Years ago, I read a book (unfortunately I can’t remember the title or author) in which a woman talked about how close she was with her son (I think he was about 4 at the time) and how her husband had commented, “You two and your love affair” or something like that. I was a bit envious. At the time, my first son, Harry, was 2 or 3 and not particularly affectionate. We loved each other, of course, but I wouldn’t have described it as a love affair. But now… now he’s 8 and we are madly in love with each other. He’s just such good company (most of the time), he makes me laugh (a lot) and he’s very affectionate (sometimes to the point of it being irritating) and he’s just… my little mate.
But I know some people will find that weird. People in my own family find it weird. Last week, Harry had been out all day and when he came home, kept kissing me. (Just as an aside, one of my happiest memories is of being with Harry on a train a couple of years ago. He leaned over the table and kissed me a few times and then said, “I just can’t stop kissing you!”) It was clear he’d missed me and I’d missed him too. But the family member wasn’t impressed at all. She tutted. She sniffed. She made a comment along the lines of his behaviour being over the top. And I know precisely why. It’s because she’s worried he’s too much of a Mummy’s Boy.
But what’s wrong with being a Mummy’s Boy? Isn’t it a good thing for a son to be close to his mother? Isn’t a close, loving, relationship between any parent and any child a positive thing? Apparently not.
When journalist Mic Wright wrote a piece about online commenters for the Telegraph, he was setting himself up for some abuse. But when his mum left a comment pointing out that some of the abuse was of an unnecessarily personal nature, the comments thread exploded. There are currently 1669 comments, but I had to stop reading after this one:
[If you actually are Mic’s Mum] Rather than Mummy coming out to defend her (adult) son who’s scrapping with the big kids, it would have been kinder to let him come home with a ‘black eye’ than the title ‘Mummy’s boy’.
Better to be beaten up (albeit in print) than for people to know how close you are to your mother. Because if you’re close to your mother that means you’re… well, what does it mean?
In The Mama’s Boy Myth, Kate Stone Lombardi writes, “Homophobia is one of the big bogeymen behind fear of mother-son closeness. The unspoken fear is that if the mother is too great an influence on the son, she will somehow make him gay. Few people rationally believe this to be true, and certainly there is no science behind it. And the whole discussion doesn’t even address the assumption that having a gay son would by definition be a bad thing. But the truth is that much of the uneasiness around a close mother-son relationship is fed by the fear that too much influence from the mother will feminize the son.”
It’s ridiculous to me that in 2012 this could possibly still be a valid fear and it’s something that I’ve become a bit obsessed with since having my sons. Having boys has made me more feminist, which I didn’t anticipate, because I see every day how limiting traditional gender expectations are (and, of course, the fear of boys being feminised is directly related to the feminine being considered less valuable than the masculine). As Lombardi points out, parents seem happy for girls to embrace traits that were once considered traditionally masculine, but “if a mother tries to support her son’s more sensitive side or encourages him to learn a traditionally feminine skill, she is seen as a dangerous influence who is compromising his masculinity.”
The traditionally feminine personality traits – like sensitivity, emotional intelligence, kindness, gentleness – are surely positive traits that should be encouraged in any gender? We need to embrace the Mummy’s Boy – or rather, since the term is so bloody annoying, we need to accept that a close, loving, affectionate relationship between a mother and son is a good thing. Isn’t it ridiculous that it’s even in question?