How do I best mother my 22- and 27-year-old sons? Naturally, I will always be their mother; it’s a lifelong commitment. But how do I continue to nurture these independent, capable young men that my boys have become? What should I do differently? How must I change?
When they return home for vacation, I shop for their favorite snacks, prepare wholesome meals, and, I admit, pick up after them—just as I have in the past. Yet, I no longer actively do as much for them. While I miss the physicality of spontaneous hugs, scrambles up into my lap, and walking hand-in-hand with them, I don’t miss the tiring work of being their chauffeur, tutor, and soccer coach, all at the same time. Now when they visit, I don’t fall into bed exhausted after a day of mothering as I did 20 years ago, despite being correspondingly older.
Yet, whether here or far away, they still reach out to me for motherly reassurance. Instead of physical comfort, the support I offer now is more informational. In lieu of unprompted hugs, I get impromptu texts from one or the other asking: How do I remove chocolate stains from a T-shirt? Should I dress up or down for my job interview? How much money should I spend on a wedding gift for a high school friend?
On one level, my sons are looking for concise answers. Frequently, though, there is more to discuss than what is referenced in their short texts. When prompted to weigh in on human relational issues, I ask for more context clues. What is the job description? How does the company’s public profile look? How close have you remained with your friend?
When I have more situational understanding, I can offer better-informed opinions. But I carefully try to strike a balance between presenting information and giving advice. Advice comes from a point of view, and my point of view is sometimes irrelevant in the eyes of my sons.
While it is true, it is also humbling to admit I don’t inhabit the same world as my 20-something sons. I don’t fully comprehend the challenges they face in the world today. When they were young, I was their “fixer.” My way of being my sons’ advocate then was perhaps a little too hands-on in retrospect. Now, however, I realize I serve my sons best by careful listening instead of trying to engineer solutions. This approach makes me feel as though I am a more passive influence in their lives. Paradoxically, I have had to learn to be a more active listener. Through attentive listening and a sprinkling of proffered information, I support my sons’ attempts to find the right approach to deal with their concerns.
Thus, one way I have had to change my mothering style is to learn to hold my peace. I also filter what I say. In general, I am quieter than I was when they were young.
But in my quietude, I pray my life choices call out to them in some edifying ways. They have had the privilege of extensive travel and higher education, and they are undoubtedly more “worldly” than I was at their age. They have met people from diverse backgrounds who have had a panoply of experiences beyond those of their mother. This exposure to others, so different in some ways to their family members, has been an extraordinarily enriching part of their education. They see the varying choices people make in life.
Choices are informed by personal values. Luckily, my sons realize this. And while I no longer lecture them on values (that time has come and gone), I am more conscious of trying to live out my spiritual values. I don’t claim to be a moral beacon. But I try to make ethical living the top priority each day. I personally reap great rewards from these efforts. I now have an undeniable sense of peace that eluded me at other times in my life. I hope my quest also has the added benefit of serving as an instructional example to my sons. I trust I don’t have to say much to them about why I do what I do. They are observant.
In short, I know I need to continuously evolve in my approach to being my sons’ mom. I reflect, respond, and try to be the appropriate mother for them. I don’t always play my part well. I also have moments when I doubt my strategy of offering advice sparingly. Reassurance magically comes to me, though, when I remember an important teaching of Saint Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel always, use words only when necessary. Amen to that—I will keep trying.