The relationship between mothers and sons is a dynamic one in which both parties have much to gain. As a mother nurtures her son, she helps to shape the kind of man he will become. As a son shares his unique male perspective, a mother learns much about the opposite sex, a world that might have seemed foreign to her.
Today there is a sense of competitiveness between the sexes, often referred to as the "battle of the sexes." Each gender has become expert at enumerating "gender-specific" qualities that are believed to render one sex superior to the other. These beliefs, however, lead to stereotyping, limit our view of the opposite sex and generate inaccurate presumptions about the other gender.
By having sons, a mother learns to accept, appreciate and even love men and masculinity. Growing up, a girl may have been raised to curb masculine traits which might have been described as ugly, bad or otherwise undesirable. Having a son helps a woman to see the wonderful side of masculinity and helps her to see the deep complexities of the male spirit.
For a son, the mother plays an invaluable role in building self-esteem. A mother who has good self-image and sees herself as important in the scheme of things helps her son to feel that way too. He learns an attitude of worthiness. A mother who feels important enough and not overly so, helps bring home two messages to her sons:
1) I am important, therefore you are important.
2) I am important and am therefore worthy of your respect and kindness, which I will in turn, affirm.
Mothers can teach their sons to treat women with respect through this model of self-esteem and worthiness. Women who struggle for a sense of self, on the other hand, may end up being controlled or dominated by their sons. At a later date, it is likely the son will repeat the pattern in his marriage.
Mothers who feel comfortable with the idea of setting limits with sons and who act in their own best interests raise sons who know how to be good friends and partners with women. In most households, women still do most of the parenting. As a result, boys learn how to love from watching their mothers rather than from witnessing the interactions of their fathers. In this manner, the mother has the opportunity to model a healthy marriage for her son.
Women may realize a sense of completion through the experience of mothering a son. Some mothers describe this as finding their "missing" halves. This can be explained through gaining an understanding of the nature of the father/daughter relationship. The father sees his role in the relationship as protector and may not identify with a daughter. Through her son, the mother comes to feel a strong identification with someone of the opposite sex, filling a profound gap left by the paucity of her relationship with her father.
However, this can lead to conflict as the son comes to maturity. Shaped by his mother's sensibilities, a son may end up personifying his mother's image of the perfect male: her intellectual and emotional mate. A mother may even realize that her son, rather than her husband, most closely fits the picture of the man she might have chosen to marry.
This leads to the mother's dilemma of identifying the point at which ties between mother and son must be eased. Boys are encouraged to distance themselves (physically and emotionally) from their mothers at an earlier stage than are girls. In part, this is due to concerns about sexual arousal, but there is also a societal idea that boys must be competitive, stoic and independent. Some psychologists believe that when the necessary separation between mother and son comes too soon, too heavy a price may be paid. As they grow to adulthood, sons may grow up to fear intimacy and may not develop the tools they need to express their feelings.
Psychologists have observed a phenomenon in which men reveal that their happiest memories of childhood revolve around illness. Men remember being able to drop the need to appear manly and being allowed to take unlimited comfort from their mothers during times of illness. They recall the closeness and intimacy they experienced during these times and express that as the time of illness came to a close, there was a sense of revitalization. It seems clear that severing a son's attachment to his mother comes with a cost and that the role of a mother in shaping sons into men cannot be overstated.