Raising Emotionally Healthy Men – 4 Tips from a Worn Mom


Raising Emotionally Healthy Men

I live with all men. One’s in his 50s, another is 18 (sigh), and the last is a 14-year-old who thinks he’s 20 sometimes. These boys started out so cute! And now they smell, track dirt, eat all my food, sing rap non-stop, and are rarely home. And don’t get me started on their bathroom!

I love it.

Raising boys to be thoughtful men is an eye-opening journey. But it’s nothing I thought it would be.

When I was first pregnant in 2002, I worried I would have a girl. Frankly, I was terrified that I wasn’t a strong enough woman to raise a strong girl. From body image to boundaries to the mixed messages she would receive — would I be a good enough example to her? And I didn’t end up with a daughter. Instead, I have two sons. 

What I’ve realized over years of influencers bombarding my sons – coaches, teachers, friends, social media, advertising, books, video games, music – is this: 

Raising boys is hard, too.

Raising sons to be resilient, emotionally connected, and strong men requires facing those same issues that terrified me with raising girls. My sons also need to navigate through all the false narratives that society throws at them about what it means to be a “Real Man”.

  • Don’t show emotions.
  • Be self-reliant and don’t need to ask for help.
  • Be aggressive, aloof, and intimidating.

Sorry. NO. Just NO. It is NOT 1982. 

An emotionally healthy, self-assured young man knows it’s OK to express a full range of emotions. He’s learned empathy. He can ask for help and create healthy boundaries. Raising boys to be emotionally healthy mean means they’ve learned what strength means. Emotionally healthy isn’t synonymous with powerless or pushover. Instead, it’s being assertive rather than aggressive, and setting limits.

If raising boys to be emotionally healthy men sounds daunting to you, I have good news for you!

It’s simpler than you’d expect. As long as you take some pressure off yourself.

We don’t need to raise perfect humans.
We need to raise real humans.

Here are my 4 Tips to help you raise emotionally healthy men:

1. Make your home a safe space to express emotions and have dialogue

At home we are upfront, apologetic when needed, honest about our flaws and mistakes, proud of accomplishments, and open to sometimes loud debates. No topics are off the table.

Creating a safe place for communication and honesty is key for a boy, especially as they move into the quiet, moody teen years. So many places in a boy’s life encourage repressing their emotions. As a result, it’s so important to make your home one of the safe zones for shame-free feeling and thought.

2. Teach your son to set limits and accept limits from others

Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean letting others walk all over you. Teach your son to be assertive, stand up for kind and ethical behavior, and not tolerate disrespectful behavior from or to others. As their mom, BE the role model. Every. Day.

Sons need you to set boundaries within your home regarding rules, expectations, and behavior. As they get older, the stakes are bigger for your son. I’ve learned that I am 100% OK with the auspicious title of “mean parent.”  It means I’m doing my job.

“No” is the best thing your son can learn.  

3. Do not fix their problems

We moms innately want to fix any and all problems. We don’t want kids to hurt, feel like failures, be in fights, be behind, or feel lost.

Sons need us to let them process, feel and figure out how to create solutions. They need us to just listen and validate that they’ll be OK.

Teams have cut my sons from their rosters. My boys have walked away from friends, lost girlfriends, made mistakes, struggled with choices, and battled major insecurities. During all their terrible growing up pains, I have gritted my teeth and watched, listened, and waited. Painfully. Raising boys (like raising all children) means often stepping back so they can become emotionally resilient children — and eventually adults.

4. Involve your son in acts of kindness

Show your boy the value of looking outside himself and beyond the screen or video console. They can donate their toys and hold the door open for someone. Have them write thank you cards for gifts or collect pet supplies for the NHSPA. For example, we travel to places specifically that expose our boys to different cultures and demographics than is at home. No matter what you choose, focusing on activities which foster empathy is often a missing step in raising boys.

None of this is the holy grail, and my sons are far from perfect.

I am frighteningly close to one of these young men moving on, and I already know what the teenage independence of high school means for the other. And yet, as they venture further away physically, I feel solace that they have integrity, heart and display a fierce sense of loyalty. Above all, they’re real humans – dirt, food consumption levels, smells…and my heart.

What are your tips for raising boys into emotionally healthy men?

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Hi All, I’m Rebecca! I’ve worked in marketing strategy in the healthcare and wellness industry since college and my MBA for 20+ years (yikes!!). I’m blessed to have combined my geeky professional self with my passions: awareness of and mental health supports for disenfranchised populations and communities. I volunteer in educating the greater community about the real experiences of those in (and out of) recovery from the disease of addiction. I was so honored to give a TED talk in 2019 about removing stigma and shame by simply shifting the language we use, as this is near and dear me. Yet, at the end of the day, my family is everything in my world. I live with my husband Mike and two teenage sons in Lee, along with a crazy cattle dog (Maggie), cat (Leia), fish, 100 snails and soon to be chickens. While a Jersey shore girl at heart, living in MA and NH since the late 90s has fully converted me to a New England sports fan and avid skier, hiker and kayaker. I guess I’m a perfectly imperfect, harmonious, and happy runner, who cares deeply for humans, and Mother Nature. Follow me on Instagram @mommabear5786 to see what life in a house of boys, recovery, loud music, a bit of attitude, and nature looks like!