Like Mother, Like Son

she was raising her two children, Kate Stone Lombardi—a seasoned journalist for
The New York Times for more than two decades and mom to now 26-year-old
Jeanie and 23-year-old Paul—was taken aback by the assumptions of so many
people around her saying that it was best to distance herself from her son to
avoid him becoming a "mama’s boy."

Stone Lombardi’s parenting instincts went against all of the advice that she
was hearing—and synthesizing years of research combined with hundreds of her
own interviews with mothers, sons, fathers and experts, she presents a solid
argument to those naysayers in her book,
The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping
Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger
(Avery). Both the data and the personal
anecdotes demonstrate that fostering a close mother-son relationship results in
emotionally evolved, empathetic and successful men.

inspired you to write
The Mama’s Boy Myth?

There was nothing in popular culture that depicted a mother-son relationship in
a positive way. The only thing in books [and] movies were negative images of
controlling moms and this weak, wussy boy who was never going to grow up to be
independent. My relationship [with my son, Paul] didn’t look anything like
that—I wanted to know where this was coming from.

In your opinion, what is the importance of the mother-son relationship?

Moms teach their boys to recognize what they’re feeling, talk about it and
[then] start to develop empathy for others. They work at every stage of the
game to develop emotional intelligence and it doesn’t make boys weak or
dependent. It equips them to navigate life later on.

there been any backlash surrounding
the book?
I had an excerpt printed in the Wall
Street Journal
and some of the comments—more than 200—were really angry, most
of them from men. One saying, "Your son sounds like the kind of kid they would
have beaten up as a child." This really surprised me because this book is really
good news—I love boys and men, and I think fathers are very important. This book
is just about mothers and sons. 

me about any positive feedback.

[There have been] a lot of positive comments from sons—one that made me really
happy was [from] a veteran of the Afghani and Iraq War, your typical guys’ guy.
He talked about how his mom made him a better parent and soldier.

do these close mother-son relationships differ from helicopter parenting?
What I’m talking about is maintaining
an emotional connection to your son and letting him develop into the full
person that he is. My generation encouraged what used to be considered
masculine traits, like pursuing education, in our daughters so we should be
also encouraging emotional intelligence in our sons.

kind of dialogue do you hope to spark with your research?
My hope is that we start to have a
conversation about some of the assumptions we’re making.  We’re still looking at the mother-son relationship
like it’s 1955. I’m tired of these old stereotypes. Ten-year-old boys still
need their moms and 17-year-old boys still need their moms.

cannot be avoided with a topic like this!
Freud was clearly a brilliant man but
he wrote the Oedipus complex in 1899. He was not writing a parenting guide for
2012. He was talking about the subconscious and, over the years, it’s [been]
distorted into a prohibition against mother-son relationships. He was never
against mothers and sons having a normal, close relationship.

you think there is a double standard when it comes to the father-daughter

When dads are close to [their] daughters, everyone thinks it’s great. A dad can
do anything with his daughter—she can be his little princess or he can push
traditional boundaries by putting her in a football jersey or teaching her
something mechanical. If a mom spends too much time with her son or teaches him
something traditionally female, moms get pushed back—leave that kid alone, let
him be, stop bothering him. Mothers don’t get as much leeway with their sons as
dads have with their daughters.

book is clearly a study and not a parenting manual. What advice do you have for
new mothers of boys?

Follow your instincts. Your son needs
you, and it’s good to keep [him] close. Spending time with your boy, as [he]
gets older, away from the rest of the family, fosters closeness. There’s something primal about the mother-son
relationship throughout life at every stage.

about for mothers of older sons?

It is never too late to reach out and establish a bond. Early imprinting is
important, but I’ve spoken to many moms who early on bought into the cultural
expectations that they should push their sons away, and later reached out to
their sons with positive results. It was sometimes as simple as a mom calling
her son and saying, "I miss seeing you. Want to go for a walk?"

also have a daughter. What’s motherhood been like with both of your children?
Raising both a son and a daughter in
this culture sometimes felt like a strange balancing act. I was encouraging my
daughter to excel in school, work hard, to be athletic, not to fold when faced
with adversity. With my son, I was concerned about not losing [his] sweet side
as he got drawn into the male culture of toughness. Really, I just wanted both
of them to develop their full human potential.

does your mother-daughter relationship differ from the one you have with your
No one ever criticized my
relationship with my daughter, which was equally close but in some ways more
intense than my relationship with my son. I think I identified more with my
daughter, and that was both good and bad. Adolescence was much rougher with her,
too—I think because we are more alike, she felt a greater need to establish a
break from me. Now that she is an adult, we are very close. But no one ever
criticized my closeness with her, and especially, now that she’s an adult,
nobody seems to think it’s weird that we g-chat all the time, comparing notes
on the minutia of our day. With my son, I would get messages [from others] to
back off at every stage.

Kobrin Bernstein is a teacher turned overtired, over-educated SAHM of two. She
lives with her husband, toddler, kindergartener and hundreds of books in
Manhattan. You can find her parenting rants, recipes and reviews at