How to Connect with Your Adult Son

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Every mother wishes to connect emotionally with her adult son. However, sons can be a bit more independent and distant than daughters, who stay more connected with their moms and not infrequently wish to live near their mothers or talk regularly with their moms. An adult son typically moves out and intends to start a family with a wife, and generally is more autonomous. Jesus said, “a man shall leave his father and mother” (Mark 10:7). This is normal for a young man to do.

However, this independence can cause some moms to wonder if she has done something to offend him or push him away when she does not hear from him or he doesn’t engage her at an emotional level when he is around.

Again, some of this is normal and mom has done nothing wrong. On the other hand, she may have unintentionally offended him. As I highlight in my book Mother and Son: The Respect Effect, the culture has shifted in its attitude toward boys as though there is something inherently wrong with males because they are not girls.

Though every mother dearly loves her son, some moms readily admit that they felt they needed to talk more disrespectfully to him over the years than to their daughter in order to get him to do what was important. These moms hope the boy understands she didn’t mean it per se but said these things out of frustration over being ignored or resisted. However, with the emotional distance he has taken from her, she wonders if he has taken up offense against her.

Because of the relational sensitivity in women, when they do not have that sense of connection with a son or daughter, they will think of ways to make things right. With sons, some moms, after reading the Mother-Son book, wonder if their disrespect closed off their sons to them. Thus, they reach out to seek their son’s forgiveness. However, after they do, he doesn’t seem to respond as she hoped.

Such a mother wrote to me about this very outreach to her son.

"I just finished reading your wonderful book Mother and Son: The Respect Effect. I have tried reaching out to my 34-year-old son numerous times and apologized for disrespecting him, but he will not respond to me. Any advice? I'm continuing to pray about it, but at a complete loss as to why he won't even acknowledge my texts. Thanks."

I replied,

"Thanks for asking. Thanks for seeking to act on the content of the book. This is fantastic. Let me say upfront, and you know this, I do not know the nature of your relationship with your son. However, assuming that your apology is sincere, then you have done your part. You have sought his forgiveness for your disrespect. The ball is in his court to respond.

"Any number of things could be going on. First, your apology could've brought him under conviction and he's not ready to be convicted. He's a bit prideful and rebellious. He knows if he forgives you the nature of the relationship has to change, and he has to change. He doesn't want to do that right now. Two, he could see it as a ploy to get him to apologize to you. In other words, he sees it as a trick and insincere. Three, he could be feeling really good about it and doesn't realize you're looking for some kind of response. He just assumes you know that all is okay.

"Let's consider going proactive. In the next several weeks I want you to think of two things about him that you respect. Write a note with these two points. You can begin it by saying, 'I was thinking of you the other day . . .’ Generally speaking, men are not as expressive-responsive like women. They won't get on the phone and immediately engage you by saying he is sorry and thank you so much for sharing your feelings.

"So, I would give it more time but also look for a small gesture here or there. He may not engage you at the level you were hoping, but in his mind he may do something that sends a loud and clear message that he does forgive you and appreciates what you said to him. Let me know what happens. Emerson.”

She wrote to me later.

"Hi Emerson, I wanted to let you know your advice was right on point. My son called soon after your e-mail and he said my apology meant a lot to him. We had a very good heart to heart and I talked to him with respect and verbalized how much I respected him and why. Your teachings and advice made a huge difference in my understanding him and aided greatly with the mending of our relationship. Thank you.”

In most instances, seeking an adult son’s forgiveness for the earlier disrespect will touch his heart.  However, most men are not expressive-responsive in the sense that they immediately get on the phone to express thanks and respond with sorrow for their part in the breakdown of the relationship. Instead, most remain quiet. But that doesn’t mean they are unaware and indifferent to the mom saying, “I am sorry for treating you with disrespect on too many occasions. Will you forgive me for those times I dishonored you?” When a mom does this for the first time, something wonderful can happen. A new connection can begin, especially when she follows that up with several things about him that she really respects.

-Dr. E

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think Emerson means when he writes that “the culture has shifted in its attitude toward boys as though there is something inherently wrong with males because they are not girls”? What examples have you seen of this?

  2. Have you ever found yourself intentionally speaking more disrespectfully to your son in order to help persuade him to your point? How did he respond to that? Why might some moms consider this a viable option?

  3. Is there a pattern of disrespect toward your son that you need to apologize to him for? How might disrespect be one of the reasons for any barriers between you and your son? How will you apologize for that this week?

  4. As Emerson suggested to this mom, be proactive toward respecting your son. What two things can you write down and send in a note to your son that you respect about him?