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Raising Boys as a Single Mom: Does My Son Need a Male Role Model?

My youngest son, a college freshman, is enjoying young adulthood and excited about blazing his own trail in life. That’s wonderful, of course. But I have felt terrible guilt about one aspect of his life, and it has followed him into college.

My son lacks male role models.

Both my sons have a tenuous relationship with their father. His absence from their lives has always worried me. My oldest son has forged a wonderful relationship with his girlfriend’s father, and I’m so grateful. But my youngest has not found that person.

It seems that there are slim pickins for male role models for my 19-year-old college student. He has male professors and a male boss at his part-time job, but these are casual relationships. He needs a strong male presence in his life too.

What Has He Missed by Not Having a Male Role Model?

I’ve always worried that he has missed out on so much guy stuff. You know, those manly experiences like road trips, pit stops at Home Depot, and major league baseball games.

I’ve done my best to fill in but I came up short. Being the mom and the dad was a pretty intense gig. One person can’t adequately conduct the roles of two people. I enjoy being around my male friends and their kids—seeing the banter, hearing about their shared experiences.

But I gotta admit, I do get this twinge every time, feeling guilty that my son was not getting enough of those male experiences in his life. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t suffering, but I knew he was missing the consistency of a loving, involved dad.

A Revelation: I Had Things to Teach Him, Too

After many years of lamenting and stewing about this situation, I recently had my light bulb moment. Instead of lamenting the loss of manly moments, I could focus on my positive contributions. At that moment, I decided to focus on what I’m good at: showing him the value of relationship building, using humor to get through awkward moments, and teaching him to communicate properly and clearly.

I could gently teach him how to properly treat a woman, including what not to say. (He knows that when a woman asks if a pair of pants makes her look large, he is to look her square in the eye and say, “I think you look beautiful.”) So I began to pour myself into him again, giving him teachable moments whenever possible.

One night at dinner he commented about something he had noticed about me, something very slight – or so I thought. And in that moment I shared with him that he has this incredible gift of intuition.

He may walk through the kitchen and not see that he left every cupboard door and drawer open, but he will hone in on my bruised ego over a work situation that I was certain I had hidden well. For many years, I had stopped doing that—telling him how good he was at the finer points of life.

I wasn’t not sure why, but I think I was concerned about over-mothering him, giving him too much of a feminine experience when he was so sorely lacking a masculine one. Regardless, it goes back to the old tried-and-true advice to quit whining over what you don’t have and instead, revel in what you do. Be a good parent, love your child, and love yourself as well.

Renee Brown lives in Minneapolis with her two tall sons—Sam, 20, and Zachary, 18—and three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive working in advertising and an avid reader, wine drinker, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.

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