After two days of international travel alone, he scanned the crowd for a stranger holding a sign with his name on it. They collected his suitcase and drove across the city of twenty million to a five story building to a foreign roommate he had never seen. Soon after, he discovered he would be required to speak the native language exclusively in his 3-week program. He paused long enough to send a text. From 6,000 miles away, he asked us to pray. Was he in too deep? Could he meet the requirements? Was he guaranteed failure? It was a hard moment. What do we say to our sons when they’re overwhelmed and trying not to freak out? How do moms respond to sons accosted by the realities of life? A toddler recoils when a puppy bares his teeth and growls. A tween gets assigned to a different team than his buddies, but with the class bully. A young man is refused entry to the Academy. How do we help our sons grow, while helping them engage the hard moments of real life?

Since we know our children will face challenges, we do well to study what stresses them. What triggers set trauma into motion? What combinations strangle their courage? What reassurances restore their confidence? What reminders point them in the right direction? Scenarios are uncertain, but stressors are so sure to come they beg us to study the stride of our son’s response. Be a student of your how your boy’s heart and mind work. Know what’s hard when life is hard.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

Rather than ratcheting up the intensity of an intensely stressful moment, a wise mom who understands her boy’s stress patterns can be a source of strength. You know life is hard, so know your son in the hard moments.

Through the stages of my son’s boyhood, I’ve found 3 common principles hold true in hard moments:

  1. Be concise and make your words count. Sons may not listen long, so resist the urge to overflow with everything you think. By studying your son, you’ll know how many words he welcomes and when he tunes out. Give him tools to manage all that isn’t right in the world. Keep your words few.
  2. Be honest and guide your son’s emotions. Boys need permission to feel what they feel and help to describe emotions with accurate labels. Acknowledge that you have feelings, too, because faith applies to feelings. Help your boy learn how to name his feelings, without adding fuel to his fire.
  3. Be supportive without stirring up his flesh. A son does not need his mom to amplify his emotions by taking on his offenses and obstacles. While her son may experience anger, jealousy, confusion, or humiliation, a wise mother heeds the lessons of what she knows about her son’s response to stress, and she responds in godliness when it matters most.

In the heat and the hurt of the life’s hard moments, what does your boy need? Will giving him a little space speak volumes? Will a prayer recalibrate his heart? Will a silent hug communicate what he needs? Will rehearsing essential facts reassure him? Will a reminder of your love and acceptance calm his anxious spirit? Study what stresses and blesses the son you mother.

Our sons must be the subject of our constant study. Even as we master our son’s stress factors, he grows and changes and faces new challenges. The world guarantees our son’s stress, but a mother’s wise and studious response can give him strength.