What do sons learn from their mothers?

Do mothers make mothers' boys?

1. "It tastes best with mom!"

Anyone who talks about mothers' boys certainly doesn't mean anything positive. Not even the mothers, whose sons are so called, like to hear this term, even if they welcome the behavior that is hidden behind the term. Because we actually find men who show a great dependency on their mother even in adulthood. This close bond is often so strong that it stands like an invisible wall in the partner relationship between man and woman. This bond is two-sided, not only do the sons feel drawn to their mothers, listen to their advice and, even at forty, still fervently say: "Mutti tastes best!" forgive them for behavior that would be unthinkable in one's partner. This relationship is shown particularly drastically when we hear of young violent criminals who are referred to by their mothers in the press as dear boys.

2. How do such close ties come about?

In looking for the terms of this mutual bond, we must look back to the earliest stages of childhood. The prenatal symbiosis of mother and child is by no means abolished in the first time after the birth. This is natural, because human children are not refugees and cannot survive on their own without protective adults. However, the close bond is intended to ensure that the children gradually move from the security they are in to independence. For this it is important that the first experience of addiction is experienced positively. As soon as it is experienced fearful or burdened by conflict, this can lead to clinging at an early age.

The special relationship between mothers and sons, however, is not a biologically determined one. It depends on how the mothers deal with it. If she herself is not satisfied in her own relationship life, she may tend to view the son as a partner substitute. It should and can - at least to a limited extent - satisfy the needs of the mother, which the husband and father cannot and usually do not want to meet. In such constellations there are different reaction sequences:

  • the Son is taken from his mother as a partner substitutebecause men do not sufficiently satisfy women’s needs for closeness; he is sweet, can caress and yet is also masculine at the same time. This ambiguity is fascinating and can lead to unclear structures of attachment
  • the son is physically the only male partner present and thus inevitably gets into the situation of the single familiar male people for his mother. The treacherous word "son man" characterizes this malformed mother-son relationship
  • an absent father of his own, who should actually be a model made by man for his son, is particularly problematic, because the masculine exists in the imagination for the son too, which creates a Phantom father for the sons, which, like in the film, is overdrawn and reinforced by the mother in her longing for the father
  • Boys becomes more Space and freedom of movement admitted as a girl and at the same time created intense emotional closeness, this intensifies the bond even more because it does not allow the child to flee from the start
  • Raising children, especially in the first few months, is difficult and stressful, especially when the responsibility lies solely with the mothers. The great effort involved in bringing up the children also creates traps for mothers, because the legitimation mechanism that arises is created excessive efforts must not have been in vain. This promotes an idealization of the son and not a realistic view. This puts the son in too high a pressure of expectation and at the same time receives too little realistic feedback.

3. No blame for the mothers!

First of all, research shows that working mothers are not harmful to the child, on the contrary: working mothers spend more positive time with children than housewives. Working mothers show their sons an image of women of social importance similar to men. In spite of this, or precisely because of this, mothers are still socially blamed for guilt if the upbringing of the children does not seem to have been successful or only if individual problems arise.

Accusations of guilt against mothers are typical social prejudice structures, negative is passed on to little-respected social subgroups. In patriarchy, this generally applies to women as a less respected social group. Nevertheless, there is no fundamental reason for negative self-interpretations by a working or single mother, because on closer inspection, no deficits can be identified. From a statistical point of view, it is perhaps underprivileged on average with regard to income, housing situation, etc., but it is not with regard to upbringing, since upbringing is in fact also shaped by the male patterns that exist in each case.

If we take a closer look here, we will find out: There is hardly a single mother who is more or less involved with the absent father. At least in their thoughts and fantasies, fathers are involved in raising children. And this father is of great importance for the upbringing, also and precisely because he is absent. It is therefore a matter of changing the ratings and not defining women as solely responsible. Because the father's absence generally has very problematic consequences, especially for the sons.

The positive view of the status of a single mother does not succeed either as a foreign or as a self-interpretation. So instead of defining your own situation as deficient, it would make sense to enjoy the freedom that this creates in the female context and especially for single parents, because only a positive self-image of the mother can create a positive external image in her son.

The single mother could be a positive pattern of female strength if we take a closer look at her accomplishments and she begins to recognize them herself. Often the single mother is a scapegoat for parenting problems and a victim of blame, and at the same time can be a model of female independence and strength for raising boys.

It is a shortened view to only look at the mother in raising her sons. The fathers and close relatives are of the greatest importance to the boys, also or precisely because they are so often absent. Especially with boys, a close male caregiver is of great importance for the development of personality, to develop identity and to perceive emotionality as a male ability. However, this person is largely invisible, absent and disinterested in the person of the child in the upbringing of many boys. As a result, a mother often has two roles to fulfill in bringing up boys, the mother and the father role, which can easily fail.

The tendency towards excessive bonding of the sons is at least the responsibility of both sexes.

4. Dad is not only mine on Saturdays!

As early as the 1950s, the trade unions were promoting a shorter working week with the slogan: “Every Saturday, my father is mine”. The inventors of this slogan probably did not even realize what important educational issue they had raised with it.

It is easy to just show problems without developing perspectives. If we consider the absent fathers with the extensive demands of their job, we have to ask ourselves whether there are any alternatives to today's fatherless society for the benefit of the sons. But the problem of missing fathers does not exist because they are fathers, but because the sons lack sensitive images of masculinity.

4.1 Offer positive images of masculinity

A realistic possibility is to give the boys the opportunity to gather experiences with different men that they only experience occasionally. Pubescent people identify with pop stars or the like in a relatively short time without being put to bed by them every day. They have fantasies that the stars could separate from their fiancés and meet them, the young people, personally. So it is possible to offer them socially other male personalities to choose from as a means of identification, e.g. nature conservationists, geriatric carers, confectioners, zookeepers, restorers, educators, social workers, garment stickers, etc. It is always important to look for ways to create new male positive role models in the experience horizon of sons to bring.

4.2. The mother turned away from traditional role models

It is true that it is difficult to want to change other people, this is a path that is doomed to fail right from the start. But mothers can also change something about themselves in order to counteract the traditional image of the mother as a victim of submission and thus to force the male identity development of their sons through the confrontation with positive femininity patterns. Small steps in this direction are:

  • Not to define sons as difficult from the outset, but to be proud of them and simply expect them to develop well
  • The more women enjoy their professional and social activities, the less it is necessary for them to straighten men's and sons' shirts, to pluck the lint off the dark suit material and to perform other mutually degrading actions
  • If mothers only play the emotionally supporting role in the family, this is fatal for their sons, because there is no room for them to develop this; It makes a lot of sense to give up something of the emotionally caring role and give the sons not only spatial, but also emotional development space, for example to give them responsibility for younger siblings, animals, plants, grandma, grandpa, strangers in need of help and not on their behalf Sons to carry emotionality, but to give it to them
  • It is important that mothers do everything to ensure that the contemptuous image of women that is circulating underground in society is not spread. Here there is the opportunity to live proudly and with a strong sense of self-worth. This already starts with small situations, when the mother begins to scoop up the leftovers that the son has spurned from his plate instead of asking him to realistically assess what he will be able to do beforehand
  • In addition to the inside view, the positive image of women also includes the external presentation, i.e. sons show that women can also achieve something in the big wide world, take part in sporting competitions, write letters to the editor, sing in a choir or hold a public honorary position. A mother's party membership is also a good sign of bringing up a new boy. In particular, it is important to make the mother's professional achievements visible at home and not to be ashamed to keep quiet. Rather, every mother - regardless of whether she works as a saleswoman, teacher, secretary or seamstress - should proudly share what she has experienced at work. And in every job there is stress and relief, people who do not do their job properly and demanding customers, solidarity against superiors and fun. So there is enough to talk about work at home too.
  • Overall, it is important that women use public space for themselves and not modestly withdraw.
  • With these two steps, a stronger self-esteem for women and an intensive parental participation of the male sex, the essential foundations have already been laid so that mothers do not make machos, but raise socially competent sons.

The options for what mothers can do to turn their sons into emotionally competent and relational people are as broad as life, the stereotype of the subordinate woman is increasingly becoming a historical relic, this process can be actively promoted.

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook


Dr. phil. Astrid Kaiser, professor for didactics of general teaching at the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg.

Studied in Hanover and at the University of Marburg, long-time teacher in Hesse and Bielefeld, research assistant at the University of Bielefeld; Substitute professor for elementary school education in Kassel; Head of the Lower Saxony school experiment "Social integration in a boys and girls-friendly elementary school", member of the Lower Saxony Education Council 1999-2002, head of projects on ecological and natural science education in general teaching.


Prof. Dr. Astrid Kaiser, University of Oldenburg



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Created on November 4th, 2014, last changed on November 4th, 2014