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Strong Mothers, Strong Sons - critical summary review

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons Critical summary review
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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-0345518101

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Also available in audiobook, download now:


Critical summary review

Are you the mother of a son? Are you struggling with how to raise him so he grows into a healthy, confident, and wise adult? Author and pediatrician Meg Meeker has written “Strong Mothers, Strong Sons” to help mothers do just that. No matter how old your son currently is, Meeker’s advice covers all ages, from infancy to adulthood. So get ready to learn the art of being an extraordinary mother to a son.

Bringing up sons

Janie was the perfect mother. At least, that was what she appeared to be to the outside world. She would only ever cook organic food for her two boys, because she had taught them to enjoy healthy foods. She worked part-time, and volunteered at her sons’ school, all the while providing a loving home for her two boys.

But one afternoon, she came to see Meeker in her practice. Janie was exhausted: she could not handle her 13-year-old, Jason, who seemed to have spun out of control. He would suddenly start yelling at his parents, and one night he even snuck out to drink alcohol with some peers in the Walmart parking lot. He would also sometimes get violent, and Janie admitted that she was scared of her own son.

Just months before, Janie had had the perfect relationship with her son. Now, she was at her wits end and did not know what to do. The author advised both her and Jason to get help, and in the course of her sessions with a psychologist, it turned out that Janie was carrying a lot of emotional baggage.

Janie had been sexually assaulted as a teenager, and since she had never talked about it to anyone, she had secretly harbored feelings of hate towards men, which subconsciously she had started to project onto her son. Having worked out her own feelings, Janie and Jason eventually managed to go back to the loving relationship they had had up to that point. 

Being a mother to sons can be hard. Too often, mothers rely on their sons for support they are not getting from their husbands. Many boys face academic troubles growing up, not being able to deal with the pressures put on them by society. Similarly, mothers struggle with never feeling adequate, and trying to live up to an unattainable ideal of the “perfect” mother. You are adequate. And with a few tips you can raise extraordinary men.

You are his first love

Meeker believes that young mothers of sons will often see in their sons the fulfilment of a wish to know what male love is like in its purest form. Inevitably, mothers will eventually be replaced by wives. According to the author, mothers are aware of this fact the moment their baby son comes into the world. 

On the other hand, Meeker also believes that your son will know he is different from you in terms of gender from the moment he is born. That means he will form his opinion of females from the way you interact with him. If you respond kindly to his needs and are dependable, he will not have troubles forming romantic bonds with females later in life. 

But if you are unpredictable in your love for him, if you reject him, your son will start protecting himself from an early age on. He will be guarded in his relationships with women and might never have a family himself. So in a very real way, you are his first love.

As a mother, you will want your child to be happy. You can parent your son in a way that will result in long-lasting happiness. Teach your son to receive love, as this will make him happy. Many mothers express their love by sacrificing their time to drive children to sports activities, or by volunteering at their school. For your sons though, this does not mean they feel loved.

The author has talked to many boys who told her that they only felt loved by their mothers when they played sports, as their mothers would come and cheer them on. They felt like they needed to perform in order to be loved. They become puppets, not sons. If you want your son to feel loved, spend some quality time with him – play with him, ride your bikes around the neighborhood together, or read him a book.

Give him an emotional vocabulary

Meeker believes there are fundamental differences between boys and girls. While girls are “natural communicators,” she believes that boys are “far more sensitive than girls.” That is why, she says, it is a mother’s job to give her son an emotional vocabulary.

This not only means helping your son to identify and articulate his feelings, but also to learn how to deal with them. The rate of incarceration for men is 14 times higher than for women. The author suggests that this is because many men never learn to accurately identify and voice their emotions, and therefore default to using violence.

Many boys’ lives are defined by the “boy code,” meaning that boys are taught to repress their feelings in order to appear more masculine. This is obviously extremely unhealthy, and it is a mother’s job to break through the vicious cycle and to equip her son with the emotional vocabulary he needs. 

Your son’s emotional world will grow more complex as he grows up, so start helping him to name his feelings when he is still young. Teach your son he should not keep his emotions hidden inside, but, most importantly, help him to learn how to express his feelings in a productive way. According to Meeker, “boys need physical release more than girls do,” particularly during their adolescence.

You can sit down with your son and brainstorm ideas of how he can express his anger in healthy ways (rather than hitting his sister, for example). Regardless of his mood though, you should make sure he gets regular exercise. 

Every time you notice anger building up in your son, acknowledge it and ask him if there is something you can do to help him, maybe by saying “You don’t seem to be yourself today; everything okay?” You can also simply ask him to go for a walk with you, which will simultaneously give him exercise and allow him to talk about his feelings.

Waging war against you

Carrie was at her wits’ end with her son Jaden. He had been an angel in his first few years, but things started changing when he started kindergarten at 5 years old. While he previously enjoyed playing with the boys in his neighborhood, he had started being mean to them and bossing them around. Any attempts by his mother to rectify his behavior would only result in smiles from him. 

Five-year-old Jaden, on the other hand, felt that his mother simply did not understand him. Jaden was exhausted from the transition into kindergarten, and from having to behave all morning. When he came home, he needed to let go and vent, so Meeker advised his mother to remain patient as this would all settle down once Jaden had settled into a routine again.

In every mother’s life there will come a time when your son starts waging war against you. However, it is often just a phase and will blow over, so here are a few key rules to surviving a war with your son. 

First of all, you need to understand what the sudden change in your son’s behavior is about. Realize that this war has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. Finally, always remember that you are the adult (even when your son is 18) and you will soon have the upper hand again.

Boys take longer to mature than girls, which means you have a lot more time to spend on their development. According to Meeker, boys reach maturity at age 25. Additionally, Meeker believes, “Girls, from a young age, seem to anticipate their future as a woman. When boys are young, they seem to be less fixated on their future and more able to enjoy the moments of childhood.”

Meeker is of the opinion that boys are less complicated than daughters, as they are more pragmatic. They will always try and find a solution to a problem, while their mothers usually go a more complicated way. Sometimes, the easiest way to resolve a problem is by talking to your son directly and asking him what is wrong. 

Boys also need boundaries. Meeker writes, “Boys naturally need to run into things, and if they aren’t hitting fences erected by their parents, then they will have run-ins with teachers, coaches, or even the law.”

Letting Go

Parenting is 90% letting go and 10% control. So, the art of letting go is something all mothers need to learn. Meeker writes that when “we let go in a healthy, timely way, our lives become richer and our relationships with our children deepen.” In order to do that, you need to learn to parent based on the needs of your child and not based on what you think you should do.

There is a step-by-step process you can follow to make letting go a little bit easier. The first thing you can do is to give your son increasingly more independence as he grows up. For 2-year-olds, you have already done a great job when your son is still alive by the end of the day. But once he is 3, you can maybe teach him to ride a tricycle on his own. And at 4, you can give him a household chore to complete by himself, such as sweeping the floor after dinner.

With these little bits of independence, always err on the side of caution, and always trust your instincts! A mother instinctively knows what is best for her child. So if, at 14, he wants to spend the night at a friends’ house whose parents are away and your instinct tells you that that is a bad idea, do not allow him to go. Tell him that you trust him but that without his friend’s parents there, others might be encouraged to come over as well and this might cause trouble.

Be sure that it is actually your instincts you follow, however. Sometimes you do not want to disappoint your son or maybe you are influenced by what other mothers around you decide to do for their children. Be strong in your belief in yourself and your instincts!

Final Notes

Meeker provides a guide on how to raise sons based on her own experiences as a pediatrician and her limited encounters with sons and their mothers in her practice. She is not a psychologist, and this is clear in her writing – she always chooses the most straightforward explanation for a behavior she has witnessed, without stopping to think about any underlying psychological explanations.

“Strong Mothers, Strong Sons” is also a deeply sexist book. Meeker assumes an unbridgeable gap between the binary genders, without ever citing a study or other evidence for her belief. She sees girls as natural communicators who do not need exercise and are intrinsically aware of their roles as women and mothers, while “boys will be boys.” While she briefly addresses the problem of toxic masculinity, she perpetuates sexist views of women and girls which are unlikely to help boys grow up to become “extraordinary men.”

12min Tip

    Teach your son that it is okay to show his emotions and guide him in his process to learn how to express them.

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Who wrote the book?

Meg Meeker, M.D., is an American pediatrician. She is the mother of four children and the author of bestselling books “Strong Mothers,... (Read more)