I just finished reading this fascinating and wonderfully written book by Kate Stone Lombardi. Lombardi, a writer for the NY Times for over 20 years, examines the long held belief that in order for boys to grow up to be men, their mother’s must push them away so that they can develop into healthy men. This behavior starts as early as toddler-hood when mothers are encouraged to let their sons "tough it out" rather than hold them and offer sympathy when they cry or hurt themselves.
For generations, mothers have gotten the same old message when it comes to raising sons: beware of keeping him "too close." A mom who nurtures a deep emotional bond with prevent him from growing up to be a strong, independent man. By refusing to cut those apron strings, she is on track to create the archetypal, effeminate, maladjusted "mama's boy." There's only one problem with this theory: it's just not true."
She provides countless examples of the double standards that exists in parenting—when a father is present in the lives of his child or children he is exemplified and praised for taking an active role in their lives. For moms of sons, the mother is considered a nag or somehow inappropriate for staying connected to her son physically and emotionally. While we see nothing wrong with a father/daughter dance—we see it as an opportunity for daughters to see what a good man looks like—a mother/son dance reeks of incestuous behavior and an overbearing mother who is suffocating her son.
It is also extremely interesting to note that we expect mothers to be close to their daughters--best friends in fact. But if a mother is close to her son--she is harming his masculinity.
Lombardi is not advocating that fathers are not important, really, who would? But rather she is challenging the sexist notion that if a mother stays connected to her son (helping with homework, aware of his social life, having dinner with him out once a week) that she is somehow stunting his manhood—this notion that in order to be a man—a son must push away his mother.
The Mama’s Boy Myth is a fascinating look at just how important mothers are to their sons lives. In an era when there is a boy’s crisis (rising violence and emotional constipation) Lombardi argues who better than mom, to help boys and young men talk through and process the emotional challenges of middle school, high school and college. Boys today are dealing with bullying, break ups, struggling with academics, girlfriends, peer pressure and so on…mothers, not fathers are better equipped to help their sons through the tough times. While we welcome more emotional men as fathers, it simply isn’t the case yet. Fathers just don’t consistently seek out emotional conversations with their sons. They weren’t raised that way. Fathers do not have the same skill set as mothers do.
If you or someone you know is raising a boy, read this book! And while you are at, give them a hug. :)