The Mama's Boy Myth
A couple of years ago I was going through a minor career crisis.
My employer had just changed my job description to include duties that I could certainly handle but which, in my opinion, didn't really exploit my strengths. I complained to my son, Paul, then 19. "Mom," he told me, "the problem is that they're playing you out of position."
As usual, Paul nailed it. I happened to mention his comment to a woman I barely knew and she told me that she often discusses work with her grown son -- that, in fact, they regularly call each other as they're leaving the office to rehash their workdays. She then went on to say how simpatico they are and how they share the same sense of humor. In fact, she confided, the time she spends with her son evokes a profound tenderness that she doesn't experience with anybody else.
I was stunned: She could have been describing, almost word for word, my own feelings. Paul, who's now 22, "gets me" like no one else. We finish each other's sentences and share dozens of inside jokes. We can intuit each other's moods without even speaking. And I confess that I still get a little thrill when I see his number on my caller ID.
As this woman and I continued our unexpectedly intimate conversation, she told me she'd never before opened up to anyone about the intensity of her feelings for her son. I could relate. She and I were talking about a level of emotional connection that is usually associated only with mother-daughter relationships. If I were to tell people how close I am with Paul's older sister, no one would bat an eye. But moms rarely talk about a similar bond with their sons, partly because there seem to be no words, no examples, no context, in which to describe it without raising eyebrows. Many of us have gotten the subtle message that there's something "off" about a close mother-son attachment. So we mostly keep quiet about it, even though this relationship is one of the major delights in our lives.
Let me be clear: My son and I are very close, but we are not each other's best friend. Nor, for that matter, am I my daughter's best friend. (I've gotten that memo from both kids: I am their mother, not their pal.) Also, Paul is more than six feet tall, plays ice hockey, and is a highly independent guy. Why do I feel the need to mention this? Because in this culture, I must reassure everyone (including myself) that our deep emotional connection hasn't compromised my son's masculinity.
The question we should be asking, of course, is why, nearly half a century since the advent of modern feminism, there's still such a double standard.
Think about it. There's practically a small industry that encourages mother-daughter bonding, from spa discounts to hundreds of books on the subject. And father-son camaraderie is all but enshrined in the parenting hall of fame. Dads and sons are inundated with cultural cues to play catch, shoot some hoops, or watch a game together.