Dr. Helen

How Do We Help Mothers Understand Their Grown Sons?

As I talked to an older mom with a 33-year-old unmarried son the other day, I wondered how we could help mothers understand their adult sons. She asked about what I did and I told her about my work and my book about men and marriage. When I told her men did not want to marry much anymore, she looked bewildered, and said, “Is it because they are selfish?” “No,” I said, “it’s because women are selfish.” This took her back a bit and I meant for it to.

Sure I was stereotyping a bit here but so was she. Popular culture and its negative memes about men sink down to everyone, sometimes without the person even realizing it. This mother had no idea what the disconnect was between what she thought about men and what they actually are. She told me that her son was involved with a woman whom he lived with, whom he provided for, bought gifts for and helped out when he could. This woman, in turn, racked up more and more bills, including $100,000 in student loans, without including him in her plans at all.

This would all be well and good if she also expected to pay her own way. She did not appear to do that from what I understood, and the son felt betrayed and upset that he was pulling all the financial muscle in the relationship while the spoiled woman took advantage of him. They broke up and he went on a series of dates with women that he met online. Apparently, they said such outrageous things, and were so different than he was, that he has just decided to take a breather from dating for the moment.

The mother told me that she had liked the first girlfriend very much and thought that things ended poorly because her son was living with this woman rather than marrying her. I explained to the mother what might have happened if he had married the spoiled woman. If she wanted children and they had them and she ended the relationship later or wanted to, she could control the son with the children. “In fact,” I told the mom, “she could easily take your son’s kids away from him and take your grandchildren from you and it would be hard and expensive to fight.”

At this point, once the mother figured out that something bad could happen to her and her potential grandkids, I could see a light go off in her eyes. Her son was smart enough to know the odds were stacked against him and ending the relationship was for the best. Men these days have to be much more careful than women about whom they settle down with, have children with, and marry. Now this mom seemed to get that. I hope that she can now understand her son a little bit better and be supportive of his choices in this difficult legal and psychological climate.

There are many mothers out there who simply don’t understand what their grown sons are going through, particularly older women who have sons in their late twenties and thirties who do not want to marry, or are hesitant to make that commitment. These mothers could be good allies for men and could be helpful in bringing about changes in the culture and the legal system, but they have to understand that the problem is with these sexist systems, not necessarily with their sons.

Education is key with this group and fighting the constant media drumbeat that men are rapists, selfish and evil is difficult. How do we reach moms of sons?