'Mama's Boy Myth': Sons Who Are Close to Mom are Stronger

Good Morning America
'Mama's Boy Myth': Sons Who Are Close to Mom are Stronger
.

View photo

'Mama's Boy Myth': Sons Who Are Close to Mom are Stronger (ABC News)

Freud warned about the unresolved Oedipal complex in boys: Sons who couldn't break free from a smothering mother's clutches were doomed to be sexually confused -- or even homosexual.

Even Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatric guru of the 1950s and 1960s, advised that mama's boys might grow up "precocious, with feminine interests."

But now, author Kate Stone Lombardi contends in her new book, "The Mama's Boy Myth," that having a close mother-son relationship makes boys stronger and ultimately helps them be better partners and husbands.

Society fears the "blindly adoring mother, the emasculating mother, and the martyred mother," according to Lombardi, 55, who lives in Chappaqua, N.Y.

"The myth is that any boy close to his mom will be a sissy, a wimp, forever dependent and never a man who can have a healthy relationship," Lombardi told ABCNews.com. "And it's everywhere we look, in the movies, on TV."

In literature, so-called "mama's boys" have been portrayed either as neurotic killers like the cross-dressing Norman Bates from the film, "Psycho," or "lust-ridden, mother-addicted" Jewish bachelors like the protagonist in Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint."

Homophobia is one of the "big bogeymen" behind why society is so critical of the mother-son relationship, she writes. "The unspoken fear is that if the mother is too great an influence on the son, she will somehow make him gay."

But Lombardi said that for this generation of mothers and sons, the stereotypes are simply not true.

A former writer for the New York Times, Lombardi got the idea for the book after wondering why she was uneasy about the close relationship she shared with her own son, Paul, who is now 23.

"From the very beginning I felt a really strong connection -- literally when I was in the hospital and put him into my arms," she said. "I looked at him and recognized him and felt this bond."

As he got older, "he got my moods and I got his moods. But I thought it was something peculiar to us -- that luckily, I had this sweet boy."

Later, when talking to other mothers, she realized they were not unique, but also that, "no one talks about it."

She set up a web site to reach other mothers and to learn about their relationships with their sons. More than 1,100 replied to say they, too, were emotionally connected.

Many said that like her, they felt compelled to keep the closeness "secret."

Historically, mothers have been blamed for anything that goes wrong with a child, according to Lombardi. Schizophrenia and later autism were attributed to maternal mistakes.

She wonders why fathers are spared the same criticism.

"Tellingly, there seems to be much less general angst over the idea that if a father is too influential on his daughter, she might grow up to be a lesbian," writes Lombardi.

She cites study after study that destroys the notion that motherly love is destructive.

In one 2010 research project, Carlos Santos, a professor at Arizona State University, followed 426 middle-school boys to determine to what extent they bought into traditional masculine roles.

Those who had warm and supportive relationships with their mothers had better tools for communication and lower rates of depression and delinquency than their "tougher" peers.

"These boys had a broader definition of masculinity and didn't buy into the idea that men had to be stoic and not fight back at every moment," said Lombardi. "Being close to mom was good for their mental health."

Mama's Boys Are Less Aggressive and Troubled

She said research shows that these boys are less susceptible to peer pressure to do drugs and alcohol, and they tend to delay their first sexual experience and have less unprotected sex.

"We don't know why -- if it's specifically because of the nature of the mother-son communication," she said. "But dad's tend to have a big sex talk or big drug talk. Moms weave it into everyday conversation. It's more subtle and more often."

Dads are important, too, according to Lombardi. "Parenting is not a zero-sum game," she said. "You don't have to be close to one parent and not the other. They both bring something."

Lombardi said she shares the same closeness with her 26-year-old daughter and her son is close to his father.

She knows readers might deem her relationship with her own son as "deeply inappropriate" and even "creepy" -- they are affectionate and even have their own song.

Many other women also described to Lombardi the "love affair" they felt with their boys.

But many, fearing a mother's love can be a "dangerous influence" close the door on their sons too early.

Some studies suggest boys are more fragile than girls, at least earlier in life. Sometimes that "hearty shove" is premature and can be devastating.

She cites a 2010 study of 6,000 children by psychologist Pasco Fearon of University of Reading that found those boys who were "insecurely attached" to their mothers were more aggressive and hostile in their teen years.

"Sons really need their moms and the last thing they need is withdrawal of support," she said.

Lombardi insists she doesn't want to turn boys into girls. "I don't think they are the same," she said. "The differences between them will always be."

But society has changed, and so have cultural constructs of masculinity and femininity.

Lombardi argues that sensitivity, tenderness and the ability to talk about feelings have traditionally been female characteristics, but they just might help boys in the future.

One study from Northeastern University predicts that by 2018, the social sector of the economy will gain at least 6.9 million jobs will require "brains over brawn."

"Our sons need to be ready for these jobs," said Lombardi. "They need communication skills and the ability to work in teams and have emotional intelligence."

Her son, Paul Lombardi, seems to be on the right path now that he is an adult, training to be a teacher in a residency tutor program at a Boston elementary charter school.

"I am the person I am today because of the values she instilled in me and the guidance and love she showed me," he said of his mother. "It's definitely unfair and stigmatizing to say a mother and son can't be close."

Both admit their relationship has changed over time.

"You don't treat a 23-year-old the same way as a 5-year-old," said Paul Lomabardi.

"I still feel like we have a connection," said his mother. "But I don't need to know everything that goes on in his life. We are adults now."

As for the book, Paul Lombardi said there were some surprises when personal anecdotes became public, but nothing too embarrassing.

"She went through the process and vetted with me," he said. "Like a good mom, she is protective and knows her boundaries."

View Comments (169)

Recommended for You

  • Luggage piece found on French island near possible MH370 debris

    Part of a bag was found Thursday on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion not far from plane debris which has fuelled speculation it may be from missing flight MH370. "The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue, a member of a local…

    AFP
  • Chicago man cleared after 17 years in prison shot dead

    CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man who served 17 years in prison for murder before being cleared of the crime has been shot and killed almost three years after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • Turkey onslaught on Kurds, after IS attack, fuels anger

    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Just when it seemed Turkey was getting serious about the fight against IS, it has turned its military focus to pounding its old foe: the Kurdish rebels.

    Associated Press55 mins ago
  • Family Pet-Sitter Helps Herself To Homeowner's Possessions

    DEAR ABBY: A trusted and beloved family member who takes care of my cats -- and therefore has a key to my house -- has been stealing things like cleaning supplies, knickknacks, family pictures, etc. Most of them have little monetary value. But imagine my surprise when I spotted some of my missing…

    Dear Abby
  • Eight family members decapitated in north Mexico

    Eight people from the same family, including two minors, were kidnapped by masked gunmen and their decapitated bodies were found days later in northern Mexico, authorities said Wednesday. The bodies were found after a ninth member of the Martinez family escaped Sunday's abduction near Casa Quemada,…

    AFP
  • Russia reassures Israel over Iran nuclear deal

    Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the deal on Iran's nuclear program would improve security in the Middle East and guaranteed that Tehran would not acquire nuclear arms. Israel plans to lobby the U.S. Congress not to approve the…

    Reuters
  • An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

    Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim. “Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in…

    TakePart.com
  • View

    Creeping vines, abandoned village (20 photos)

    Just a handful of people still live in a village on Shengshan Island east of Shanghai that was once home to more than 2,000 fishermen. Every day hundreds of tourists visit Houtouwan, making their way on narrow footpaths past tumbledown houses overtaken by vegetation. The remote village, on one of…

    Yahoo News
  • Dashcam catches off-duty cop threatening to put 'hole in head' of driver

    Technically Incorrect: A Massachusetts driver makes a wrong turn. What happens next, all filmed on his dashcam, has led to an investigation. And yes, it's now on YouTube.

    CNET
  • Jon Stewart signing off 'Daily Show' fake newscast for real

    NEW YORK (AP) — After more than 16 years and nearly 2,600 telecasts, Jon Stewart can feel proud of his scads of Emmys and his pair of Peabody Awards, his cultural gravitas (he hung with the Prez, both on and off the air!), even his reprobate status at Fox News.

    Associated Press44 mins ago
  • Taliban disavows Afghan peace talks after leader declared dead

    By Kay Johnson KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban's official spokesman disavowed peace talks with the Afghan government on Thursday, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate an end to 14 years of war into disarray. The statement came a day after the Afghan government said that Mullah Omar, the elusive…

    Reuters
  • Play

    Body cam footage from Cincinnati shooting contradicts official story

    A University of Cincinnati police officer has been indicted for murder after body camera footage contradicted his official story outlining the events that led to the shooting death of unarmed Cincinnati driver Samuel Dubose.

    Reuters Videos
  • Hidden Security Cameras Are Shocking Surprise For Daughter

    DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old woman in college who still lives with my parents. I found out something several weeks ago that's bothering me, and I need advice badly. Years ago, after a robbery, my parents installed security cameras outside our house. I knew about them because they were visible. But…

    Dear Abby
  • Trump leads Republicans, but Democrats thump him: poll

    Bombastic US billionaire Donald Trump handily leads all fellow Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, though Hillary Clinton and other Democrats trump him in head-to-head matchups, a poll said Thursday. Trump plunged into the crowded Republican nomination battle last month, and has since…

    AFP
  • Teens' 6 days adrift verge on limits for survival at sea

    TEQUESTA, Fla. (AP) — Crews pushed the limits of an ever-expanding search zone Wednesday for two teens missing at sea and potentially nearing the boundaries of human survival.

    Associated Press
  • Buffalo Snow Pile Refuses to Melt Eight Months After Snowstorm

    The sun is shining, swimming pools are open and there’s still a giant snow pile in New York.The calendar says it’s almost August, but an estimated 12-feet-tall snow pile still lingers in Buffalo, New York from a snow storm eight months ago.“The original problem started back in November,” New York…

    ABC News
  • Internet mauls dentist accused of illegal kill of popular lion

    Technically Incorrect: Walter Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota, has his Yelp entry attacked by those not fond of his allegedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

    CNET
  • View

    Photos of the day - July 29, 2015 (20 photos)

    The full moon rises over the illuminated Kazan Kremlin with the Qol Sharif mosque illuminated in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, Indian dancers paint their body like tigers as they perform a Tiger dance during the International day of the Tiger in Calcutta and a diver performs with fish as part of…

    Yahoo News