deteriorates into a mollycoddling mess. But a mother who approaches her son with wisdom is one who respects and consequently expects. “Of course you can do this, son. It’s the right thing to do.” And when a wise mother sees insecurity in her son, the response should not be scorn, it should not be sympathy. The right response is respect.
Another important principle is that of seeing small boys as future men. The way boys learn to deal with their various immature “passions” will generally be the way they deal with adult passions. A boy who is obviously not learning self-control with regard to his temper, his stomach, his video games, or his school work is a boy who will still lack self-control when sexual temptation arrives. Many times mothers unwittingly train boys to mistreat their future wives through sinful indulgence of boyish passions. It is important to distinguish here between the godly service a mother is supposed to supply the household (say, cooking the meals) and an ungodly catering that will help destroy her son (say, cooking a second breakfast when her son gets up three hours after everyone else, and for no good reason).
A third principle for a wife to learn is that when a godly husband is discipling a boy, he is doing so while remembering. He used to think the way his son thinks, he used to receive what his son is now receiving, he used to connive the way his son is conniving. A mother can and should discipline her son, but she cannot do it remembering. She consequently needs her husband’s perspective in order to aim the way she ought. In order for her to have his perspective, he has to talk about it with her, and not just assume that everyone in the world has the same memories and experiences he has.
Fourth, a mother needs to realize that when she gets exasperated or annoyed with her sons, she is helping them to learn how to control or manipulate her. The drill usually goes like this: a son doesn’t do what he was asked to do seven or eight times, Mom finally gets steamed and flares up over it, Mom has more of a tender conscience about her annoyance than son does about his disobedience, she consequently apologizes, he magnanimously forgives her, and the quarter ends with him two touchdowns and a field goal ahead. The solution is for her to cheerfully require obedience from her sons long before annoyance is even a possibility.
And last, a wise mother knows that God has given her to her sons, and her sons to her, and that when the gift is received with wisdom, the blessings are tremendous and flow in both directions. But if the relation is foolishly embraced, the book of Proverbs poignantly prophecies a coming maternal grief.

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