Let's hear it for mummy's boys: the kind, caring men of the future

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

A study from the Marriage Foundation finds that boys who are "extremely close" to their mothers at the age of 14 are 41 per cent less likely to suffer mental health problems than their peers.

In other words, boys who, in the tumultuous, challenging years of adolescence, enjoy a warm, loving relationship with their mothers are less likely to struggle with depression, anxiety and other psychological issues than those who don't. It turns out that being a "mummy's boy" - that bitter, playground insult - actually benefits our sons.

As a mother of three young men - now 11, 13, and 16 - it is a relief to have it confirmed that their development as reasonably functional, content, secure human beings hasn't been impeded by a soppy excess of maternal kisses, silly voices, or my stern motto, "Crying doesn't mean you're not brave".

Good to know that when I told Conrad, then six, that our beloved cat had died, and he collapsed sobbing, I was right to comfort and cuddle him rather than bark: "Man up!"

Boys do cry. I sometimes feel like the only person unbothered by this - apart from Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, who's written of the healing power of tears. When Caspar, then nine, heard his favourite teacher was leaving, he wept. I was proud he felt free to express his sadness healthily. One mother voiced surprise ("he's such a boyish boy you don't expect it"). Maybe Caspar should have punched a wall.

Somehow, society persists in conditioning our boys to act tough. Even my husband (a tactile, intuitive, warm father) is occasionally gruff. Fine in moderation, but if this is the primary message, boys become brittle.

Learning how to regulate difficult emotions, not stifle them, positively impacts mental health. Outrageously, it's still more acceptable for women to model this, so I happily spell it out: "Boys, I'm going to blub and rant, and then I'll feel better."

I'm glad if, in giving hugs and reassurance when my boys are upset - such as the terrible day Caspar, 11, realised a dog had been sent into space and died - I'm turning them into big softies. All "big softie" means is "kind".

And what you give is what you get. When Oscar, my eldest, was small, he caught me crying. He put his chubby arms around me, and told me not to be sad. He asked if it was the computer (it probably was) and said he'd buy me a new one. He didn't say: "Man up."

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Of course, boys naturally break away from their mother in the course of their development. When Oscar was 10, he rebelled (and again at 15). But I didn't back away in return, and eventually he came back.

Being close to my sons doesn't mean indulging them, or that they always have to please me. But it promotes respect, a prototype for future relationships. Recent example: "Don't burp in my face. Girls don't like that." Hopefully they took that one on board.

Being a mummy's boy enables young men to grow sure of themselves, but not ghastly. To develop a masculinity that incorporates kindness, emotional intelligence and the ability to not take themselves too seriously - all crucial for psychological well-being.

Oscar is now 16, and proof you can be a hairy, cricket-playing, bantering bloke while sporting pristine red-varnished toenails because your girlfriend has used you as a foot model. I'd like to take some credit.

- The Telegraph, London