In this provocative debut, New York Times contributor Lombardi challenges the cultural message that “a well-adjusted, loving mother is one who gradually but surely pushes her son away, both emotionally and physically, in order to allow him to grow up to be a healthy man.”
Drawing on her experience as the mother of an adult son with whom she still maintains an intimate bond, and that of her wide circle of friends and acquaintances, the author suggests that many modern women reject the prevailing wisdom that mothers must distance their sons. They do not agree with the cultural norm that a mother should neither comfort a son once he reaches school age, nor encourage him to confide emotional problems. Lombardi deconstructs the implicit assumption that traits such as sensitivity and empathy are gender-specific “female characteristics,” at odds with a healthy masculine identity. She points to the dichotomy between the way daughters and sons are treated now that young women are encouraged to assume traditionally masculine roles. The opposite is true for boys. From the cradle on, they are expected to “man up” and not cry or seek comfort when they are distressed. Lombardi suggests that supposed innate gender differences reflect culturally determined differences in nurturing as opposed to a significant divergence between male and female brains. She cites a number of recent studies, which indicate that boys who receive less “mothering” are more vulnerable to psychological problems. She contends that not only does mother/son bonding play a positive role in a boy's maturation, but that mothers are better able than fathers to help their sons develop better relationships with women, and the communications skills necessary for success in the modern work world. This is especially so in situations where bosses are frequently women.
An insightful, timely study, especially now as feminist gains are under attack.