Photo: Courtesy of Allison McDonald Ace
I am a boy mom. James is five, and Sean is three months old. I love my boys desperately. But I admit that ever since I found out I’d be a boy mom, I’ve worried about the future.
“A son is a son ‘til he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.” Ever heard that delightful little rhyme? For many moms, it comes with the territory of having sons—the deep and real anxiety that one day, when your son is grown and enters into a committed relationship, you will be largely abandoned in favour of that partner and their family. This widely accepted idea that in the not so distant future, your little boy will no longer love you quite as much, or necessarily want to even be around you, is a brutal one to live with.
Since the day Sean was born I’ve been plagued with these fears. When I’m changing his diaper, ogling his increasingly chubby cheeks and thighs, or rocking him to sleep, holding in my pee to the point of risking a UTI so as not to wake him, I find myself tearing up more often than I care to admit. Instead of basking in the bliss of these moments, I’ve been terrified that somehow this relationship is finite. It’s an almost laughable thing to worry about from the time of a child’s inception, except that I don’t know one boy mom who doesn’t carry this fear around with her like a too-heavy purse.
Do girl moms have these fears? I don’t know any, even though it is of course equally possible that female children can grow up not wanting to hang around with their parents, or preferring their in-laws. But you don’t hear girl moms worrying about it from the time their children are infants, and there aren’t any cultural memes to reflect it.
In the short time since officially becoming a #boymom, people have said things to me like, “Next time you’ll have a girl” or “Cheer up, maybe one day you’ll have granddaughters.” Another common antidote offered is that perhaps I’ll get lucky and have “mama’s boys.” Apparently, the only way I can hope to not be thrown over by my sons is if they have a borderline unhealthy attachment to me wherein they never really do grow up.
In light of this generally unhelpful and somewhat offensive advice, I began to seek out any kind of proof that the fear of the boy mom dilemma was just that, a fear, with no basis in reality. I started with Google, searching terms like “celebrity boy mom” because for some reason seeing pictures of famous women with only boys who appeared happy seemed like proof that it was possible. I recall one entire day spent in an almost euphoric state of relief because I read an article describing how Bradley Cooper really loved his mom, and described her as a “cool chick”.
I talked to as many boy moms as I could find, including most recently my dental hygienist, who happens to have two adult sons she is still close to. She gave me advice that included in no particular order: Buying a cottage to ensure they will want to hang out with me in the summertime; footing the bill for vacations so they can’t back out of anything based on finances (also known as bribery); pretending to like everyone they date (even if I don’t); and having a regular practice of eating family meals together to build communication (that last one being the most achievable).
I asked a close friend about whether she also has this fear of abandonment with her teenage son. She said that her brother has always had a good relationship with their mother, so she’s held on to that for hope. But she added as an afterthought, “Then again, my mother also said that when my brother was getting married, she knew that her role was to shut up, show up and wear beige.”
The thing is, I don’t want to wear beige—literally or figuratively. I want to be involved in wedding plans if my sons choose to get married, and maybe even wear purple. I want to spend holidays with them, and not just because they feel obligated to (or because I’m paying for it). I want to see my kids as often as possible because they actually like me, and if one day I’m so lucky as to have grandchildren, I don’t want to live in second place just because I’m the boy mom.
If you’re a boy mom with these same fears, then you’re probably hoping that now is the point at which I will be provide THE ANSWER that will take away all of your worries, that I’ve discovered the secret formula that will ensure your fear will not come to pass. Sorry—there’s no formula. But I have learned a few things that, in my darkest moments, have proven helpful.
The first is that you are not alone in experiencing this boy mom dilemma. A lot of us have these fears, and there’s a comfort in that kind of solidarity. It’s okay to have these feelings. You’re not silly or insecure for possessing fears that, in many ways, our society tells us we should have.
I’ve also been reminded of something that may seem obvious, but becomes hard to remember when you’re told from the very beginning of your journey as a boy mom that you’ve somehow lost out, and it is this: What it really comes down to, regardless of sex or gender--or anything else--is the relationship between you and them. What it has only and will only ever be about is your unique relationship with your son. No one else’s negative experience has any bearing on the outcome of your life with your boys. Full stop.
This understanding has only just begun to seep in to replace the fear within me, but already it feels more empowering and liberating to know that all I can do is strive to build a positive, deep connection with my boys, day by day, step by step, and that the rest will work itself out. The only way I’ve ever heard wiser people than myself explain how to do this is by talking to them, listening to them, laughing with them, supporting them. Loving them. Eventually, welcoming the partners they choose and, even in their teenage years, respecting and trusting their judgment—because that in and of itself builds trust. I also know I need to be gentle with myself. If I get into an argument with James or Sean one day, or if they tell me they hate me because I’ve been unfair in their eyes, I have to consciously practice not worrying that because of this one moment I’ve inadvertently started the process of being pushed out of their lives.
To this end, I think the most important concept I’ve gleaned, not only as a boy mom but as a parent in general, is that life never works out the way you think it will, and yet sometimes it turns out being better than you could have imagined; I wouldn’t change having my boys for anything or anyone else. As the great writer and philosopher Joseph Campbell once said “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us." And so, my dear fellow members of the Boy Mom Club, what I can offer by way of an answer is this: Now is the time to let go of the fear of what it might be, and bravely let the life that lies ahead of you with your boys unfold, with all of the joy and mystery that entails.
I, for one, can’t wait.
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