How can I help my fifteen-year-old son find success? He is the oldest in our family like yours, and we want him to find the desire to succeed in school and in life in general.  He lacks motivation and my husband is worried that he is leading himself up for failure and won’t be able to take care of a family and support them if he doesn’t succeed in high school.  Will he get into a University?  We don’t know.  {this question is paraphrased to take out some personal stuff}

I’m glad this question came along because I have had quite a few comments and people asking about my “superson Max” since I wrote this blog post back on his birthday.  

And although Max is very “super” in his own way (he is every bit of those fifteen things I listed), he’s certainly has a lot to learn, and a lot of growing up to do.  Every once in a while I have to stop and make sure that people know that I write a lot of the good stuff here on this blog.  I don’t share all the things I am endlessly worrying about.  It doesn’t do anyone any good…especially not my kids who read this thing regularly.  Sure, I like to keep in real here (for more posts on keeping it real, click here…although I haven’t been so hot at labeling them lately).  I know I’m biased because I do think these kids of mine are the greatest things since sliced bread, but of course they have their own issues and things we struggle with as well.  

We worry so much about these same things with Max and I wanted to share this question because I think there are LOTS of mothers of teenage boys who worry themselves sick about them.  I mean, the poor kids have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.  And they are being raised in a society where we coddle and pamper kids a bunch.  I have asked many parents to help me know how to help Max to stay motivated and proactive…more “self-appointed.”  I will share the answers I have received, either through prayer or discussing with others and I hope that helps:
My mother-in-law told me she read something once that said a boy the age of our boys is as far away as he will be from his mother.  Sad, I know, but sometimes it can be so difficult for us to relate to them at this age.  There are hormones going on like crazy.  They are trying to find their place.  Both of our boys are the oldest so they have added responsibility and expectations that they may feel unable to live up to.  It is so easy to push and wring our hands when what they need more than anything else in the world is to be loved.  I have started to try to go into Max’s room each night as he gets ready for bed and just be available.  Just shoot the breeze.  Then we can kneel and pray together.  He needs so much confidence to get through this world of ours.  I am trying to look for the good and build that up rather than harping on the stuff he’s not doing as well as I wish he would.  
I was complaining just this weekend to a very wise mother…same feelings as you have…how will he be able to keep a job when he grows up?  How will he support a family?  How will he manage through life when sometimes it seems like he can’t concentrate on anything for more than two minutes?  The mom told me she had a son she worried about the exact same things (maybe there’s a pattern here?).  She would wring her hands in worry to her husband.  Finally her husband told her “he’s going to be fine!  There is a good reason fourteen-year-olds don’t get married!!”  And he was right.  This son, with love and attention from his family, grew up to be an amazing, contributing, hard-working man.  I think sometimes we just need to let kids grow up.  
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t worry.  Worry to some point helps us figure out what needs to be done.  And my personal favorite strategy for figuring that out is prayer.

I love this quote from Patricia Holland:  “…If we are to search for real light and eternal certainties, we have to pray as the ancients prayed.  We are women now, not children, and we are expected to pray with maturity.  The words most often used to describe urgent, prayerful labor are wrestle, plead, cry, and hunger.  In some sense, prayer may be the hardest work we ever will engage in, and perhaps it should be.”

It just taught me that only God knows our children better than we do.  He will reach out and help us with our own unique, individual struggles if we will “be still” and listen for His guidance.  
I don’t know if that helps at all, but I hope so.  Sometimes this motherhood journey can be so daunting!  My prayers are reaching out to you hoping you can find answers that will help your son the very most.

Experienced mothers (and dads) of teenage boys: please send us your advice as well! 🙂

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  1. Perfectly said Shawni. I used to worry worry worry (OK I still can get there sometimes) about the boys…but I think as they grow into the teen years (my oldest is 18) you see glimpses of behavior that will make you just as encouraged and happy and content as the glimpses that make you think, "Oh no things aren't going to turn out well for you." I think our boys need encouragement for the stuff they do do right also-they thrive on that. And sometimes the hard lessons are the best ones of all as much as they make us cringe for them.

  2. I am a mom of young boys but have spent my professional career working with high school and college kids. They ALL mess up. And *most* come out just fine. I will always worry about my boys–they're mine, it's part of my job description. (Miniscule part compared to loving them, but it just comes along anyhow.) There are false starts, wrong paths that look so right at the beginning–and right paths that seem like a terrible idea at the start. Speak your mind but love, love, love, and trust that "roots and wings" are the greatest gifts.
    So far it's been a challenge for me (and one I see reflected in the parents of the kids I work with) to remember: the path I want for my kids may not be their path. My oldest doesn't play soccer, despite (because of?) it being his father's greatest athletic joy. That's ok. I know there are other dreams I hold for him that he will reject, and that's ok too.
    We have been lucky, our large family has many brilliant college graduates, and some incredibly successful non-college graduates (a contractor, a radiation tech at a hospital who tries hard to not be smug that his starting salary was double his college-grad cousin's). But these paths don't always look clear from the start. I will pray for the questioner's boy, and for her, that her heart will clear. But I have worked with thousands of kids, and while the road can be bumpy, it's theirs, and it brings them gifts and lessons we can't even imagine.

    1. Thank you for your perspective! I am grateful to read this. It has inspired me to love my son more and to worry less about his future. Let him grow up the way he is meant to grow with his own desires, gifts and talents and remember that it will all work out in the end. And never stop praying for him and his success!

  3. I love this post Shawni. My oldest is a 10yr old boy (the only boy) and My husband and I have already started worrying about all that stuff! Another layer of worry is added when close family members have made choices that have affected their entire lives and potential. So when we see an inkling of a particular weakness, that may be age-appropriate, their whole life passes before our eyes and we fear they will make similar choices.
    I LOVE the Patricia Holland quote. Thanks for including that. I had never heard it before and I love it.
    I also love the point your mom taught in "5 Spiritual Solutions" to embrace the "8-12 window". We are trying to take advantage of this phase while it lasts.

    When I dreamed of being a mother – I never knew it would worry me so much! So grateful we don't have to do it completely on our own. 🙂

  4. I would like to comment here on this; as well as three younger daughters we have two sons who are 28 and 29. Both gave us all manner of worries and concerns about their lack of motivation, need to sleep a lot, homework, bedrooms, girls etc etc. Now we have two wonderful young men; one who runs his own building company, works hard and does lots of saving and the other has a job, a wife and a beautiful three year old daughter. That second son is a brilliant husband and daddy and is miles away from the boy who wouldn't do his school work and the boy whose teachers were always ringing me! While neither of them have taken the exact path we may have imagined career wise, all the things that really matter, all those things we tried to exemplify and teach went in there somehow. When they text me to come visit offering to cook and bring the food with them, when I watch them with their much younger siblings, I am proud that they have become not the young men we dreamed they would be but the young men they are meant to be; they have all the good qualities we could have wished for and more. The days of nagging and worrying are so far in the past that I rarely think of them. To all of you out there with teenage sons; it will be OK. Just love them, teach them, be there for them but give them space to grow into themselves and they will get there.

  5. My brother had no motivation. Skimmed through HS, dropped out of college, in debt, no prospects

    but then he met a wonderful girl and he went back to school, got a good job, and in the past year they got married, had a baby, and bought a house!

    We are all very proud of him. I think some people it just comes later…don't worry…just keep encouraging him,

  6. I am a mother to 3 sons. They're still very small. But I also have 2 brothers. I think sometimes it's good to remind ourselves that those boys that grow into men, they don't HAVE to be the sole support of that family. Their futures wives may also contribute financially to their households. Why put the pressure of "supporting the family" on just the boy? I know this is a different perspective that the other comments thus far. I'm just saying that these days it's a lot of pressure to rely on the man to be the sole support of a family. Not everyone has a husband that makes enough money, so that their wives are able to stay home. The economy is shakey at best.

    Or what if one of those boys wants to be a stay at home dad?

  7. THANK YOU! For this post. I too have a son as the eldest followed by three girls. That is one reason I love to read your blog…I relate to you and your family so much. My son is only 11 but is growing so much quicker than I would like. I love to read and learn from you…Thank you for your blog!

  8. My 18 year old son is our oldest. I also have 15, 12, and 6 year old sons with girls in between. It always seemed to me that second born sons are easier and have more confidence in every area. I realized one day that that first born has to find out who they are all by themselves. It's a rough road. The second born knows who he is because the path has been paved for him by his older brother. He's so and so's younger brother. He has an identity from birth while that first born has to find one all through his life. First born sons (and all sons) just need constant love, no matter what stupid things they do. I never thought my 18 year old would overcome some of his weaknesses, but it is true that their brain checks back in. It really does. It's like their brain is a giant puzzle and all of the pieces are sitting there in the right place but aren't locked in yet. At around 17 and 18 the pieces start locking together and you can start to see this beautiful picture forming of the man he will be. It's so exciting and so rewarding.

  9. Wow, Shawni;
    Thanks for posting this. Tears fill my eyes as I feel the warmth and love from others I don't even know.
    I have been with out my son this week as he is with his dad out at scout camp. He had to do a "survior" camp with the 16-18yr olds. He was so excited, (i was nervous)I prayed for him this week like I've never prayed before. Prayer is the answer. This post comes at such a great time. They boys come home tomorrow and I am ready to greet him with love and tell him how much I have missed him and love him. I love him for who he is and what he stands for. So right now he is a bit lazy, but now I know he too will get through this on his own terms in his own way.
    Thanks so much Shawni and all of you.

  10. My son is also 15 (and my oldest child) and I have all of the same worries. How in the world will he even get along in life?? He is a great kid, but sometimes he really baffles me. Thanks for your post. I really needed it and it has helped me a lot!

  11. I appreciate this post. I have 5 kids, my oldest is the only boy, like your family. I worry about him constantly. I especially like what your mother-in-law said about a boy being as far away as he is from his mother. I know boys who just don't survive in the real world because their mom wasn't "there" growing up. We 4 sisters lost our 2 brothers to suicide. Our mom became a stranger in our home when we were teenagers, divorced and raised by our dad. Later, I realized she never bonded with us like other moms. This all makes me constantly on guard and sensitive to how I raise my only boy.

  12. As a mom of 5 sons, this post is so true! Our boys are 22 (serving a mission), 18 (leaving for the MTC in Nov), 13, 10 and 4. I know the 'how is he ever going to survive if he can't even focus for 5 minutes?' feeling!! They really do outgrow it and it is so lovely to see them start to mature into the men they will become. I know not everyone who reads this is LDS, but a mission really does help 'finish them up' into what the Lord has in mind for them. As moms, we need to let Him have them to complete what we started and watch the magic happen. It's a lovely ride!!

  13. Shawni, I just wanted to tell you that your blog is one of my very favorites to read. It is one that I click to first whenever I log on to my reader. I've been reading for about two years and you are such a genuine, humble inspiration and that is one of the reasons I love reading your thoughts and words so much. I don't have children yet, but I work with children with special needs and nanny in my spare time. Often I have come to use your adivce and parenting skills in my work. I'm thankful that I have found your blog. I just wanted you to know how wonderful you are and that in small ways you are making a big difference in the world. Thanks!

  14. Hi Shawni,
    I have a son who is now 22. Oh my goodness he tested the boundaries with us and his school. Many times we were called up to come visit his teachers but we were able to hold it together and he knew also what our expectations of him were too. Today I am so glad that we are through those testing years but today he is a gorgeous guy, hard working and taking courses to help better himself in his job. You just have to stay with them, love them, give them their space, watch them without them knowing (we all have eyes in the back of our heads), speak to other boys, be there for them, don't nag (that's the worse thing we can do) and hopefully they will be ok.

  15. Dear Kerry, thank you so much for your comment. This is exactly what I thought when reading this post and the first comments – which I love, by the way. But still – boys/men do not need to support a family alone. There might be partners/wives who might want to work to support their family, too. And there might even be boys who, when they are grown, do not wish to have a family and may still lead a happy life. I still very much understand all the worries, but I just want to say that parents' visions of liefe might not be their children's. Anyway, Shani, thanky so much for this Q&A – so thought-provoking, as so many of your posts are. I love that!

  16. Whenever I start to worry about this same stuff (I have 6 kids, 4 of them boys) I think back to when I was a teenager & what was going on in MY head at that age ……which wasn't much! I remember being totally flaky, irresponsible, motivated by very few things(definitely not motivated by anything my parents lectured me about), not trying too hard at school, doing the bare minimum, etc., etc. I'm sounding like the biggest loser! But, I grew up & turned out OK for the most part. So I try to remember this & cut them some slack……always save the relationship!
    And don't be afraid of failures. Failures are good. That's how the best lessons are learned. Let your kids fail!!!

  17. I just tried to search your blog for your entry titled "we do hard things". Your search option on your sidebar doesn't work. Would you repost this subject? I loved it……Thank you!!! Lynne Harris, Newport Beach, California.

  18. I have a question for your Friday Q and A! (didn't see your email address or I would have written it there!)

    I have two little boys, a newly 3 year old and 6 year old son with special needs (Down syndrome) – because of his special need, sometimes it feels that developmentally he's a bit more like my 3 year old and I have twins! I LOVE your idea of having the lesson part of Family Home Evening on Sundays and the activity on Mondays. I try to get in the habit of doing a quick lesson with the boys, but feel that because their attention span can definatly only be counted in minutes on one hand (sometimes just seconds it feels like!) I get frustrated that it's not worth the effort right now. Any advice from when your children were still in the very young stage? Any ideas that worked better than others or was it simply a matter of perserving? Thanks!!

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