Letter to my Teenage Son

How to be a good man, or ‘The Book of Mum’

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Two years ago, my teenage son told me he wanted to go and live with his father in South Africa. His dream was to attend a well-known boys’ school near Capetown for his A-levels, a school which his father had attended and which is renowned for playing very good rugby, my son’s passion. He talked about going to the local university there afterwards, so he was making long-term plans.

For me, I didn’t even consider saying no. If this was his dream, I was certainly not going to stand in his way. Even though I couldn’t actually speak of him leaving without it catching in my throat. I just had to accept that it would happen, that this was what he wanted.

Heart-crushingly, it hit home that I was going to ‘lose’ my child.

Even if he did come back he would be a different person, probably a man. I was devastated. I’d thought I had longer to spend time with him, to teach him about the world and life skills. You don’t often spend a lot of quality time with your teenage children. It is mainly handouts, mealtimes and shouting about expensive trainers and homework. I felt a great sense of loss and regret.

I wished I had done more.

So I began to compile a list of guidelines and advice on how to be a good man. I was going to make it into a book for him, with basic recipes, how to boil an egg etc. (I was still calling my mother when in my twenties about this one!) in the hope that this ‘Book of Mum’ would fill in for the real thing.

In the end, for a mixed bag of reasons, he didn’t go. ‘Relief’ doesn’t even touch the sides of how I felt about that. He is now at school in Oxfordshire and comes home to London every weekend.

I do not take him for granted and hug him every chance I get. I feel like I have a second chance. His nickname for me is ‘Smother’, affectionately… or that’s what I am told, at least.

I came across my list recently and, although I still have my child, my golden young man, I wanted to share it with you and with him. He will probably be mortified but sod it! I am just so grateful to have the opportunity to continue pouring my love on him.

Dear LS, If you are reading this, please take it all on board and know how much you are loved. You are already a good man and I am very proud of you.

How to Be a Good Man, or The Book of Mum

Towards yourself:

  • Be kind to yourself. Life is too short to beat yourself up about missed triumphs, mistakes and regrets. Loss and ‘failure’ is part of the unavoidable learning curve of life.
  • “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” (George Bernard Shaw)
  • Be tolerant and surround yourself with other tolerant people. Do not accept prejudice.
  • Be passionate about what you do, success and contentment will come easier this way. Don’t chase the dollar as your only goal. Be motivated by what makes you feel happy to be alive.
  • Be a dreamer. Take time to work out what your dreams are and don’t be afraid to act on them. Be brave; “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. “ (Harriet Tubman)
  • Be curious. Have adventures, travel and discover the world. Be well read and enjoy colourful experiences. Find out the truth for yourself. Don’t just repeat and believe what you are told. Make sure you step into the other side’s shoes.
  • Be active. Always keep up your sport. You don’t have to be top of the league but appreciate the simple joy of playing sport and being part of a team.
  • Be calm. We can’t control what happens to us in life but we can control how we react to it.
  • Be individual, de different, but most importantly, be you.
  • Be grateful every single day as you are truly blessed. Gives thanks for your health, your home and your family as you are loved.
  • Be proactive. Create the life you want and seek out opportunities. Don’t just sit and wait for a knock on the door. Learn how to be a carpenter, go to the forest, cut down a tree and make the damn door.
  • Be balanced. Work hard and have fun but be aware how your body feels and when it needs rest. Take care and allow yourself to have time out.
  • Surround yourself with people you admire and learn from what they have achieved and how they treat people.
  • Never make a big decision when in heightened state of emotion. Examine the source of your emotion before acting. Take a moment, take several moments to breath deeply and ensure you are in a calm, balanced state. *From someone who has several spur of the moment tattoos and made numerous other dubious decisions*
  • Be positive. Anger can be good. It is a sign that something isn’t acceptable to us. But don’t let this anger fester into bitterness or resentment. Do something about what makes you angry and in a positive way. Go on a march, write to your MP or simply have an open, truthful conversation.
  • Be a creative problem solver, there is always a solution. If in doubt, call Mum.

And towards others:

  • Be generous with your time, your love and your money.
  • Be questioning. Be free to question authority. Just because you are smaller, younger, or allegedly lower down in the food chain than someone else does not mean your opinion doesn’t count. Every individual is important and has the right to be heard.
  • Be respectful. If you don’t agree with something, make your point but in a respectful way.
  • Be observant. Notice when others may need help. It isn’t your job to save the world but small acts of kindness every day will pave the way to greater happiness.
  • Be compassionate and empathetic. We are all essentially the same. Everyone needs to feel understood and connected.
  • Be a good friend; “A good friend knows all your best stories, a best friend helped you write them”. (Anon)
  • Be punctual. Lateness says that you value your own time more than the person waiting for you.
  • Be interested in people. Be a listener not just a talker. Listen with interest and with the intent of understanding not just replying. Learn from their stories and their experiences.
  • Be charitable. Not just in good times but when life is getting you down. Give up your time to help someone less fortunate and you will view your own misfortune in a different light.
  • Be equal. Do your share in your home and your relationships. You know how to cook, you know how to change a nappy and you know how to work the washing machine – so do it. #myworkhereisdone
  • Mother’s Day in the UK is exactly 3 weeks before you get your chocolate Easter eggs. Do not forget it!

Now go forth, live life beautifully and dive bomb at every opportunity.

Image credits

Wedding Photography by Lumiere Photography
Everything else by Paola De Paola

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  • That must have been so difficult for you – the prospect of goodbye. This is such a thoughtful piece of writing and has made me feel very emotional but positive for my Friday! Glad your son changed his mind in the end x

    • Thanks Louise, it was actually a very positive experience as it is easy to take older children for granted. I try to spend more time with him now and tell him I love him every chance I get. xx

  • Beautiful! If I’d written my own little book, most of this would be in it. I’m now inspired to use this as a base for my own daughter who is growing up way too fast.


    Ps I’m so pleased that he didn’t go! I was just getting to the point where my eyes were welling up when I read that he stayed. Phew, just saved the tears!!!

    • Hi Katie, I get teary reading it back. I wrote the list a few years ago on holiday, just after he told me he wanted to go, so it does bring back a lot of memories. He has read it, I hope he remembers a few things! I would love to make him an actual book to keep though. xx

  • This is so brilliantly expressed. I wish I’d written something like this when my three left home. Your advice is perfect for everyone and reads like a manifesto for a wiser humanity. Goodness knows with the way the world is going we need to read more wisely and your advice on how to be a good person is a great start.

    • Thanks so much Diane, I am sure you raised them with similar ideals. God, it’s hard to be a parent – we want to get everything right and send them off ready for the world! Really appreciate you taking the time to comment xx

  • This is lovely, Sara! Although my son is only 3 I often wonder how we can raise young men in a
    way that makes the world we live in better and fairer. I definitely will keep your list in mind.

    • Thanks Nina, I also have two daughters so it is really important to me to raise a kind and respectful young man. #powertothemums xx

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