The day we walked across the sand, he gripped my hand so we could go together. My attention delighted him, and when he broke away, he called me close. His eyes met mine and we shared joy at shells, foam, and birds. In that day of sun and laughter, I didn’t imagine his heart could be pulled from mine. That growing up could take him away like a wave takes a shell and drags it under. I didn’t know how hard it would be to reach his heart when he drifts away.
When a man-child is small, smelling of powder or all-day play, it’s hard to imagine he could drift. But he can. If you reach out and find your boy’s heart distant, take heart. As he grows, he may need space to wrestle with changes and challenges. If a boy’s heart is in a distant place, give him space and show him grace.
Give Him Space
When he was small, you showed him hospitality and acceptance by drawing him close physically and emotionally. His wide range of smells didn’t push you away or keep you from snuggling up and offering your warmth. You gifted him with space to explore and learn and grow.
It makes mom-sense to allow boundaries we can see and influence. But it stirs up fear to see a child retreat where we cannot watch him explore, learn and grow. It’s not in our nature to let him wander in parts unknown; it’s instinct to bring him back. We’re not just talking about an introverted child. Adolescence, disappointment, broken relationships, and transition may cause a normally warm son to pull away. Especially in his far away place, he needs to be in the warm, loving space you create for your family.
We work hard to bring them close. Favorite cookies. After school questions. Hopeful hugs. Pleas for Dad’s help. In our attempts to retrieve the retreated son, we work hard. But he may need space, and our efforts to make him come back may push him away. He may need time, and God may need time to work in our son’s heart and mind.
Instead of insisting on talking, being together, knowing his thoughts and helping, let him be quiet with you or alone. Respect his space to keep his thoughts to himself and figure out hard things on his own or with someone else he trusts. If you reach for your son and you find a distant heart, give him space.
Show Him Grace
It hurts to want to embrace a son who doesn’t want to be embraced. Many a mom has lashed out at a distant child out of frustration. We don’t stop loving because he stops acting lovable. We extend grace and so prove we love enough to let him be alone. So what does a mom do with her stubborn love for the child she calls her own?
Sons know if mothers begrudge giving space. Respectfully honor your son’s need to retreat. We’re not talking about ignoring signs of depression or dangerous habits, but about lovingly giving the freedom to be alone. To think. To feel. To pray. To wrestle. If we patiently love sons with the gift of space, they’re more likely to call us close again. “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” (Proverbs 12:25).
Love responds with confidence that loving over time pays off. Boys don’t grow into men on a mother’s timeline. And so we must commit to persevere when sons don’t respond like they once did. When your boy’s behavior isn’t easy to love, keep loving out of grace.
God doesn’t ask mothers to stand by helplessly. She can be sure God is at work. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” (Psalm 147:3). And as God works, she can do the work of praying for her son. Blessed is the son who has a passionate mom on her knees for his heart, near or far.
On the journey of growing from boy to man, a son’s heart may be distant for a time. You may find yourself longing for his eye contact, missing his affection, and wondering who stole his heart. Be patient, persevere, and pray for him. Like the shell caught in the waves, he is being refined. Watch for his heart to resurface in strength, knowing you gave him space and showed him grace.
If your son seems distant, ask God to give you understanding about what’s on your boy’s heart. “God, what’s on my son’s heart that is causing him to retreat?”
Other Resources: (affiliate links)
• 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son by Vicki Courtney
• Praying for Boys by Brooke McGlothlin
• Six Ways to Keep the “Good” in Your Boy: Guiding Your Son from His Tweens to His Teens by Dannah Gresh