In this NPR piece, 12-year-old Grant Coursey interviews his mother. Grant was a toddler when he was diagnosed with neuoroblastoma, a cancer found in young children. He is now cancer-free. They talk about what it was like for both of them. The bond between this mother and son is profound. Just find the 2 minutes and 58 seconds it takes to listen to them. And then remember, as Grant says, "life is really good."
I can't stop thinking about Trayvon Martin's mother. Trayvon is the teenager who was shot and killed in Florida by a man conducting a "neighborhood watch." The man who shot him claimed self-defense; Trayvon was armed with a bag of Skittles an ice tea.
In today's NYT, Trayvon's mom, Sybrina Fulton, fills in some details about her 17-year-old son, who has become an icon of racial bias and fear. His nickname was "Slimm" because he was all arms and legs, almost 6 feet talll but only 140 pounds. He loved sports - watching and playing - and his favorite meal was hamburgers and french fries. For dessert, it was all about brownies. Trayvon worked odd jobs to make extra money and he was a sweet babysitter to his young girl cousins.
He sounds a lot like my son.
There was a woman I interviewed for my book who described taking her two sons out to dinner, One night, her older boy, 14, started to get upset, because he perceived a white woman at a nearby table staring at him. He said, "Mom, that woman over there is looking at me like I'm going to steal something." The boy's mom hadn't picked up on any hostile vibe. "What I experienced as an African-American woman wasn't the same as what they were experiencing as African-American young men," this mother told me.
It was anguishing for her, and - like so many African-American mothers of sons - her first priority was simply in keeping her sons safe. Her 14-year-old was a gentle soul, and still very much needed his mother. But she felt ill-equipped at that moment, knowing that many in the world would always see him as a threat, not as the kid who liked nothing more than coming home from school, loading up on chocolate chip cookies, and getting a hug from his mother after a long day at school.
There is something about this premature spring that makes me wish I could slow down time. My favorite tree in the backyard is a small weeping cherry, but our family has always called in "the popcorn tree" because of the way the white blossoms pop up over the course of just a few days at the end of April. Well, it's already partially popped this morning. The forsythia are completely in bloom. As much as I love springtime,this is all happening too fast.
It feels like the book is on a parallel track - so much happening so fast, that I can't stay on top of it. Yesterday articles about The Mama's Boy Myth appeared in newspapers in India and the UK (complete with quotes, which was interesting since I've never spoken to reporters in either country) and photos of me and My Son. Ironically, My Son is so busy - he is working 12 hour days, 6 days a week, and also interviewing for new jobs for next year - that I rarely kept to speak to him.
It's all good - well, maybe not the climate change, but the full lives that are moving forward - but these days I feel like I'm watching time-lapse photography.
Phew! It's possible I've had some other equally intense 24 hour period in my life, but if so, I can't remember it. It was all good - lots of publicity for the book - but kind of surreal. Friday morning, the piece in Time.com appeared. Then I went on the Brian Lehrer show, WNYC. (Crazy, hectic studio - I have no idea how he sounds so calm on the radio.) Then up to MSNBC and the Dylan Ratigan show. (He was in LA, I was in NY studio, hearing his questions through an ear piece.) The next morning it was Fox & Friends, where the intro to my appearance was a clip from the movie "Failure to Launch."
It was an incredible whirlwind. Thank goodness The Weatherman accompanied me to all appearances, because he kept me somewhat calm and put up with my jitters. And how I wish I could bring those make-up and hair people home with me! Today I'm back in my jeans writing, and looking like my old self.
For generations, mothers have gotten the same old message when it comes to raising sons: beware of keeping him “too close.” A mom who nurtures a deep emotional bond will prevent him from growing up to be a strong, independent man. By refusing to cut those apron strings, she is on track to create the archetypal, effeminate, maladjusted “mama’s boy.” There’s one problem with this theory: it’s just not true.
From the Oedipus myth (not to mention the complex Freud created around it) to the movie “Psycho,” our culture warns us about the dangers of mother-son closeness. No other parent-child combination is so stigmatized. We encourage mothers and daughters, as well as fathers and sons, to stay close throughout their adult lives. And a supportive father is considered essential to a daughter’s self-esteem. A dad can coach his daughter’s lacrosse team, wipe her tears and encourage her loftiest ambition, all with smiling approval.
(MORE: The Myths of Bullying)
But a mother who is similarly involved in her son’s life is often accused of coddling, meddling, smothering or acting inappropriately. While we don’t worry about an involved father “masculinizing” his daughter, there is clearly concern about the feminizing influence of mom. As one woman said to me, “It’s like if I spend too much time with my son, he’ll start running around, begging for directions.” Mothers of sons are supposed to push their boys away, physically and emotionally, in the name of their developing manhood.
This double standard is misguided and can be deeply damaging to boys. Certainly we know very young boys benefit from their mothers’ love and comfort. A study published in Child Development involving almost 6,000 children found that baby boys who do not form strong attachments to their mothers grow up to be more aggressive and destructive children. And when young sons are encouraged to separate prematurely from their mothers, they become anxious little boys who carry a fear of intimacy and betrayal into their adult years, says Dr. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who has written extensively about masculinity. After all, the first woman they have loved and depended upon has pushed them away.
As boys grow older, mothers who stay close to their sons can help combat the worst elements of a culture that cuts off boys’ natural sensitivity and rich emotional life. For years, headlines have proclaimed that boys are in “crisis.” They suffer from being forced to conform to standards of masculinity that still decree the only acceptable emotions are anger and aggression. Boys are also falling behind girls in school, getting lower grades, exhibiting more behavioral problems and receiving more diagnoses of learning disabilities.
These are not unrelated problems, and moms can be part of the solution. Nurturing mothers can help their sons develop emotional intelligence, encouraging them to talk about their feelings and recognize those of others. Certainly boys who are better able to articulate their thoughts and who have stronger self-control will perform better in the classroom than boys who retreat into silence or act out. One study of 400 middle school boys in New York City public schools revealed that boys who were closer to their mothers were less likely to define masculinity as being tough, stoic and self reliant. These boys not only had less anxiety and depression than their more stoic peers, but also were getting better grades.
And contrary to stereotype, boys who can express a broader range of emotions will not become wimps, forever clinging to their mommies, but instead independent guys who will make strong, empathetic spouses and partners, says Dr. William Pollack, a psychology professor at Harvard University. What’s more, these young men will be better equipped to navigate today’s economy, where communication skills and team work are more important for success than brute physical strength or dominance.
Moms are tired of being told to back off from their sons for their own good. By keeping sons close, they aren’t creating “mama’s boys.” Moms are helping their sons reach their full human potential and setting up their boys for happier, more successful lives.
"In spite of the sometimes tough negotiations, colleagues and confidents describe a warm chemistry betwen the two leaders that trancends policy differences." That's from an NYT story about the relationship between the managing director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.
The two are split over how to protect vulnerable European economies, but what struck me was the civilized nature of their discord. How is that related to moms and sons? So many mothers work with their sons to develop emotional intelligence - how to articulate their feelings and understand those of others (traditionally a "female" skill set). This isn't just about teaching boys to play well with others. It has huge potential for their adults lives. Last year, Harvard Business School introduced a new leadership course that tries to develop emotional intelligence in students. Clearly Harvard recognizes these skills as critically important. Leadership, political, business, or other, is no long seen as simply top-down dominance of will, but as working intelligently with others.
Heaven knows, international economic issues are complex and the stakes are high. But how refreshing to see two leaders who approach their differences with civility. Wouldn't it be nice if the US Congress had a wee bit of emotional intelligence these days?
After all, I am arguing in my book that one of the persistent myths about the mother-son relationship is the theory that a mother who is close to her son will necessarily infantalize him, hold him back from independence and keep him from growing up. In fact, boys who have healthy, close bonds with their moms gain the security and self-confidence they need to make their way as strong, independent adults.
Yesterday, The Boy called home and we caught up on everything from how he learned to keep a boneless chicken breast tender (with my adult kids, my son is the cook; my daughter the one who microwaves frozen burritos and buys a lot of take-out) to, most important, his career plans for next year. He has opportunities in a number of cities and is weighing the pros and cons of each.
The Boy, of course, is not a boy. He is a man. So from here on, in this blog, he is officially dubbed "My Son."
Are you ok with this, P?