How Parents Influence the Way Sons and Daughters View Their Dates, Spouses and the World. (Parenting)

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Mama's Boy

SHE determines to a great extent not only what her son thinks about himself, but also what he thinks about women in general. The first smile that he sees as a baby, the first voice that he recognizes, is that of his mother. As he grows older, his mother and her relationships with men--husband, boyfriend, brother, father and friends--are the first and most compelling examples of how a man interacts, or should interact, with a female. "Mothers are the first and most constant expression of what a woman is," says Ronn Elmore, Ph.D., a minister, family counselor and author. "A boy's view of the world is affected by what the mother has demonstrated."

Wise women have always known that the best way to determine the quality of a man is to evaluate his relationship with his mother. A Harvard University study indicates that mothers "in profound ways" affect a boy's development. They influence a son's psycho-sexual development, but also the son's vocational and educational identities.

If the appropriate identity is not nurtured, it will not spring forth. Family therapists say that many of the problems that women have with men can be traced to how men were reared by their mothers. Considering the great number of Black children who are born out of wedlock to impoverished, uneducated and often very young women, it is easy to blame societal ills, such as public education and drug-infested neighborhoods. Negative environmental factors can be neutralized by parents steering their sons (and daughters) in a more positive direction.

Sons are affected by the mother's relationships with men and the male role models in a young man's life. Family counselors emphasize that if a husband is not present in the home, an effort should be made to involve male friends and family members--grandfathers, uncles, cousins. "It is really important that mothers let their sons see them in loving, respectful and positive relationships with men, whether they be co-workers or just friends," says Dr. Elmore.

The mother's romantic interests also influence how a son eventually will interact with women. Women who constantly idolize or degrade men send the wrong messages and images of the boy about himself. "It is important that a mother let her son see her engaged in a loving, positive relationship with a man," says Dr. Elmore. "That's how sons learn how to give love. The longer the relationship, the more consistent it is, the more committed the relationship, then the better it is for the son."

Joyce Hamilton Berry, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C.-area, says the best way for a mother to teach her son to respect women is by demanding respect herself. "Demand that he carry packages and groceries, that he open doors for you and other women," says Dr. Berry. "Teach him to speak to women with respect and not call them names. If a man loves, respects and reveres his mother, then most likely he will treat his woman the same way." However, some mothers are so overprotective that the son becomes dependent, and this negatively affects his development. Sometimes they shirk responsibility because they have never had to be responsible. This dependency carries over into his relationships with women.

Ideally, women should raise their children to grow up and move out on their own so that they can take care of themselves. Frequently, men will remain dependent on their mothers, and mothers enable this to happen. Mothers don't cut the cord.

Some mothers, unwittingly and sometimes unconsciously, try to replace departed husbands with sons, says Jawanza Kunjufu, Ph.D., an author who runs a family counseling service in Chicago. "So they encourage the son to remain at home until he is 40. He never has to leave. That's why some males never marry."

In an effort to have an intimate, loving relationship with their sons, many women, adds Dr. Elmore, mistakenly turn their sons into mother's confidant and pal. …