Raising Boys: Tip 2 – Bring Forth Your Spartan Mother

Do you remember the movie “300”? When I saw it, I was profoundly affected by it. Not for the same reason that so many others were. Although impressive, the cinematography was not what caught my eye. Although shocking, the violence is not what kept my attention. Although memorable, it wasn’t the sight of half naked men that keeps the movie in my mind. As a single mother raising two sons, I found the quiet theme of the Spartan mother very moving.

There is a scene early in the movie where a son is taken away from his mother at the age of seven (7) to enter the specialized education and training all Spartan men entered called Agoge. At first, the mother bravely watches him go but before he leaves her sight, she crumples and has to be held up by two other Spartan women. The boy turns to look back, so obviously wanting to stay with his mother, but he knows he must go and she knows she must let him and the Spartan men tighten their grip and take him away.

This practice, graphically displayed in the movie was a very real practice in Ancient Sparta. Its purpose was to initiate boys into the culture of manhood and the life of a Spartan soldier. He was taught to do all the things a Spartan man must do in order to be considered a man. While to us, some of the methods might be barbaric, they were necessary for the survival of their culture. The Spartan mother understood this and despite her pain, allowed her young son to go when his time came.

The movie does not display what the mother goes through while her son is gone but one can only imagine. Fully aware of the atrocities her son must suffer, the mother must remain at home, unable to protect him and allow him to endure this time of brutality comforted only by the knowledge that it is necessary.

This practice was mirrored in other cultures as well and its purpose remained the same; to initiate boys into manhood. In some cultures, it is the first hunt or the first kill that signals manhood. In others, there is a religious ceremony that welcomes the boy into manhood. This begs the question: As the number of single mothers raising sons continues to increase, what ritual in our society today transitions boys into manhood? What is it that tells our boys that they have become men?

Single moms don’t despair. There are some activities such as athletics, rites of passage, Scouts, spiritual endeavors, military pursuits and a host of others that boys of today participate in that will help them develop the skills they will need later in life. And with those activities comes the necessity for mothers to develop Spartan toughness in order to help them get there.

Unfortunately, single mothers do not have the luxury of crumpling during these tough times as they usually stand alone watching their child, with no one to catch them if they should fall. So, instead of giving in to the fear and the instinct that urges you to hold him close and protect him, instead, push him with Spartan like toughness to learn to protect himself.

The rituals will come…and they will come in unexpected places and at unexpected times. Maybe the first time he asks you not to walk him to the bus…the first time he no longer wants to hold your hand…the first time he wants to play a sport…the first time he tells you he wants to go into the military…the first time he asks for the keys to your car… the first time he is at the bottom of a big tackle on the football field…the first time a hard foul drives him to the floor of the basketball court…the first time he comes home from a fight…Those are the relatively easy times. All that is required of you is to recognize his need to grow and you having the strength to let him.

That is where the single mother must truly find the Spartan mother within her. That is when she must decide that while this is difficult, it is necessary. In order for her son to become a man, he must make a slow but steady progression AWAY from her and assume more and more responsibility for himself. It may mean bumps and bruises, broken bones and broken hearts for him – sleepless nights, secret tears and worry filled days for her, but in the end, they both know it is necessary.

Do you have the strength to push your son towards athletics, not because he is an athlete but because he needs to learn teamwork, fair play, brotherhood and character development? Do you have the determination to teach him perseverance the first time and every time he wants to quit? Do you have the will to send him to the military because he must learn discipline and respect for authority? Do you have the drive to push him academically so that he develops a strong work ethic to ensure his future? Do you have the grit to push him spiritually so that he will have a moral compass from which to direct his actions and behaviors? Do you have the tenacity to not give up on him even when he and the rest of the world seems to have done so? Do you have the commitment to watch him fall and not run and pick him up but to instead watch him pick himself up, even compel him to when he is reluctant? Are you strong enough to understand that sometimes the love you give him must be tough instead of gentle?

It would be nice to have a culture that had groups of men coming for our fatherless boys…coming to teach them about and initiate them into manhood, helping them perform the rites and rituals that let them know they have safely arrived. Sadly, single moms, for right now, for the most part, there are no hordes of men coming to initiate our sons into manhood. We are solely responsible for ensuring that he arrives there safely and that he knows the right thing to do once he gets there. We must teach him how a man thinks, what a man does and how a man behaves. We must toughen up and watch tearlessly as he goes through what may look like difficulties to us but are necessities for him. When he lashes out at us in his pain, frustration and anger, we must stand firm and unflinchingly teach him to hold that line of respect no matter what his emotions.

Single moms take heart…We are already doing it. We bravely kiss our sons goodbye as we drop them off at military academies…we bravely sit in football stadiums and watch our sons get up tackle after tackle after tackle…worse even, we support our sons as they recover from an injury only to go right back to the activity that caused the injury… we are doing it every day. For the moms who are not, who are clinging to that image of the little boy they birthed…let go…if your child is young…begin to let go slowly now…recognize and support his need to grow away from you…if your child is older, time is of the essence…let him go so he can grow.

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