The mother-son relationship is a dynamic one, in which both people become richer. Sons help mothers learn about males in a new way and appreciate a world that may seem foreign to them, according to Linda Stone Fish, Ph.D., professor of marriage and family therapy in the College of Human Services and Health Professions at Syracuse University.
“Because we live in a time when the ‘battle of the sexes’ is a hot topic, we have been taught that men and women live in entirely different worlds: they think differently, want differently, live differently, etc. Stereotyping limits the ways we view each other in dramatic ways, and is also inaccurate,” Dr. Stone Fish explained.
“Having sons helps women love and appreciate masculinity for all of the wonderful things it is. We women have been taught that anything masculine is foreign, ugly, bad, or to be curbed, but having boys and seeing all the various ways that masculinity is experienced allows mothers to appreciate the complexity of the human spirit,” she noted.
Self Worth and Respect
A mother’s role also is elemental in building a boy’s self-esteem. “Mothers lend their sons their feelings of self worth. If mothers see themselves as important (but not too important), their sons feel important and worthy of love,” said Dr. Stone Fish, who, in addition to being a therapist in private practice in the city of Syracuse, is also the mother of four sons.
“Mothers who are ‘important’ convey two main messages to their sons: If I am important then you are important; and I am important so I am worthy of your kindness, which I will affirm,” she said.
“This second message, which is often dramatically overlooked in the child development literature, is perhaps the most important ingredient to helping children develop into wonderful adults,” said Dr. Stone Fish.
Mothers can serve as good models of how to treat a woman with respect, according to Dr. Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco specializing in family and parenting issues.
“Mothers who let themselves be dominated or controlled by sons are more likely to do the same in their own marriages,” he said.
“However, mothers who can comfortably learn to set limits with their sons and act in a healthy self-interested way produce sons who are better friends and partners to women,” explained Dr. Coleman, who is also on the training faculty of the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group and has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco/Mt. Zion Crisis Clinic and The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology.
Learning to Love
“Mothers can be good role models of a healthy marriage as well as a healthy love relationship. Because mothers still do the majority of parenting in most households, boys learn more from their mothers about how to love than their fathers,” according to Coleman.
Yet, some mothers may worry that if their childhood does not hold up as a wonderful example of a loving parental relationship, their relationship with their child may be in jeopardy.
Aimee Hazard, a New Hampshire mother of fraternal two-year-old twins (one male and one female), notes that she works to connect with both children daily. “I make it a point to hug and kiss Catherine and Hunter both everyday. However, I feel like I connect with Catherine easily and always have but I have to work at it and make it a point to be close to Hunter.”
Aimee said that it might have something to do with her past relationships with men, including an emotionally distant father.
However, Dr. Stone Fish noted that if a woman has had a poor relationship with her father (or parents in general), she could still take steps to create a warm and loving relationship with good communication with her son.
“We have a great deal of control over how we parent,” she said. “We are not destined to repeat relationships if we consciously choose to do things differently.”
He’s Got Personality
Personality is one element of the mother-son relationship not to be overlooked.
“The contrasts between raising my sons and daughter mostly stem from personality differences among them, and they are all quite distinct personalities,” said Judy Gruen, the mother of three sons and one daughter (ages 9-15).
In parenting, she often takes a step back to consider the individual child, and not necessarily the gender. “I don’t even deal with all my sons the same way because they have different strengths, weaknesses, maturity levels, and will respond differently to different motivations and forms of discipline,” said Gruen, author of Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy.
Sign of the Times
In today’s turbulent political climate, mothers now more than ever are considering the possibility of their sons having to go into the military one day, according to Dr. Stone Fish.
Judy Gruen agreed. “As the mother of three sons, an American and an orthodox Jew, the prospect of my sons perhaps one day serving in the military (either here or in Israel) becomes more real as they grow older,” she said.
However, she is raising her sons to be individuals who go on to pursue their beliefs. “On one hand it’s a terrifying thought, yet the strength and bravery that I believe are very particular to men means that I could not hold them back from serving. I would be proud, although all my hairs would probably turn gray overnight!” she said.
The Father Factor
The role of fathers helps balance out the parenting worries and responsibilities as well as the influences.
“The role of mothers in sons’ lives is essential for them to grow up in a psychologically healthy way. However, both boys and girls need the special role modeling and traits that men offer as fathers and women as mothers,” Gruen added.