As mothers, we know that feeling loved brings our sons deep satisfaction, contentment, and a sense of security that they will take with them into adulthood. When they are born we ogle over them and wonder how we can feel such intense love for one human being. But as our boys grow older, that perfect love can become complicated by the realities of day-to-day living. Sometimes our sons make us mad, or they disappoint us. Sometimes it feels as though they don’t appreciate us. Gone is the little boy who trusted us as his entire world, and in his place is a toddler who tells us that we don’t know what we’re talking about because after all, we’re just “Mom.” With our daughters, it’s easier to talk things out and get at the emotional core of the issues that arise. But girls are communicators and most boys aren’t. Though exact statistics vary among research, the number of words that females use per day is in the order of thirteen thousand more than men per day. Boys see through a different lens than we do and often it is hard to understand one another. In fact, many times when we try to make amends by discussing our feelings with our sons, we can be met with further rejection because boys don’t always want to talk things through. And then, hurt, we often end up pulling back, which creates unnecessary distance between us without solving the problem.
But it is important to remember that no son can be genuinely happy unless he knows deep in his soul that his mother loves him. Remember earlier when I said that mom represents safety? For our children, their mother’s love has to be nonnegotiable and constant. That’s why it sometimes seems that they take our love for granted; they do. We are the ones who won’t change. We won’t leave, run out, or withhold love. At least, that’s what they want to feel, deep down inside. So what are we to do when the going gets tough and our natural ways of communicating—talking, analyzing, exploring our feelings—don’t work with our sons?
When Aristotle wrote that men find complete happiness and contentment when life leaves them nothing else to be desired, he was not talking about material possessions.2 He was talking about living with a sense of such deep satisfaction that nothing feels lacking. Not that video game, or that toy or those cupcakes. This is a contentment wherein the soul itself feels satisfied.
St. Augustine put a theological bent on this when describing happiness. He taught that “perfect happiness belongs to the immortal soul, completely at rest in the beatific vision, for in the vision of God the soul is united to the infinite good by knowledge and love. In the divine presence and glory all the natural desires of the human spirit are simultaneously satisfied—the intellect’s search for truth and the will’s yearning for the good.”3
As mothers, our job, if we believe what both Aristotle and Augustine tell us, is to help our sons seek knowledge and truth, because these are the things that bring true satisfaction of the soul. If we are serious about helping our sons find happiness, we must challenge them to differentiate good from evil and right from wrong. We must also encourage them to make decisions on moral and ethical issues. If Aristotle is correct (and I believe that he is), then our sons literally cannot be happy without learning to live with virtues, because it is virtues, he says, that help regulate the choices that people make. What are these virtues? Specifically, they are: courage, temperance, justice, prudence, wisdom, and chastity. And what mother would not want her son to have any of these? We all would. And since Aristotle claims that having virtues is the primary means through which humans achieve happiness, we have more motivation to teach these to our sons.
Some mothers are hesitant to teach virtues, however, because they see them as outdated and unnecessary in modern-day society, with all its sophistication and complexity. But think for a moment. Courage is the ability to have the strength to do what is right regardless of what others think. Temperance is having the willpower to enjoy all pleasures in moderation by exercising self-control over one’s bodily appetites and pleasures. Justice is righting what is wrong and treating others fairly. Prudence requires that one live with a “practical wisdom,” utilizing caution. Wisdom, of course, is being able to make smart choices when required to do so, and chastity involves having control specifically over sexual desires.
So if our goal is to help our sons be genuinely happy, our first job as mothers is to begin to teach them the five virtues from an early age.