My early work on mothers of sons suggested that the mother-son relationship is not all it could be. It seems that mothers tread cautiously with sons; in fact, one could argue ironically, there is too much of a certain kind of peacekeeping. When, as part of an oral history project, I asked women in mid-life what they currently talk about with their children, those with both sons and daughters recalled in detail only conversations with the latter (Forcey 1987, 81-101). There was generally with daughters an ongoing dialogue, a sharing of experiences and emotions, with empathy and support for one another. This was not, generally, true for sons. The conversations mothers recalled usually focused on their sons' worlds of school, work, or relationships, all on a markedly more superficial, safer level. As Adrienne Rich has pointed out, there is a “fear of 'alienating' a male child from 'his' culture” which still runs deep among women (205).
Patterns of communication between mothers and sons have been conditioned by the way the historical subordination of women in the public sphere has been combined with their temporary dominance over nurturing relationships with children in the private sphere, in the home. Such patterns also have been conditioned by the questioning by both women and men of a contemporary gender system with its private and public