And Proud of It
OK – my boys aren’t going to like that title. What guy wants to be called a mama’s boy? Well – maybe those guys who have learned through experience or even scientific research that when boys have close relationships with their moms they generally grow up to be healthier adolescents and men. But when they are young boys and men, they don’t always care about what might help improve their futures – they just don’t want us to embarrass them by blowing them kisses at the ball field. (settle down, guys, I would never do that)
Why Do Close Relationships with Moms Matter?
Results of a study presented by Carlos Santos, a professor from Arizona State University, suggest that when boys remain close with their mothers they tend to be more emotionally mature and grow up to become men with better rates of mental health. Other researchers agree with this assessment, citing studies that show that as boys reach age 16 their suicide rates tend to rise dramatically, the same time when boys tend to move toward more hyper-masculine stereotypes. Boys who are close with their mothers and more aware of subtle emotional signals (and act on them) tend to be less violent and develop stronger relationships with peers. The same emotional intelligence that close relationships with moms provide for their sons does not appear to be replicated through close relationships with dads.
Should I Really Raise a Mama’s Boy?
OK – before you think that I’m coddling my boys – let me clarify. I do believe that boys will be boys. I believe that they are hardwired differently and I respect those differences and honor them in my home. I have to – I have 3 sons who fill my home with testosterone, bounce off the walls and each other, and find nothing more entertaining than the sounds their bodies make. But I want them to also respect themselves and others around them. Teaching our sons tools for emotional intelligence means they can grow up knowing how to honor loved ones in their lives, and how to care for their own needs. Raising mama’s boys doesn’t mean that my kids won’t grow up without grass-stained knees or belching with the boys – they are 2 for 2 on those. I just want to make sure that they know it is OK to experience emotions. And then I have to teach them how to show emotions that don’t threaten their masculinity. How in the world do I do that?
How Do I Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Son?
When my kids were learning to talk I would encourage them to use their words instead of grunting or thrashing their arms about in the air. It is the same idea as my kids get older – I use words that describe my own emotions and I ask them about their own – without pressure. I also repeatedly let them know that whatever emotions they are experiencing are OK – we just need to work to find healthy ways to show those emotions.
Today was one of those days that tested how I’ve been trying to raise boys who aren’t afraid to show emotions or know they don’t have to tough it out. I was washing dishes and suddenly heard my son quietly say behind me, “Mom, I hit my head with my yo-yo.” Now, you might be thinking that this isn’t a big deal – a yo-yo is a simple toy. However, in that split second before I turned around I knew this was more – my boys are competitive yo-yoers and recently bought metal yo-yos. When I turned around I saw my young son with blood on his face and a huge welt right between his eyes. No tears – but I could see them waiting to spill. I also knew there were other guys around and my son might not want to show his pain.
I grabbed a paper towel and ice and calmly asked him if he was OK other than that 3rd eye he sprouted. Then I told him that it was the kind of thing that would probably make many people shed a few tears – those kinds of smacks hurt. He nodded and let a tear spill. Then he breathed a huge sigh and admitted that it did sting. It wasn’t about having him sob on my shoulder, but it was about letting him know that it is OK to admit when something hurts. The guys didn’t question that tear-streak. In fact, they were quite in awe of the goose-egg and how long it took for the blood to stop flowing (and I’m guessing a few of them were glad they didn’t have the 3rd eye).
Someday (unfortunately) my boys will likely experience more pain than sprouting a 3rd eye from a metal yo-yo. Their bodies might fail, their relationships might tumble, they will lose someone they love, and their lives might become confusing and challenging. I don’t want to raise my boys to tough it out and suck it up – I want to raise them to acknowledge these situations and changes in their lives and react to them with dignity and respect – for themselves and those around them. Maybe this means raising mama’s boys – and being proud of it.