My husband didn’t marry his mother. Not by a long shot. Not by a short stretch of the imagination, even. Get the picture?
For starters, my husband’s mother and I don’t share the same race. We don’t share the same physical proportions. We don’t share the same philosophies, ideals or first impressions. And, yet, the one thing that we do share is probably the greatest or terrifyingly single, most unifying, thing ever – and that is a love for my husband. (Notice I didn’t say her son, ahem.)
For what it’s worth – and trust me, I’m smart enough, and respectful enough, to know it’s worth plenty – she had him first, both literally and figuratively. By sheer dint of will or through the beautiful brush strokes of biology, they are, and will forever be, inextricably linked. Nothing says, “I own your ass,” more than giving birth to an ass. I kid. But seriously, as a mother, I know what it is to feel that immense other-worldly bond that giving birth creates. There is no denying or suppressing it. I won’t bore you with the details of my version because I have selective memory. And I know that each of us who has given birth, by whatever means, has a unique experience to call our own.
That said, I would postulate that a man who has chosen to marry a woman who is so utterly unlike his mother is a man who has successfully broken any semblance of Oedipal yearning. He is a fully e-man-ci-pated man. And, as it were, a man who has effectively extricated himself from “the clutches” of his first female love by coming into his own. Pause. Reflect. Continue. Unfamiliar with the Oedipus Rex story? It goes a little something like this: (Socially repressed) son walks into a bar, sees the back of an attractive older woman provocatively nursing a Cosmo, approaches and…cue music and ensuing family dysfunction!
What it boils down to has a lot to do with making and breaking emotional bonds so that (adult) children don’t become paralyzed with fear at the prospect of disappointing their mommies (or daddies). I know, tall order, right? But hear me out. If as parents we are doing our jobs “correctly” – according to whatever school of thought we’ve been inundated with this week – it means that we are often too (self) conscious about the kinds of emotional cues we are giving our children. And certainly, what we may or may not do or say has a lot to do with things like how girls feel about their bodies and the partners they eventually choose, for example.
With respect to mothering our sons, it may mean that among other things, we teach them that women are not foreign objects to be falsely admired or playthings to be discarded without care, but as individuals and equals whom they must respect. They also need to know that the girls they may end up loving (if it is girls whom they choose to love) don’t have to be “just like mommy” to be considered good and valuable. (And, yes, of course fathers figure prominently, too, but this post is about mothers and sons.)
At some point, a mother who has not successfully detached herself from her son emotionally becomes a meddlesome mother-in-law whose mission in life is to insinuate herself into her son’s adult life and relationships. As a result, said MIL acts wounded and jealous when she perceives, god-forbid, that the so-called Hierarchies of Love have shifted. This Momma’s Boy Momma will inevitably make your life (all about) her life, which means that your husband will likely have to choose for the sake of his life (and sanity).
Now, from where I sit, there is nothing more pathetically tragic than emotional blackmail. And, yeah, let’s just say that in the wise words of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, emotionally dysfunctional families are more common than you think. What’s important to recognize is that there is a period at which sons “need” their mothers – no, really – and a point at which they don’t. What matters is that both mother and adult son recognize when that point is and act accordingly – and appropriately, for that matter.
You’ve seen and heard it yourself. And if you haven’t, then permit me to share some observations, which are by no means the panacea.
A “Momma’s Boy,” a cringe-inducing term if I’d ever heard one, is likely to make constant, relentless comparisons between you and his momma in practically every facet of your relationship. Now if you happen to be clueless to this sort of emotional red flag, then mark my words, it’s the ultimate relationship downer. If you detect the slightest inkling of this (at any point in your relationship), you need to run, don’t walk, screaming in the other direction. If you haven’t successfully weaned your husband off this annoying tendency, don’t expect it to change “when you have children.” It’ll only get worse. And then, excuse my French, you’re fucked. Momma’s Boy’isms and behaviors are not, I repeat, are not self-corrective. If, however, you believe that mothering is innate and instinctual and “natural,” then god help you and your children for having a husband who insists that you parent “just like his mom.” On the other hand, there is nothing “wrong” with a man who worships his mother and fondly recalls her best moments with admiration and affection. In effect, I would hope that he does. It’s the level of hero-worship I’m “concerned” with.
A man who is not a Momma’s Boy is less likely to criticize you or the way you do things because he was never manipulated into believing that his mother’s way is the only way. Rather, he will have learned to appreciate women, and others, as individuals, as opposed to basing everything on how his mother and other women once did certain things for him. Men who are not Momma’s Boys, and who have chosen to get married and have children, are seemingly more invested in co-parenting – excluding the workaholics, of course – than the Momma’s Boys who were emotionally smothered by their mommies. I would argue that men who are not Momma’s Boys seem to have a better understanding of relationship balance and are able to give the necessary co-parenting support when needed.
Lastly, beyond the so-called obvious, do we really think that by continuing to lay claims to our children’s emotional health, when we as mothers “should know better,” we are helping then in later life, anyway? I think not. What do you think?