Mothers versus sons

When a mother is stuck in old mothering habits she normally resorts to what worked in the past. She wants to continue to nurture and be involved in his life. There are different styles of mothering. On one extreme there is the symbiotic mother who cannot see her son as a separate being to herself; and on the other end is the resentful mother who blames her son for her inability to achieve her own goals. Most women continue to mother their teen son with the same mothering style that she used when he was a boy. Her needs are inwards at the time that his needs are outwards. The drama is obvious in the chart below.

Mom needs
Attachment, so she will over-react, nag, overprotect.
To be heard so she will nag, lecture.
Control so she will give instructions.
Family connection so she wants to do things together

Teenage son needs
Autonomy, so he says: “I’m in control” “I make my own decisions”
Independence, so he says “I like being on my own” “My friends come first”
Identity, so he says “ I am me” “I’ll choose who and what I like”
Intimacy, so he says “I am interested in girls” “I want my privacy”

The clash is obvious and feelings run deep. While running workshops at schools I have asked hundreds of moms and sons what they generally fight about. It is easy to see that underlying these everyday clashes there is a deeper agenda, as mothers’ needs are simply different to the developmental tasks that the son is hardwired to achieve.

Sons say their parents are:
  • Unable to listen or don’t talk
  • Lazy
  • Criticical
  • Ungrateful
  • Moody
  • Selfish
  • Obsessed with dirty clothes and a messy room
  • Insulting
  • Inconsiderate
  • Demanding of manners and hate slang

Our responses: nagging, lecturing, worrying, anger, capitulation, lecturing, over-reacting.
His responses: withdrawal, irritation, passive aggressive behaviour, criticism, putting friends first, anger.

This clash of interests has huge potential for ongoing conflict and confrontation. It highlights his need to become an individual and your need to be close. As a parent of a teen, an authoritarian manner needs to be adjusted and replaced with an authoritative approach which is firm but fair. It is by being supportive and assisting the developmental tasks that conflict is minimised. After all this facilitates the kind of adult you would like to see: a young man who makes his own informed decisions, controls his emotions and is considerate of others’ needs.

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