Raising Good Sons

Good morning friends,

I’m in sunny California celebrating my granddaughter’s third birthday.  She is such a joy to watch growing up. She wanted to be a princess, so here are some pictures of her in her princess dress as well as pictures of her two sisters enjoying her birthday party.

Grand Daughter Grand Daughter Grand Daughter

In light of the tragic incident in Steubenville, Ohio, and because much of this blog answers questions from women who are married to abusive and destructive men, today I want to answer a question about raising sons.

Today’s Question:  I am happily married, and we have one son who is in his first year at college about 35 minutes from home. He is living on campus. Our original plans were for him to live at home, so that has been a big adjustment for me. He lied to me the other day which I realized immediately. After a heated discussion, he said he is afraid to talk to me because I always overreact.

I am very protective of him. He has been a very good boy growing up. For some reason, I am so worried/afraid that he will make a mistake, get involved with the wrong crowd, fall away from his relationship with God, etc. I have been working on my fears/anxiety but now that he is living away at college, it is even harder.

I have basically tried to let his dad do most of the serious communicating with him to avoid any issues. I love him so much, and I want our relationship to be good. I was a stay at home mom, and he has always been my top priority. I wish you were here to help us with our communication issues and help me learn to let go! I know that I need to trust God and let him make his own decisions…I am working on it!!

Any advice is truly appreciated!

Answer:   Raising godly men is indeed a challenge in today’s culture. In light of the high school incident in Steubenville, Ohio, I’m sure your fears have escalated. Yet, your son is becoming an adult. Hopefully, you and your husband have instilled in him the values and character qualities that will help him grow into a godly man and make good (not perfect) choices even under peer pressure.

Sadly, I fear as a culture we’ve pushed our young people to perform and achieve, to aspire to greatness and success, but have not instilled critical and core values that are essential for a godly life. Today more than ever, there are many temptations that young people encounter that can be difficult to resist even with a strong spiritual base. That said, what is a parent to do? What is your role now with your collage aged son?

You have a tremendous opportunity right now to be of great influence to your son. However, you are wise to be aware that you are in dangerous territory. Your son is striving for independence from you (as he should be), and if you continue to cling and hover, you give him the message that you don’t believe he has what it takes to make good decisions without you. This could create an unhealthy dependence on you and, in the long run, breed self-hatred for himself as a man and contempt for you. It’s a lose/lose situation for the both of you.

You are wise to recognize that the problem is you and your fears. It’s good that you realize you can’t deal with your fear by controlling your son. And yes, you must release him to God and pray that the values you have instilled in him throughout his life, as well as the Holy Spirit, will help him find his way through the maze and temptations of college and future life choices.

That said, that doesn’t mean you sit back and do or say nothing. First, every time you feel fearful, pray for your son (Philippians 4:6-8). Pray not only for his protection, but for him to desire wisdom and to desire to know and love God above all else. You don’t just want to see him become a good man but a godly one, and that is more likely when he has a mom who stands in the gap with prayer. When we love God, he promises that everything, even our bad choices, will work out for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28-29).

Second, you asked for help in communicating more effectively with your son. Here are a few things you might want to say. Confess your problem with anxiety and overreacting. Say something like this. “I am aware that I’m having trouble letting you go. I agree I’m overreacting to things and it stems from fear. It’s a scary world out there, and I don’t want you to do things that will hurt you or you’ll regret. I wanted to spare you that pain, but I can’t protect you from everything, and some things you’ll only learn from failure and suffering. I have confidence that you know God loves you and you understand he only wants your good. I am going to trust that you and he will talk together about the decisions you make and the paths you choose.

Third, when the time is right, you may also want to say to your son, “I am not the only one who reacts out of fear. Recently you lied to me because you feared my reaction if you told me the truth. I am totally responsible for my overreaction, but you are totally responsible for lying. Son, this won’t be the first time you’ll be tempted to lie in order to avoid someone’s reaction or to keep the peace or escape negative consequences. I have learned a lesson from this experience, and I hope you have too. I don’t want you to be afraid to tell the truth, even if there is a painful outcome. All your future relationships will depend on people’s ability to trust you. If you lie about the little things, people won’t trust you in the more critical things.”

Fourth, you and your husband shouldn’t be timid about discussing current events with him to get his thoughts and opinions as well as to communicate yours. A few years ago, my entire extended family (four generations) took a cruise to Alaska to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives from generation to generation, and, I must admit, I learned quite a bit from the wisdom of some of my nieces and nephews, and I trust they gleaned a few things from me as well. Talk with your son about what happened in Steubenville as I’m sure there are temptations to drink at college as well as misuse women and treat them as sexual objects. Don’t lecture. Discuss. Invite his perspective. Listen to what he’s picking up on campus. Pay attention to his heart and his core values. Affirm all the good you can.

Lastly, when your son asks your opinion or you’re discussing something where you get fearful, instead of telling him what to do or how to think say something like this, “I trust that you have what it takes to figure out what you need to do to make a good decision here.” This communicates to your son that you see the grounding in him that you’ve instilled and you are trusting God and him to work together on his life journey.

Your son was your number one priority. It’s time you shift him to number three. God is first and your husband is second. Putting your son in his proper place does not mean loving him less, but it frees you from taking responsibility for his life.

Friends, those of you who have raised sons, how have you learned to let go?


  1. Gloria on March 27, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Leslie, thank you for your emails and articles….you are such a blessing in my life.

  2. Leslie on March 27, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Thanks Gloria. I love this community.

  3. Julie on March 27, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Hi! This is a great article. I am married to a man whose mother calls him to make sure he isn’t shoveling (he had heart surgery)and she calls to check up on him constantly. If we don’t come to a family gathering she calls to check up on why we didn’t come. This makes him feel like he is stupid. He can’t make a smart decision without her and really this stems from her needs to feel needed. If he doesn’t come to a party, she is offended that he didn’t want to see her. None of this is really about him and he feels it. Their relationship now is non existant because she smothers him for her gain. I am a mom of two boys and I have started with setting them free at 16 and 14. It’s hard. I want them to make decisions on their own because letting them fall is how they learn. We need to guide, not do for them or worry. He is in God’s hands and when we worry about them we are telling God he isn’t doing a very good job. We cannot control Him (God) but that is what we try to do.

  4. Elizabeth on March 28, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I have two grown sons plus I grew up with three brothers. Somewhere between the ages of fifteen or so, we realized that we needed to shift in practice from hovering parent to more of a “coaching role”….we profited greatly from a book, Parenting Teens With Love and Logic, by Jim Fey. As noted above, it is God’s desire that our boys begin living more independently….after all, isn’t that what parenting is all about. The key is maturity, trust and wise decision making on their part. As long as they are trustworthy, we kept lengthening their tether to us. Yes, it’s very hard to say goodbye when they head off to college….but try to limit calls to once a week and then longer. They will generally live up to what we expect of them. Make sure they are connected to some Christians when they are looking at the colleges….writing to student leaders ahead of time. This has been very helpful to us. Commiserate with other parents, but give your student time to adjust and don’t encourage them to come home too frequently. The first few weekends are when they make their friends. Best Wishes! These are the greatest years….you have the opportunity to become lifelong friends as they mature and become appreciative of all your love and hard work!

    • Leslie Vernick on March 29, 2013 at 9:23 am

      I’ve heard good things about that book too. Haven’t read it yet but sounds like a winner.

  5. Tay on March 29, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    my heart is aching today. I have a grown son who is in his third year at a great Bible College . He came home yesterday to tell his father and I he no longer believed in God and because God doesn’t care about him. From your article and the other replies I believe my husband and I followed your advice in raising a godly son. It is good friday. I am shocked and simply sitting with the Lord as I don’t know what now.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 29, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Tay, I’m sorry. Sometimes our kids do go through times of doubt and unbelief. It’s saddest when we’ve sent them to a Christian college and they lose their faith. I remember my first year at a Chrisitian college how disillusioned I was at all the hypocrisy I saw. Sometimes we have higher expectations and get very hurt or disappointed by Christians who let us down. Don’t give up on your son. God hasn’t and he will use this time of doubt and unbelief in his life. Perhaps you can explore with him why he thinks God doesn’t care about him. It sounds like something happened where he was hoping God would help him or do something and that didn’t happen. He may need someone to talk with about this.

      Lord, Help Tay’s son to find you again. Show her how to sit with this in a good way. Help her trust you in this process of her son struggling with his faith. Thank you that they have a good enough relationship that he could share this with his parent. Amen.

  6. debbie on March 30, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I love to read this good counsel. Son and daughter already grown but will send to son as he has a new baby son. Few counselors would I refer my children to yet you are at the top of the list of those I would refer! thanks for your excellent Christian counsel.

  7. debbie on March 30, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Leslie, Thanks for your Christian counsel and advice. Son and daughter are grown now. Glad to have this to share with son who now has a baby son. Few counselors would I refer to him but good solid Christian folks like you, I would.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 30, 2013 at 8:21 am

      Thanks Debbie for your encouragement.

  8. Mary Beth Knapp on April 4, 2013 at 6:30 am

    I was unable to attend your conference at Loudonville, so a friend bought the CD’s and I have listened to them several times. Last night my 30 year old son and his wife stopped by for a visit. We have a good relationship, but there is always room for improvement. I was mindful of the 5 postures of humility and we had the nicest conversation. I mentioned that I attended a baby shower recently and we were asked to write down some advice for the new mother and all I could remember was the mistakes I made. We talked about some of them. And it was good. Thank you.

  9. Robin on February 23, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Leslie, Thank you s much for your advice. I have and raised two sons and a daughter. They are all beautiful young men and woman now and all love the Lord. Has it been easy? No. But I really wanted to have an open relationship with them as I didn’t have that with my parents. When my daughter came home and told me she was pregnant – out of wedlock – she expected me to lose it on her… no I’m not perfect! But I didn’t and now she and her husband and my grandson live with us while my son-in-law – who just finished school – is looking for a job. What I didn’t know was that my daughter had her bags packed in the car that night. If God hadn’t intervened and I listen to Him, I would have lost my daughter, my grandson, and would have never learned what a wonderful man my son-in-law is. It is so hard to let go, but a whole lot easier when we realize that although we love our children, God loves them more and He (God) is fully trustworthy.

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