This is the first of a new series of posts, exploring boys’ relationships with their mothers, in which I’ll be sharing the findings from a small-scale research study I conducted a little while ago. My interest in this topic is connected to my wider concern with the development of young masculine identities, and the part played in that process by family and other relationships.
Research on young masculinities has tended to overlook the importance of family relationships for young men, preferring instead to study them as members of peer groups or in institutional settings, such as schools. Where families have come into focus it’s boys’ relationships with their fathers that have tended to be top of the agenda. As a result, boys’ relationships with their mothers have often been ignored or pathologised.
This relative silence about mothers and sons is reflected in popular discourse. As journalist William Sutcliffe writes:
Men are more likely to confess to a predilection for pornography than admit to a close relationship with their mother. There isn’t much left that the modern man is made to feel ashamed of, yet confessing to your friends that you sometimes call your mum for a chat is something few do. Even though a man’s mother is likely to be the second most important woman in his life, even though he may have deep feelings of love for her, this is a relationship about which men are sheepish, secretive and often outright embarrassed.
These feelings of sheepishness and embarrassment are reinforced by the images of men’s relationships with their mothers that we see in popular culture, images for the most part of domineering mothers and submissive sons. And these in turn are supported by those strains of developmental psychology and psychoanalytic theory which view men’s closeness to their mothers as problematic, rather than positive, something to be fought free from if autonomous, adult masculine identity is to be achieved.
And yet, as Sutcliffe’s quotation suggests, the reality is that for many men, their relationship with their mother is incredibly significant in their lives. In this series of posts, I want to explore the importance of maternal relationships for boys and young men, and the part played by those relationships in the development of young masculinities.
As always, I’d welcome comments on anything I write, either from fellow researchers, or from casual readers who want to share their personal experiences and perspectives.