Go with Your Gut, Mama

I have witnessed a trend evolving in young mothers that disturbs me: Many of them refuse to trust their instincts. A couple of decades ago, mothers could be overly bossy and controlling. Some of us grew up with mothers like this and we determined we would never be so overbearing.

This is a good thing, but in trying to avoid being too repressive, many of us have gone to the opposite extreme. We are so afraid to make mistakes that we don’t listen to our gut when it tells us to act.

For instance, I have had mothers tell me that they don’t want their son to go to a friends’ house and watch a movie but then immediately ask me if I thought they should let him go. I ask these mothers, “Why are you asking me? You just told me what you want. You don’t want him to see the movie. So, say no.”

Others have told me that they want to take their sons to church but that their husband doesn’t approve. It’s an issue they feel strongly about, but when I ask if they have challenged their husbands on it, they say no. When I ask why, they respond that they don’t want to make waves in the family.

Repeatedly, mothers pull away from acting according to their instincts. We should never ignore our instincts, because they help us make better decisions. Mothers are uniquely wired to love, protect, and guide our sons, and listening to our gut is one of the most important things that we can do for them as we raise them. If we, who know our sons better than anyone, refuse to do what is right and good for them, how will they learn?

The short answer is, they won’t. I fear that many mothers have become so afraid of doing the wrong thing and thereby alienating their sons, that we fail to do many of the right things that will strengthen our bond with them. Our instincts are sometimes our only guide and we must listen to them.

When it comes to religion, we can become almost paralyzed by self-doubt. We not only fear teaching our sons the wrong thing; we fear having them feel as though they are odd or prudish at school because they may believe different things about God than their friends do. We desperately want them to fit in with friends and we certainly don’t want them to feel like outcasts among them. Life for kids is hard enough, we reason. So we often forgo making them attend catechism or youth groups because we don’t want them to become the "geeky" kid. To whatever extent religion can turn our sons into awkward kids, we won’t have any of it.

And of course, there are other worries. What if we teach them to have faith in God and they rebel? What if we teach them the tenets of our faith and we don’t get the facts straight? What if, as I’ve just said, we make them go to church and their friends make fun of them and then they feel isolated at school? But — we must stop worrying and start acting. The best way to get away from fretting is to begin doing something. When it comes to faith, the first thing that we must do for our sons is to be clear about what we want them to believe and what we don’t want them to believe. And to do this, we have to be clear about our own faith.

Many mothers I meet decide they want their children to grow up with the freedom to choose their own religion. I understand this, but the truth is, your kids will choose anyway — whether you want them to or not — because faith is an intensely personal thing. Every son grows up and makes his own choices; from the type of pants he wears, to whom he will marry and where he will live. Decisions about his faith are the same. At some point, what you believe won’t be enough for him. He will need to know deep in his soul what he thinks about God.

In the meantime, though, you must give him the choice to believe. Boys who grow up knowing nothing about God have nothing to choose from. If they don’t know the difference between Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism, and the Muslim faith, don’t have any details at all about different religions, they end up with a giant vacuum to be filled, and no clue how to do so.

It’s very much like taking a 10-year-old American boy to downtown Prague and telling him that he can go anywhere he’d like. He would look at you with a blank stare. "But Mom," he’d say, "I’ve never been to Prague before and don’t even know the street names."

So it is for boys who grow up without any understanding of the tenets of your faith.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, "The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids," part of The Strong Parent Project.

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