Recently, I’ve started listening to the book Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men by Meg Meeker, which was published in 2015. Meeker, MD, has spent more than twenty years practicing pediatric and adolescent medicine. In this book, she explores the dyad of a mother-son relationship, and as a feminist, I was curious what she’d have to say because feminism is about men and women.
Introduction (Directed to “Strong” Mothers?)
The introduction and book as a whole appears to be directed mostly to women who want to be strong mothers for their sons. I’m surprised somewhat because Meeker does talk about how the advice in this book can be utilized at any stage of life in order to improve mother-son relationships. Wouldn’t sons, especially as adults, also want to improve their relationship with their mothers? What about the “strong sons” part of the title? These questions are not really explored.
In the introduction, Meeker tells the story about a mother who wasn’t getting along with her adopted son when he was in middle school. It turns out that the mother had been abused by a male neighbor as a child. Years later, this mother took it out on her oldest son unconsciously. After she went to therapy, she was able to work through these issues and eventually treat her son better. It’s a heartbreaking story, one too commonly heard, especially during this #metoo era, three years after this book was initially published. Sons can also be abused, which would certainly impact a mother-son relationship. However, I’m not sure if Meeker will explore that.
Meeker provides a ton of stats that were pretty interesting. When compared to girls, boys are . . .
- 6x more likely to have learning disabilities
- 3x more likely to be drug addicts
- 4x more likely to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed
- 12x more likely to murder someone
- 10x more likely to suffer hyperactivity
Additionally, boys earn lower grades than girls from elementary school through high school. Meeker argues that this is a crisis and that the means to resolve this crisis often rest in the mother’s hands. With a healthy environment, mothers and sons can find a way to survive and thrive. While I believe that mothers are truly important, the author puts too much pressure on the mothers and not enough responsibility on the sons.
Meeker does admit that mothers have their own set of pressures separate from their sons and child rearing. But she claims that research shows the surest way to help a boy is to help whoever has the greatest influence over him (AKA The Mother). If the mother is helped, then the mother can, in turn, help the son.
“You Are His First Love (But Never Tell Him That)”
That’s the title of chapter 1. This phrase makes me uncomfortable, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard it before. Having studied Oedipus Rex in school probably doesn’t help either. But Meeker hasn’t really made this comparison yet, which surprises me. Missed opportunity?
Meeker claims that girls are “communicators,” and boys are much less so; according to the research she cites, women use 13,000 more words than men do per day. Research like this interests me. But I would want to look over the data and see how solid the controls are, how many people participated, etc. Basically, Meeker feels that mothers are more likely to say stuff and want to talk through things when issues arise. In contrast, sons are less likely to talk it out.
Then we get into some theory (the stuff I like) that boils down to this: Aristotle and Augustine tell us to seek knowledge and truth; these things are what mothers should help their sons learn because they bring true satisfaction. The Five Virtues to teach boys from an early age are . . .
- Courage (being brave)
- Temperance (having self-control)
- Justice (being fair)
- Prudence (having wisdom)
- Chastity (having control specifically over sexual desires)
Additionally, teaching boys to give and receive love is really important. I feel like these points seem pretty obvious, and I’m sure that a lot of mothers already do this or at least try to do this with all of their children, since these are characteristics that sons and daughters both need. Parenting styles will have different approaches, of course, and I wish Meeker had explored this more with examples or situations. For example, parents should teach children about sex, sexuality and gender identity, and consent; however, I recognize that people are going to approach teaching differently.
Meeker talks about the importance of showing love to sons. Moms shouldn’t just buy kids stuff or take them to soccer practice. There should be sharing quality time, having fun, and paying attention to children and not just what they’re doing. Once again, these suggestions seem pretty basic. I’m not sure if any of the advice she’s given so far really stands out.
As I continue the book, I hope Meeker will explore in greater depth some of these topics she brings up in this chapter (mentioned above). Her advice applies to both mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Give me more detail and less fluff!
Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Is this a feminist book? Feminist theory includes recognizing that women are going to take on different roles and the importance of them having a say in whether or not they want to be mothers. This book assumes that the reader is a mother (although I, who is also a reader, am not at this time) and female. As I mentioned previously, I thought this book would also explore what sons could do to build stronger, better relationships with their mothers. It seems like a lot of advice of what mothers should and should not be doing, and it could use more advice on what sons should be doing to make their mothers’ lives better, too. It feels unbalanced in how it’s presented, so I’m not sure if Meeker has a feminist perspective. I’ll have to see if my opinion changes by the end of the book.
- What about LGBTQIA+ families? Meeker talks about how mothers sometimes take on the roles of both father and mother, such as if the father dies. She says that it is impossible to do so because a mother can only be one person and take on so many things. And that’s true. Given that this book was published in 2015, I’m surprised that she doesn’t even acknowledge those with non-traditional families or the LGBTQIA+ community. I also hope that this will change before the end of the book.
- What exactly is a strong mother? It seems like a strong mother so far in this book is one who can put up with the crap her kids (specifically her son or sons) put her through and not put her personal issues onto her children. Sons become strong by what mothers teach them and what they observe from what their mothers do and act. Um . . . okay? But what about the son’s individuality and his own choice and accountability? What concerns me with this is that it puts an inordinate amount of pressure on women to be the angel of the house and doesn’t really recognize the nuances of familial life. Fact: Mothers and sons are imperfect. The book would be much more interesting if it talked about how to deal and sometimes embrace those imperfections.