The moment that little bundle of pink, squirming flesh slips into our arms, love touches us. We feel it, not just in our hearts, but also on our skin. He is there. Our son. He is the one who will teach us what male love is like in its purest from. He will be devoted to us and care us as no other man will.
In my practice, I’ve seen something extraordinary, almost spiritual, in the eyes of young mothers who hold their sons for the first time. It’s as though we know we have to hold on tightly, while we can, because deep down, we realize that we can’t keep them. They will grow up, fall in love, and another will take our place. At that point, sons must leave their mothers. We can’t be in the middle of these relationships. Our daughters, on the other hand, don’t need to leave us in the same way; somehow, we can maintain an intimacy with them even when they are grown and have fallen in love. We are connected to our sons by the same deep love we have for our daughters, but there is a different makeup to the nature of his bond with us will shift; we will no longer be his first love. And the moment he is born, our deep sensibilities know this.
For your infant son, you represent nurture and safety. You are the giver of joy, food, trust, love, and all good things. The moment he hears your voice and smells your skin he knows be will be taken care of. He intuitively believes that you will not go away, that you will not go away, that you will always be there for him.
As he matures into his toddler years, he watches your face to see what you are feeling. He doesn’t watch you because he is interested in you; rather, he watches because he wants to know what you think about him, then he will feel good about life. He needs your attention: He needs to know where you are and what you are doing. When he is unhappy or scared, he may even get mad at you because you are the one who should prevent these negative feelings, and if you haven’t, he expects you to fix it. In his mind, you are his whole world.
Fathers are critical to the healthy emotional, physical, and intellectual development of boys, but their role is different, particularly when boys are young. It is generally true that mothers are more emotionally tuned in to children than are fathers. It’s mom who gives the child his emotional and psychological vocabulary. It’s mom who provides the physical and emotional nurture.
From the moment your son is born, he knows that you are different from him-not just because you are an adult, but because you are female. Even as a tiny infant, he realizes on some level that you are his introduction to female love. When you respond to him kindly when he is an infant, he learns to associate kindness with females. If you soothe him when he is afraid, then females are trustworthy. In a very sense, you lay the foundation for how he will relate women for the rest of his life. You set a template over his heart that will guide his actions from his earliest years through adulthood.
You are his world for the first few years of his life, but equally important, you are the prism through which he will see all women. If you are trustworthy, he can trust his sister, his grandmother, his teacher, and yes, his wife. As you love him he realizes that being loved by a woman feels good. Then, as he grows older, he will love and be loved by other female figures in a healthy way.
On the other hand, if he has perceived that you are unpredictable in your love, he will learn to protect himself very early on. He will withdraw from women and refuse to open his heart to them for fear of being hurt again. If he has felt rejection from you, he will believe that other women will reject him as well. Depending on how deeply a boy has been hurt, he may well recoil from all women throughout his life. Many of us have encountered men who can’t trust women, either because they have been hurt by a woman they loved or, quite often, because the woman who was their first love (mother grandmother, or any female who cared for them as an infant and toddler) emotionally abandoned them. Being a boy’s introduction to female love is no small responsibility.