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What’s wrong with being a Mummy’s Boy?

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?

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About K

YA writer. Voracious reader. Feminist. Home educator. Addicted to tea and Twitter.

8 comments on “What’s wrong with being a Mummy’s Boy?

  1. Susan
    September 26, 2012

    I agree! I think the words ‘mummy’s boy’ brings a Frank Spencer style character to mind. Someone who is too sensitive and can’t cope with the world so retreats to ‘behind his mother’s skirts’ What a load of nonsense. My son – same age as Harry – is very affectionate, he hugs me and kisses me (and his dad) and I love that. I want him to grow up knowing its ok to be close to me. As he grows up I’m not going to interfere in his life (I will) any more than I will my daughter’s (again I will) and I don’t see why I should be expected to be close to my daughter but not want exactly the same relationship with my son. Sorry – I’m in a ranty mood today!

  2. Sarah
    September 26, 2012

    Wonderful piece, Keris. I was nodding along as I read and completely agree with you. I have a similar relationship with my (sensitive, empathetic, verbal, affectionate, creative, funny) son and am (sadly) familiar with the reactions you describe. I’ve been told several times that he’ll need to ‘toughen up’ and that I have to ‘let him go’ and I anticipate that will only get worse. He’s nine years old.

  3. Pingback: What’s wrong with being a Mummy’s Boy? « Keris Stainton

  4. diane
    September 26, 2012

    Great post! It’s so sad really, how much this says about people’s attitudes to men and boys being sensitive and affectionate.

    I do think some parents (and in my experience it’s tended to be mothers) sometimes use that closeness to encourage dependence — i.e. grown, perfectly healthy men getting their mums to do their laundry and cook for them. Of course, in those cases, the mothers have tended to be wedded to traditional gender roles in the first place.

  5. Kirsty Higginson
    November 18, 2012

    Great article. Your relationship is just how I see my relationship with my son and daughter. It really annoys me that many people believe there must be a gender difference which defines how we our relationships should be. S is 15, and although we’re currently in the middle of the argumentative teen years we still say ‘I love you’ to each other, every day. We hug, we kiss amongst the arguing – and what I really love is the fact that he always tells me when he’s going to school in the morning and kisses me goodbye. Isabelle is exactly the same, and I love our closeness.

  6. despairing mummy's boys girlfriend
    December 19, 2012

    No no it’s horrible dating a mummy’s boy. You mums of boys don’t realise the hell you are going to put your future daughter in laws in. I am always second best and she rings up every two seconds with some ’emergency’ which is not an emergency at all it’s just a guise to get him back to the house, she moans when he spends time with me as he isn’t with her. It’s more like he’s her husband. He can’t say no to her demands, he is so manipulative and the worse thing is I think he likes all this neediness. He goes back from Uni (he’s a mature student, in his forties)with a bag of washing he really struggles to carry on public transport yet he has a washing machine where he stays, because she wants to do the washing, he says, for him. I feel like the other woman. Over the festive period I am going to be allowed one night with him at my home as he’s spending the whole holiday with her. I am even thinking of calling off the wedding, it will only get worse. Let the boys cut the apron strings pleeeeeeaaase!!

    • Keris
      December 22, 2012

      There are always unhealthy versions of any relationship and what you’re describing is certainly an unhealthy version of the mother and son relationship, but it’s hardly representative. I’m talking about allowing boys to be sensitive / express their feelings, which has nothing to do with not “cutting the apron strings”. Hope things improve for you.

  7. Pingback: 10 things I can’t do because I only have sons | whoever you want to be...

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This entry was posted on September 26, 2012 by in Bea Family, Bea Feminist and tagged , , , , .
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