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Part of my work as a women’s
empowerment blogger leads me to field phone calls from anxious women in crisis. The calls are
usually relationship-related; one mom called in because her daughter was in an
abusive relationship, another woman called in because she was depressed over a
breakup and other women have called in to hear my opinion on the various life
choices they are about to make. It’s not like I have all the answers, but I do
have a unique ability to help shift a person’s perspective about a tricky
Today I received a call from a young mom who was trying to
decide if she should allow her sons to live with their father. She mentioned
that she read the article I wrote about my decision on this website. I listened to her story and shared the intimate details of my own custody
exchange. We realized that the problem she was trying to escape was the fact
that her sons (ages 4 and 8) do not have respect for her. She shared that her
sons often tell her that they hate her, among other unacceptable behavior. She
wondered if living with their dad would help them have more respect for her.
From my perspective there are generally three reasons why
young boys disrespect their mothers.
1. They are imitating behavior. Somewhere in their
experience they are watching a man treat a woman with disrespect. The woman who
accepts the abusive behavior is also teaching her sons that this is OK.
2. They want more attention. Sometimes single
mothers are so busy trying to survive that they are too tired to discipline and
nurture their sons. Instead of understanding that mommy is tired, they begin to
believe that she doesn’t care and they lash out emotionally out of
We cannot seek approval and set guidelines at the same time.
3. There are no consequences for their
disrespectful behavior. It can be common for moms—single, or otherwise—to try to obtain the unconditional
love we seek through our sons. In doing this, we hinder their progress because
we cannot seek approval and set guidelines at the same time.
With these reasons in mind, this mom and I came up with four ways to help heal the damage done and move forward.
1. Speak to their dad and ask him to talk to his sons about modifying their behavior.
2. Seek out a “real man,” someone who respects the
women in his life and would be a good role model for her boys. This man can be a friend, a brother, a co-worker
or a pastor. This person should be open to spending time with the mom and the
sons together on a fairly consistent basis, and should also be willing
to directly instruct the boys on how to treat a woman.
3. Implement static, swift punishments for deviant
behavior, and be consistent. Trade their action for your action.
4. Split time with the boys' father. By
implementing a weekly schedule, one with mom, one with dad—their sons will
have the exposure to their father, and mom will be able to rejuvenate herself so
she can be better equipped to handle the discipline she has been neglecting.
What would you suggest for this young mom who is at her wit's end?