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Mothers and Sons

Air Date: 06/22/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.It's never been easy to be a mother. Good mothers may get a card, brunch, or a gift on Mother's Day, but there are very few perks and rewards along the way although most of the moms I know are satisfied with an occasional hug and a "thanks, Mom." There are lots of ways to mess up, however, and our culture has often made it tough on mothers. For example, you can still find old research studies that claim to show that the cause of schizophrenia and autism are so-called "refrigerator mothers", mothers who are cold and distant with their children. Science also used to blame homosexuality on strong, dominant mothers. Both of those theories have been since been soundly rejected, by the way. Still, there remain areas where even the best moms wonder whether they're doing the right thing. One of those concerns is just how close a mother should be emotionally and physically to her son. After all, people still use phrases like "mama's boy" and "tied to the apron strings" to describe young men who are close to their mothers. Is it possible for a mom to be too close to a growing boy? To a teenager? To a young man? I had reason to wonder about this one myself. For more than eight years, I was the single mom of a son. Because I only had one child, my son and I had a very close relationship not surprisingly, since there were only two people in our little family. My former mother-in-law told me on more than one occasion, usually after she'd watched my son give me a spontaneous hug, that I was "too close" to him and that I was going to ruin him. And while I was pretty sure that our relationship was healthy, it was sometimes hard not to worry. Should I push him away? Should I be doing things to "toughen him up"? As it turns out, the research on this subject is pretty clear. Boys both little ones and older ones benefit from having a strong, supportive relationship with their mothers. Actually, moms and dads fulfill slightly different purposes in a boy's life. Fathers tend to play more actively and physically with a son, while mothers nurture, teach relationship skills, and encourage emotional intelligence. Fathers help boys learn self-awareness and self-regulation; mothers encourage emotional skills. It helps to remember, too, that in the first five or six years of life, little boys are actually more emotionally sensitive and perceptive than little girls. They also tend to have a harder time calming themselves down when they're upset and may suffer from more separation anxiety. Because moms often do more of the hands-on parenting in early childhood, little boys may develop close bonds with mom and may go to her for most of their needs. Mothers often are the first to hear what's going on in a boy's life, his feelings, his problems, and his dreams. These are wonderful years for a lot of moms, who revel in being so closely connected to their sons. But here's the catch: The closer the relationship a mother has with her son, the harder it can be to let go, to allow him to try his wings, and to watch other people and other women become important in his life. After all, a parent's job is essentially to make him- or herself unnecessary, to teach skills and nurture independence while still maintaining closeness and connection. It's not an easy balance to achieve. Many moms find themselves struggling as their sons reach adolescence. In Guy World, it's not always cool to be close to mom. While some boys remain comfortable with hugs and confidences, others begin to demand privacy and independence, both physically and emotionally. Many mothers say things like, "He doesn't talk to me anymore" or "He used to tell me everything and now he gets irritated if I ask him questions." Hard as it can be, a wise mother learns to take a deep breath herself and allow her son some breathing room. Here are some suggestions as your son matures. Be sure your son has physical privacy. It seems obvious, but knock before entering his room or the bathroom. His body is changing and you are, after all, a girl. If he's uneasy with hugs when his friends are around, smile and wave and let him have some space. Show curiosity about his interests; attend his events as often as you can. You can ask questions, and you should be available if he wants to talk or needs your help, but hovering and smothering don't generally go over well with guys. And the day will come when he says a casual, "Oh, hi, Mom" and then lights up like a Christmas tree when his girlfriend walks into the room. And that's the way it should be. You see, we raise our kids so they can leave us and lead independent, successful, happy lives. The good news is that if you do your work well as a mom, your bond with your son may change shape, but it will endure for a lifetime. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.