The mother-son relationship gets an in-depth look

Nurturing your boy doesn't mean he'll turn into a sissy, author Kate Stone Lombardi argues.

With so much attention given to the special bonds between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, and fathers and sons, where does that leave mothers and sons? Kate Stone Lombardi, author of “The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger,” sought to find out.

“It’s almost been like the elephant in the room,” she says. “For some reason no one has looked at the mother-son subject. The world has changed so dramatically and yet we’re still sort of stuck in this time bubble when it comes to moms and sons, this idea that them being close is somehow dangerous or wrong. We are long overdue to take a look at this relationship.”

The author says that society has been quick to reject the idea of a close bond between mother and son because the son can be perceived as weak and the mother overbearing. And while she’s not asking moms to raise boys who require a maternal nudge at every turn, she does hope to inspire them to take a more active role in their sons’ lives. We wanted to learn more.

How did the idea of the mama’s boy start?
I think it goes back to the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex is a theory that Freud wrote in 1899 — basically, it’s the unconscious desire for a little boy to sleep with his mom. Freud was really writing about the unconscious, and I think we misinterpreted what he was saying. We turned it into the idea that normal, healthy mother-son affection and closeness is somehow wrong and dangerous. And that is just not true — being close to his mother benefits a boy, both when he is young and throughout his life.

Why are daddies’ girls more revered in our society than mamas’ boys?
I think there’s really a double standard. I think dads have a lot more freedom when it comes to their daughters. A dad [who] coaches his girl in lacrosse or even teaches her a “masculine” skill like working on a car engine is still a cool dad. For some reason it’s not at all the same with moms. If a mom tries to influence her son, people start worrying that she’s gonna feminize her boy. But no one worries that the dad is gonna turn his little girl into a boy by teaching her sports. One professor at Bates College studied parents of preschoolers. The parents were totally fine if the little girls [wore] sports jerseys and played with trucks and blocks, but the same did not extend for little boys. They were OK if little boys played in the kitchen a bit, but that’s it. There is a double standard.

How does society benefit from a boy who’s close to his mom?
Moms who are close to their boys really teach them emotional intelligence. They teach them how to put their words into feelings. That is gonna serve a boy all through his life. One study showed [that with] guys who had a stronger connection to their moms, their wives and partners rated them as much better communicators. Men who really like and respect their mothers like and respect other women. Research has shown that boys who are forced to separate prematurely from their moms — I’m talking about little guys whose moms stop cuddling them because they think they need to toughen up — go on to have a hard time with women. And the reason is they’ve learned that the first woman that they’ve ever loved has pushed them away. Guys who have good, secure attachments with their moms go on to have good relationships.

What does your own son — an adult — think about you writing this book?
I think he has mixed feelings. He’s read it, of course, and there’s some personal anecdotes about my son in the book. But that said, he’s not at all ashamed of our relationship — he’s pretty proud of it.


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