Helping Sons Grow into Gender-Healthy Boys

by Online Forum Participants

A Discussion in the community forum Hope Cafe

In response to Sue’s question of what to tell mothers to help their sons develop into gender-healthy boys, insight from a variety of people:

Oh, great wise one, you ask us grasshoppers for advice? Have you gone mad my good lady?

I hesitate to respond because I am afraid of stepping on all mothers toes. I must ask forgiveness before I begin, Please forgive me if I offend any mothers.

Mothers, in my opinion are much too protective. Most boys want to live on the edge, to experience danger, and their single biggest obstacle to that desire is mothers. I have written about what it is like to go on a father/son camp out. Boys running around with hatchets, sticks, playing in the fire, etc and dads setting back and drinking coffee and paying little attention to the boys. Now we don’t want to make dads of the moms so there must be some middle ground that each can strive for. Mothers would want to prevent pain for their child, but pain is necessary for learning. Mothers must risk letting their sons feel pain.

As soon as mothers can, while every ounce of them rebels against it, they must treat their sons as men. Resist all attempts at keeping them as their babies. Mothers seem to never want their sons, esp. their youngest son, to mature. Many mothers do all they can to enable their sons to be as dependent on them as possible, don’t. Easy for me to say, right.

On our farm, dirt meant fun, dirt meant work, dirt meant build, dirt meant animals, dirt, dirt, dirt, it was the most common element in our existence.

On being a guy: We could get dirty, we could play FOOTBALL and get to hit and be hit. That is the coolest thing about being a guy. We could go to war and do it legal like. We could jump on calves at branding time, we could gather a herd of toads and not be considered strange, we could play with trucks and tractors in the dirt. We could learn to build, weld, drive a tractor all at an early age. We could have friendly boxing matches with our best friend. We could tame wild animals, build forts in the feed, dig kivas in the dirt, paint ourselves with colored sand stone and pretend to be Indians. We could eat gross stuff and string spaghetti through our nose and out our mouths.

I realize that girls can do these things also, but most would not want to and those who did would suffer ridicule from most for doing so. Right or wrong, a boy doesn’t have to suffer that ridicule.

It took me a long time to learn that I could do all those things, be a real male, and still let my tender side show. I could really be both once I had proven I was a male. Once I had established that I was indeed male, then I could be a man. I wish I had learned that about 15-20 years before I did.

If your son is injured, sit quietly in the stands (praying silently); if the coach needs you, he will call you.

Allow them to trample through the woods, camp out, jump home made ramps with their bike, wrestle w/ friends, smell musty/sweaty, experiment with hammer/nails, jump out of a tree onto the trampoline, crawl through the mud while playing army, etc.

Let them know that you will always be there for them when they are ready to talk or need a shoulder to lean on [usually after 11pm]  give them their wings and find joy in their attempts at spreading their wings and flying.


Sue, you asked:


To whom do you prove you’re a male? Yourself? Your peers? Your father?

Gosh, I know it seems very strange but I never really thought about it. This is taking some time because I am thinking as I write so this is a slow and difficult task.

For me, and please consider that this was the way I think it was for me, I had to prove to my dad first that I was a man and that started at a very early age. We built a pole barn the summer of 1959 just before I turned four, so I was three years old. I was trying my best to dig a post hole, (dad probably gave me the task to keep me out of his hair). I wasn’t very successful and dad said he was going to have to fire me. I remember going to the east side of this ole adobe home we now live in and setting on the rock ledge and trying to understand what dad had said. When it was explained to me what fired meant, I was so disappointed that I hadn’t measured up. I was three years old for Pete’s sake, and it was that important to me. I had to prove to him that I was a man, that I could get the job done. In the years that followed I did that to his satisfaction and mine.

Then, next I had to prove to my peers that I was a man. I didn’t take any sports my 8th grade year. I had knees that hurt all the time and I was somewhat a pansy, something my older brother desperately tried to prevent, but still happened growing up with a twin sister and an over protective mother. (My mother, bless her, had every reason to be over protective. Her first son was run over by a pickup at two, thrown out of a fast moving car when suicide doors were in use, had his left arm smashed and nearly ripped off in a car wreck, and poisoned to where he should have been dead when he was sixteen. It is no wonder that his 8 year younger brother would have incurred her intense protection.) I chickened out and didn’t take any sports. I paid a big price for that in junior high. So come my freshman year I was determined that no matter the cost I was going to play football. I was a week late because my family was on vacation and everyone was in shape and hitting hard when I arrived. It was literally hell for me, but I knew that I had to make my stand or it was over for me as a male in that environment. You might ask how could you know that then. I don’t know, I guess it was that intuitive side of me. I had one last chance to survive as a male and I had to take it or be satisfied with who I was. About noon each day I would become sick because I dreaded practice. I couldn’t sleep at night for worrying about practice. They were so hard and full of pain. I couldn’t quit, not just because I had something to prove to myself, but because I could never be one of the guys with my class again. Right or wrong, three classmates out of 16 chose not to play and they kind of just faded away. I knew that would be my fate if I didn’t last, and last I did and became All-State my junior and senior years. I proved to my peers (and myself) that I had what it took.

That went a long way to proving to myself also, but there had to be more. Maybe for all of us there are different goals at the end of the road that leads to manhood, different criteria each of us uses to measure progress and success in that area. Those criteria are a product of the culture and time in which we are raised, good or bad. They then must, to some extent, be artificial if they can change from culture to culture and time to time, but none the less they existed for me as a barometer of manhood. Football was key to that need to prove myself in high school and when I went to college it remained. While I didn’t play college football, I got lost in organized intramural ball, proving to myself and my peers what I thought a man should be, right or wrong.

Once out of school the focus shifted to more real life stuff. I had to prove to myself that I was capable of working 16 hour days for weeks. That I could build fence faster that anyone else. That I could ride and rope, not with the best, but enough to get the job done. That I could stay out in a blizzard and do what was needed. That I could get hurt and keep going. That I could repair equipment by myself. That I could roughhouse, not fight, with other men and hold my own. All these things were necessary for me, to remove doubt about my maleness. (I guess that doubt could be another entire topic but not tonight. I wonder do all men struggle with that doubt) It took me to the age of probably 35 to get there. That makes me sad as I look at it now. That is way too long a time to take to discover that you are a man. I don’t really know what to think about that now that I have it on paper. I am just filled with a kind of sadness about it and cant describe much else.

Once I reached that point it seemed like I was more free to display the tender side of me, …to cook, …to say all that stuff that I thought qualified me as male was now not that important. But I had to get on this side of it in order to say that. I could have never seen it as such on the front side. For Pete’s sake, Sue, I said all that to say that yes I had to prove it to my Father, to my peers, and to myself, in that order, I think. (As I examine it after all this writing, I think that I was always in a process of proving my maleness to myself, from the very beginning to possibly even now.) I am left wondering and feeling somewhat guilty about the role of my relationship with Jesus in all of that long journey. It appears that I left Him out of much of it.

So. . . moms should encourage their boys toward the more classically masculine, boyish behaviors like you mentioned, even if its not their favorite thing to do? :::::thinking out loud here::::: Encouraging a sensitive boy to stretch beyond his comfort zone means he grows in ways that will help him fit better in the world of males, yes? He doesn’t have to become a professional football player; he just needs to be competent among other males.

I cant seem to get over the feeling that I am being led to some spot I really would rather not be. I am afraid of giving advice that could harm and damage. When I asked my son [who struggles with same-sex attraction] about forcing some of the more male stuff on him, he said that if I had done it more and more forcefully he thinks it would have driven him further from them and me, and possibly deeper into his ssa world. It is very obvious that I was not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct my every move as a parent. As to the call on how hard to push in that direction, I will strongly defer to His guidance for each male and not my limited and inept opinion.

The one thing I have not heard from anyone yet but is so important these moms need to make sure that the dads are involved in their sons lives. Encourage them to do guy stuff together, make time for them to spend together without mom.

OK, another one if there are two sons do not play favorites based on performance.

Some of the hardest things about being a man is proving to the world that you are a man and proving to your wife that you have feelings!!

Answers to this question from the Living Hope Youth:

Don’t worry so much about him.

Insights from LHM Executive Director Ricky Chelette:

Realize that if you really want him to be your son, let him be his father’s boy, not yours.

Push him toward his father. You can’t give him what only his father possesses.

Its OK for him to get hurt on occasion. It is what will help him to know consequences and boundaries. Don’t rescue him.

To fight is not bad so long as it is for moral good and truth and things that are right.

Peace at any cost is not peace at all but the loss of self.

Never say anything negative about men because you’ll cause him to detach from masculinity in an attempt to please you.

Delight in who he is and not what he does.

Remember he is your child, not your friend. You have a responsibility to raise him and train him, not provide him with a buddy.

When in doubt, ask dad.

The only way he will learn to love and respect dad is if he sees it exemplified in you.

You will be the kind of person he marries live carefully.

Don’t teach him to be good, teach him to be Godly. Good boys lose their soul and their determination to speak truth into chaos. Godly men know how to do just that.

Remember discipline is training, not punishment. Consistency is the key.

Celebrate his masculinity and his sister’s femininity. They are not the same.

Above all  always respect his father and insist that he respect you both.

Mothers ought to realize that it’s awesome to be a boy/man. God designed us the way we are to be used for His kingdom and its GOOD!

The modern world seems to have degenerated to a state that says being male is a bad and/or inferior state of being.

God made us men for a reason and purpose and its every bit as good, godly and valuable as womanhood.

Remember that boys are sensitive and they’ll see attacks on their manhood, as a direct attack on who they are as a man. He should NEVER ever be called a girl. It’s not insulting women; it’s saying he’s the opposite of a man.

Boys are naturally physical and often more aggressive. We need you as mothers to not try and get rid of this God-given trait!

(In response to: why do you think its so awesome to be a boy/man?)

Because I believe God gave men a very noble role in creation.

I get angry because I see that noble call constantly under attack, demeaned, reduced, eradicated. The western world has done a tragically excellent job at taming men and making them more like women.

Men are called to lead, provide, protect and serve. Manhood gone wrong is the cause of much of the violent crimes and wars and that is saddening. However, God has specifically wired males differently and deliberately.

Your average man is 2-3 times stronger in his upper body than your average woman and that’s without working out! His brain is wired to give him greater ability in the physical world. A quick glance of the jobs and hobbies of men testify to this.

Men and women are, of course, very different.  I’m convinced that men often think in simpler, more direct terms (indeed, our brains are wired differently. We are more compartmentalized and have fewer connections across the corpus callosum). We use less intuition than women (cue: why we get so confused by you ladies sometimes! )

I love interacting with the physical world. I love to use my physical strength to move things, to playfully fight with my male friends, to defend someone.

I get so furious with those who wish to blur the lines between men and women. We are so different! Different, but complimentary. Men and women both reflect different aspects of God’s character.

Men often will adhere to truth, less to mercy. Men will fight, women will nurture. Men will provide, women will care.

Now, I’m NOT saying these roles aren’t locked in. Sometimes women must fight, sometimes men must be tender; but design shows that were deliberately different and, contrary to the modern world, IT IS A GOOD THING!

How many women want a man who’s tender and passive? One with all the mercy in the world but will not defend? Who’ll adhere to being nice but will not stand for truth? As much as the world won’t admit it, women want men to be men. The problem is they want men to be men when and where their women allow them.

I’m not saying all women do this, not at all. But men are called to lead and to use their strength for godly purposes and the world is hurt when a man is told he’s not allowed to be one. I dunno if that made sense, part of it was ranting (the feminization of men is one of THE topics that gets to me).

Spiritually, if a mum has taught her son to be Godly as best she can, she needs to remember that ultimately whatever happens, her son is on loan from God. The boy may be her little boy but really as another one said, Don’t worry so much about him; because ultimately whether you feel you do a good job, or a bad job as a mum, he is in his heavenly Father’s hands, and God’s plans will be manifest no matter what happens.

In addition to that, every parent should write up on their bathroom mirror: LOVE FIRST, FREAKOUT LATER. It’s the only way to create a safe environment with open respectful communication.
My advice is, don’t smother them! I was raised by my grandmother, mainly, and don’t get me wrong.  I love her like crazy, but she was SO over-protective! She didn’t want me going swimming in a lake cause there weren’t lifeguards and there were sink holes and stuff.  She always wanted to keep me safe, and while I realize that’s a mothers instinct, we have to be allowed to make mistakes and get hurt.  That’s how we learn!

My grandmother taught my mom how to smother me too. She always fought my battles for me. I didn’t learn to be independent. I didn’t learn that I have it in myself to stand up for myself and go out on my own and be a man.  I was forced into a female role, being taken care of and provided for. Boys are going to want to be more independent from their mothers than girls.  That’s just the way it is.  Girls want to have that connection, boys want to break things.

Encourage their independence. Support them in what they do. Guide them, don’t lead them. Be willing to let them make mistakes and learn from them, and be there to encourage them during this, not reprimand and guilt them.
LOL @ breaking stuff!!

It’s so true! Some of the most awesome fun is when you get to blow stuff up! Just last Easter my friends and I were blowing things up. I also went shooting when I was in Olympia with my friend Luke  (shot a 22 and a WW2 Mauser sniper rifle ) so much fun. Also, I’ve found there’s little that is more satisfying with the boys when you’re playing system-link Halo and give one of your friends a shotgun to the face.

I also enjoy using power tools, driving fast cars and riding motorbikes.
Tell them to encourage them in this area.  Don’t stifle their creativity. Boys are more drawn to building, and oddly enough breaking what they build.

When I was younger, and still now but not as often do I get the chance, I enjoyed putting together furniture. I used to enjoy putting together those boxed furniture sets, mostly entertainment console units. I would spend hours on them. I found great joy in knowing that I had done something useful with my hands, that I had created something. I took what was nothing, although it came with all the parts and tools and stuff, and made it something.  We are creative by nature.  We want to build and tear down and build again, only bigger and better.
Guys do like to figure things out for themselves (especially mechanical things). This is why we never look at instruction booklets.
From Haven, the Men’s Forum:
I think you need to tell these Moms that at some point, boys will begin to separate from their Moms, emotionally. Moms need to be prepared for that and too understand what is going on and, this is the hard part, don’t take it personally. Moms should encourage it, within appropriate limits.  Can I add that when boys, for whatever reason, are not naturally separating from their Moms, the Moms need to be a little bit proactive. Maybe asking their sons to do manly things around the house (fix something) even when Mom could do it better herself.  Or try and convey to him that she notices his masculine features (especially in his friends earshot!). One mother’s affirmation of his masculinity can defeat 100 of his friends calling him a fag.
One more. Moms, NEVER call your boy a sissy or say youre acting like a girl. You may be reinforcing what hes hearing at school. Dont let him dress like a woman at Halloween. I guess that’s two more.
1. Respect your son’s privacy. Knock before coming into the bedroom, bathroom, etc. It’s amazing how many parents don’t do that.
2. Allow your son to make mistakes and poor decisions without too much intervention. Obviously, you don’t want them to be harmed, but learning to make decisions as a young man and then learning the consequences is a good lesson.
3. Don’t get all mushy, gooey with your son around his friends. That is extremely embarrassing.
4. Don’t suppress his emotions by saying, you shouldn’t feel that way, you shouldnt get mad, etc. Teach your sons to express their emotions in healthy ways and that it is OK to have emotions.
5. Big boys do cry and it is OK to express that emotion.
DON’T expect too much of your son academically. You can encourage it of course, but don’t take it for granted. It is possible to get stressed out even as a teenager by overly high expectations from your mother.

Encourage romantic involvements and never make fun of them. My mother did not encourage me in a relationship with a Christian girl during my formative years and look where I ended up! She thought the girl was not good enough for her son.

Encourage sports, even at the expense of some academic subjects. Being well rounded is very important for a healthy development and good self-esteem in a child. Also encourage your child to make his own decisions and mistakes. It will help them a great deal in later life.

You get to use power tools! And when you’re older, people GIVE them to you for Christmas gifts! You listening, moms? What a great Christmas gift idea.

Being dirty and smelly is okay in some contexts. It NEVER is for girls.

Nobody cares about your fingernails. Least of all you.

You can ALWAYS wear comfortable shoes.

Scars are cool. Something to show off rather than hide.

NEVER (if a divorcee) say things like “You’re just as bad as your father, or other negative comments about the boy’s father.” That did a lot of damage to me as a young teen. It creates a feeling of shame being associated with masculinity. Encouraging masculine pursuits/ friendships is very important too.


So suffering ridicule is one of the major wounds that so many SSA-afflicted guys have sustained. They get ridiculed for not being male enough, right? For gravitating to the more gentle/sensitive/creative, inaccurately-labeled feminine activities and giftings?

Ridicule is a very powerful weapon of the enemy.

For me it was at the hands of my brothers on several occasions. Probably more than I remember but the ones that stand out still stand out and were hindrances to my development. Both were body and bodily control issues that little boys do not need to be shamed of in public in front of the neighborhood kids, especially by their own brothers

I had the measles during the summer and so I was in bed in only my undies. My brothers tricked me into running outside in my underwear, by acting like the house was on fire, and the neighborhood girls were outside waiting. There was much laughter and finger pointing all at my expense. Total embarrassment. I know afterwards that I went outside in swim trunks when necessary, but I never felt comfortable just being outside without my shirt on in front of the neighborhood kids. Body shame is what I would have to call it.

Being a bed wetter was bad enough as it led me to have socialization problems with other boys because I felt I was defective and had something to hide. What was worse and caused more shame and body issues was when
I was being tortured/teased in front of other kids about my bed-wetting, by my middle brother.   Also because I felt like I was the only one of the boys I knew who had this problem, I perceived they were all better than I was, normal, where as I was not.  I would not accept sleepover invitations, even though at times I was pretty much forced to by my parents, due to my bed-wetting and it was a normal thing to do sleepovers.

The one time when I was recording my voice to the Beatles I was about 6 or so and my middle brother found it and played it back for my older brother in front of me.  It was bad I know, off key and all, but what I did not need was the ridicule from my own brother over my lack of ability to sing.   So I never did that again, nor did I pursue anything of a sensitive artistic nature like you mentioned above, why would I?

I have a good voice and have been told on more than one occasion by clients on the phone, when I was a telephone operator, that I had a great voice and should be on the radio. I like to sing and can sing on key.   Just in the last couple of years have I come to realize I have a desire to sing, for other people and God to enjoy, and would like one day to do so at Church for the congregation.  These ridiculing moments carry great weight that may take years to or may never be overcome.

Well that is my two cents worth on ridicule. Yeah I felt less because of it and it had much to do with my becoming homosexual. The attention I received over my body when I was molested and then subsequently was introduced to full fledged sex with another boy, who I am now sure had also been molested, was fulfilling a deep felt need to be accepted for me, in my own skin, like I had never been accepted before. Even though it was wrong attention and acceptance, it was what it was, and after the first time it happened I wanted it again, craved it even.

I can REALLY relate to the body shame. I didn’t have older brothers but rather classmates that were ridicule experts. Because I never started puberty until I was 17, everyone was older and unsupervised locker rooms were hell for me. Even as a senior in HS, freshmen had an easy time with me. When I was first seduced by a man, it was because the he continually complimented my body and was gentle. He was the only one that seemed to recognize that I was a worthy male; that I had equipment someone might desire. Unfortunately, that took everything in the wrong direction. But continual positive reinforcement from gays and their preference for smooth bodies and continual negative reinforcement from straights has its affects to this day. One of the worst offenders of negative reinforcement were my parents (though they didn’t realize it). Because I was physically immature, they treated me like my 4 year younger brother. I was never really treated like an older, wiser, more mature brother. We were more like twins because we were the same size and physical maturity level (until he passed me up when I was 19). The situation robbed him of an older brother, too. BTW, he ended up with SSA, too.

Age is such a BIG factor in a boy’s life. How many times to you hear, I’m 12 and 3/4? We late-bloomers (which are rare these days) want to be treated like our numerical age (or older) and not by how tall we are or how much body hair we sport. You may snicker, but it IS a big deal. I think my life would have been quite different if at 15 my parents had asked the Dr. to give me a jump start. If I hadn’t lived with so much body shame/hate I wouldn’t have so recklessly given my body away to someone else.


We can pee standing up.

We NEVER get periods.

We don’t ever have to carry children ” OUCH ” imagine passing a watermelon out of your u-know-where guys!

We can go grey and still be considered distinguished.

We can forget to shave and be considered trendy!

We can be amused for hours watching a ball being kicked or hit around a park

We can go out to work all day and still be treated like a king when we get in.

But my favorite is we get to be called Sons of God and we get to love our wives/families unconditionally.