52 in 52 Week 18: The Mama's Boy Myth by Kate Stone Lombardi




"What today's mothers are doing for their sons -- primarily teaching them emotional intelligence -- is a critically important gift. Mothers, by affording their sons the emotional closeness that they once offered only to daughters, are giving them access to a fuller experience of humanity" (p.9-10)


My husband said a similar thing to me on our Spring Break vacation with our two boys, ages 17 and 20. I had been experiencing some loss as my youngest had followed his oldest into classes at the community college, leaving me without the job of homeschooling after 14 years at the helm. 


Those years brought me daily contact with my boys, doing history, science, literature, and read-alouds on our couch until their middle school years. These academic subjects were segues into deep talks about everything under the sun. 


In their high school years, their education was more self-directed, but I still interacted with them over papers and literature they were reading for the British, American, and Homeric literature classes I ran with other homeschoolers in our co-op. They were segues into the realm of values, principles, and feelings in this rhetoric stage of their education and development. 


In addition, our rides in the car to co-op activities, plays, field-trips, and community service projects were the "car talk" times Lombardi talks about in her book. Many times there were other kids in the car with us and not technically "one on one," but I had many "sons" those years of homeschooling and was a second mom to them. 


There has been a closeness with my kids because of homeschool, and I will never regret our decision to do so. Our discussions were not just about academic subjects but springboards into deep discussions about life, and we laughed together a TON. Weekday mornings were "our" time.


Last fall, all the time together that homeschool afforded was gone, and I realized this loss on that Spring Break trip.


I won't go into all the reasons, totally unrelated to my kids, why I was emotionally fragile on that trip, but the fragility caused me to express that loss to my boys. We didn't have the time "carved out" for us like before, and I missed it. With encouragement from my husband, I ran the idea of a weekly "talk time" with each of them, and they were all for it. 


Since Spring Break, I have spent time with both of them.  On Mondays, the youngest and I walk to the local Wendy's, eat dinner (while dad has a meeting and oldest has class), and walk back. I let him set the agenda for what we talk about. The first time, he opened up to me about many deep things. I thought the time would be over when we were back home, but he stuck around, and we talked in our living room until dad and oldest got back, at which time we all talked together until late into the evening. 


My oldest is much quieter, and I find that walking is what gets him talking. So, we do the "hospital hill" two mile walk that takes us about 40 minutes, and I don't have an agenda, I just listen and let him run the topics. Since he is naturally quieter, I thought we might walk in silence if I didn't ask questions, but this hasn't been the case. 


I heard Lombardi's NPR April 8th interview on "All Things Considered" only eleven days after having this Spring Break ephiphany and a few "talk times" with my guys.  Perfect timing!


Lombardi's book confirmed what I had felt.  It is funny that she should talk about Freud's Oedipus Complex because I reported on The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud's 1899 publication that put forth this theory, in my first counseling class in graduate school. I also read Oedipus when my oldest studied classical literature. So, I really tracked with her on the ridiculousness of Freud's theories that have been debunked with modern research. 


As I read, I thought about different books I had read throughout graduate school (I have an M.Ed. in student personal work with an emphasis in counseling psychology) when I researched male/female roles during my internship with the women's center on the Oregon State University campus. No sooner did I think of the book, when she would quote from it. So, I felt like I tracked well with the book. She put careful thought into her research. Bravo for her. 


My only hesitation in recommending this book is her liberal, feminist leanings that I do not share. Her writing on sexuality is so not where I would even fathom or entertain in my relationship with my boys. While trying to be funny in her opening on this subject, I found it crude and distasteful. It was only a few paragraphs. So, I skipped it.  


Another hesitation, toward the end of the book, she had quite a bit to say and research to prove her case about the value of working moms in raising boys to the exclusion of explaining the benefits of stay-at-home moms. I have read research to the contrary. I think there is poor mothering with both stay-at-home and working moms, and I don't necessarily think one is more superior than the other, and she definitely shows her bias since she is a working mom (contributing columnist with the New York Times).  She is leaving out the growing population of mothers who are staying home with their kids with her working mom bias, almost dismissing them by ignoring them. 

Also, throughout the whole book she is trying to make a point about throwing away the stereotypes of what is truly masculine and feminine, but she gives us this, up front, caveat on p. 14:

Also, my son, a young man now, is more than six feet tall, plays ice hockey has many male friends and a steady girlfriend. Why do I feel the need to tell you this? Because in this culture, I must reassure you -- and myself -- that my deep emotional bond with my son hasn't compromised his masculinity. Look -- he and his mom have this tight connection and my son is still "a guy's guy."
She defeats one of the main points of her book before she even starts with this statement IMHO. My kids don't play sports (even though they were raised by a mom and dad who were both college athletes) or have a steady girlfriend. Where does this statement leave me if my kids aren't "guy's guys"?  Think about it Ms. Lombardi: can you see how this statement nullifies the whole point of your book? You need to get over your insecurity and learn from what your extensive research has shown you! 


But I won't throw the baby out with the bath water because it was confirmation of my gut about the time I have spent investing in my boys. 

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