MOTHERS AND SONS by Carole Klein


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No surprises--but a sturdy, fairly balanced survey of mother/son psychology, blending up-to-date theories, literary allusions, personal experience (just a tad), and the results of 700 interviews and/or questionnaires. (This last element is the weakest one: requiring ""a particularly articulate group,"" Klein seems to have wound up with one that is predominantly, sometimes ostentatiously, upper-middle-class.) Is mothering a son all that different from mothering a daughter? Absolutely, says Klein. Childbirth with a boy is usually more exultant (though occasionally the opposite); breast-feeding is more erotic; many women feel ""completed"" by having a son. Then comes the Oedipus Complex, which, despite being unfashionable, ""continues to explain many of the subtleties of the mother-son relationship."" (Klein follows From rather than undiluted Freud.) Subsequent stages of development are examined--dependency, independence, guilts, sexual tension at puberty--while Klein generally suggests that today's mothers may be too hesitant to be loving and protective: ""it seems to be the boy whose dependency needs were satisfied in childhood who is able to become more independent and less emotionally demanding of others as a man."" And a final section briefly focuses on specific mother/son relationships: the problems and great potential in feminist motherhood; mothers with homosexual sons (Klein touches on the controversy re causation, giving a recent Kinsey Report rather too much weight, but prefers to emphasize ""maternal acceptance"" of gay sons); the possibility of healthy motherhood by lesbians (unless they hate men) and working women; mothers with particularly troubled--or successful--sons. Neither a how-to nor a credo, and too impersonal to make for absorbing reading à la Nancy Friday--but a conscientious wrap-up for fairly sophisticated readers, with some implicit guidance and reassurance for past/present/future mothers.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin