Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Raise your son to be a mama's boy

By Peggy Drexler
updated 10:46 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
Bill Clinton gets a hug from his mother, Virginia Kelley, in 1993 before heading off to Washington for his first inauguration.
Bill Clinton gets a hug from his mother, Virginia Kelley, in 1993 before heading off to Washington for his first inauguration.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peggy Drexler: People stigmatize "mama's boys," thinking they're weak
  • In fact, studies show close relationship to mother can yield many benefits, she says
  • Drexler: Mama's boys are less aggressive, more adaptable and patient
  • She says one downside is that a close mother-son bond could disrupt the son's marriage

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- What do LeBron James and Bill Clinton have in common? Both were mama's boys.

And contrary to popular belief, that's not a bad thing. People tend to think of mama's boys as coddled and carried and then, later on, too attached for their own good. Mama's boys are often perceived as weak; a close relationship between mother and son is viewed as suspect.

And yet studies support the idea that boys who grow up having tight relationships with their mothers have a certain advantage. They become strong, independent leaders. Just look at the commander in chief. Barack Obama has gladly admitted: He was a mama's boy.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

But there's scientific proof that the close mother-son bond is healthy and beneficial. A 2010 study out of the University of Reading, an analysis of more than 69 studies featuring more than 6,000 children, found that kids, especially boys, who have secure attachments to their mothers tended to have fewer behavioral problems throughout their childhoods.

Later on, they were expected to display fewer signs of aggression and hostility. They were, it stands to reason, more adaptable, more patient. A 2011 study published in the journal Child Development, meanwhile, found that the quality of the mother-son bond directly related to his sense of morality and his likelihood to have healthy romantic relationships, and that conflict was the biggest predictor of delinquency.

And in 2012's "The Mama's Boy Myth," author Kate Lombardi used her relationship with her son as a base from which to explore mother-son closeness, ultimately arguing that despite the pressure many mothers feel to let their sons learn to cope largely on their own, keeping them in a closer relationship ultimately helps boys grow into well-adjusted men.

Men who grew up having close relationships with their mothers, she writes, are less inclined to argue and more inclined to "work it out." They have an easier time in adult relationships.

In my own work, I have encountered many close mother-son relationships, particularly while researching my first book, "Raising Boys Without Men," which looked at many single mothers raising boys on their own.

A mother's quest to end dating violence
Son tweets about mother's final moments
Same-sex moms: School sent mixed messages

These mothers were, perhaps not surprisingly, inclined to develop very close bonds with their sons. I followed these families for many years and came to understand that mothers, as a whole who refused to buy into the fear of being too close to their sons tended to raise boys who were more responsible, sensitive to the needs of others and more self-assured.

They were more likely to have a healthy respect for women. I learned that mothers who allowed and encouraged boys to show their more emotional side helped their sons develop confidence and empathy.

There is one place where a tight mother-son bond could come at a disadvantage: Once the mama's boy marries. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that mothers worry far more when their sons marry than when their daughters marry, and that these worries can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to the man feeling jealousy, anger or sadness that, in the worst-case scenario, can destabilize his marriage.

Maybe no one's surprised that mothers could feel threatened by their daughters-in-law, but it's still no reason to avoid marrying a mama's boy. A confident mama's boy, after all, is often well-equipped to navigate tricky social territory.

But what about mama's girls? No one seems to bat an eyelash at the concept of close mother-daughter relationships, at least not while the daughters are small. But, in fact, "mama's girls" may walk a fine line between close and too close.

A study published in the July issue of Social and Behavioral Sciences found that relationships between mothers and daughters that could be described as "connected" helped foster better self-esteem than those relationships that could be described as something closer to "interdependent." That is, sharing and caring works; smothering does not.

A study out of the University of Georgia, for instance, also concluded that too-close relationships -- those in which mothers were hyper-involved and overly critical -- could result in women with poor social skills and disordered attitudes about eating. We do know that the mother-daughter relationship tends to work best when the roles remain, for the most part, traditional.

Indeed, mothers of both sons and daughters should worry less about getting caught up in "perception" and what other people think, especially at Mother's Day. If you suspect your son is a mama's boy, be thankful. Chances are, he will be, too.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT