Thinking back, I wonder if people thought I was a bit of a mama’s boy. I grew up in a stable home and loved and respected both of my parents. I regularly spent time with each of them. But I was always closer to my mother. If this was true when I was young, it was even more pronounced when I was a teenager. In those years I was a boy, a young man, who needed his mom.
Boys need their dads, we know that. Boys need their dads to model masculinity, to model the love and affection they ought to have for a woman, to teach them the kind of life skills they will need. Girls need their dads too. They need their dads to protect them, to be affectionate with them and in that way to display healthy physical boundaries. They need their dads to hold the boys at bay and, eventually, to give their blessing to that special one. Girls need their moms. They need their moms to model femininity, to teach and train them to be women, to model patience and wisdom. Books, blogs, and sermon illustrations abound for each of these relationships. But what about boys and their moms?
Boys need their moms—I am convinced of it. Even teenaged boys, boys who are nearly men. I see this when I look back at my own life. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that my mother was my primary counselor and most trusted companion through those turbulent teenage years. It’s not that I didn’t have peer friendships, but that none of those friends influenced me as much as she did. I would often spend that time between school and dinner chatting with her while she prepared our meal. I would come along with her on errands just so we could talk. I confided in her and depended on her wisdom and her interpretation of my thoughts and feelings. We talked about girls and God and pretty well everything else I was thinking and experiencing. I relied on her for physical affection. In so many ways I wanted to be like her, to model much of my life and character after hers. It was really only when Aileen entered my life that this friendship, this dependency, began to diminish. The relationship I enjoyed with the most important woman in my childhood slowly declined as the relationship with the most important woman in my adulthood increased. The first had in some way prepared me for the second.
The relationship between a boy and his mother is a unique and precious one. Sadly, it is one we often look upon with suspicion, as if closeness between a boy and his mother is a warning sign, as if it may indicate a latent femininity or perhaps even homosexuality. We have names for boys who are close or too close to their moms—they are mama’s boys or sissies or pansies. A boy who is close to his mom is a boy we believe to be weak, not strong.
Yet James Dobson, in his book Bringing Up Boys, dedicates a whole chapter to mothers and sons and says this: “The quality of early relationships between boys and their mothers is a powerful predictor of lifelong psychological and physical health.” Writing to mothers, Kevin Leman says, “Although it might be natural to think that the man in your son’s life … would have the most influence on him since they’re both males, the opposite is true. You influence your son directly and have a much greater impact on the man he will become.” In the Bible we see Timothy mentored and discipled by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), we see Solomon warning his son not to depart from his mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8), we see Jacob’s closeness to Rebekah (Genesis 27). In history and church history we encounter many great men who were shaped by their mothers as much as by their fathers, many great men who ascribe who they became to the influence of their mothers.
And yet even in Christian circles there is little attention given to the relationship of boys and their mothers, at least once they pass the toddler stage. It is rarely mentioned and rarely celebrated. We still look askance at a boy who spends a lot of time with his mom or a mom who is close to her boy. There is still that suspicion—that irrational and unfair suspicion. There is still that fear that a boy necessarily ought to be closer to his father than his mother.
Today I have a teenaged boy of my own. He and I are close, but I suspect that he and Aileen are closer. I see and celebrate the unique relationship between them. He shares with her, he confides in her, he depends upon her, he receives affection from her. And this is good, this brings me joy. He is a boy who needs his mom, just like I was. I trust that she will help guide him through these formative years with a perspective I simply do not have. I trust that in some way the relationship he enjoys with his mother is in some way preparing him for the relationship he will someday enjoy with his wife. Perhaps, like me, he will be able to echo John Wesley and say, “I learned more about Christianity [and life] from my mother than from all the theologians of England.”