By Grace Bennett • Photo by Melani Lust
My meeting with the adorable and brilliant Kate Stone Lombardi at Le Jardin du Roi on King Street took place amidst a whirlwind media tour that included write ups in the Wall Street Journal, Time.com., The New York Times–where she had been a regional contributor for over 20 years with her weekly column, County Lines–and an appearance on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Excerpts of her new book, The Mama’s Boy Myth (Avery, Penguin Group USA, 2012) are featured in May’s Ladies’ Home Journal as well as the June issue of Reader’s Digest.
All this attention is well deserved since Kate’s scholarly, yet altogether accessible and engaging book, is the first serious, research jammed work exclusively examining and correcting so many (mostly negative) misconceptions about the mother/son relationship.
Passion for the topic seeps through each page, from its opening chapter, in which Kate, a 20-year resident of Chappaqua, relates to a friend how she had been unhappy to be reassigned from writing a regional column at the Times to covering local news.
She confides that her son nailed what had transpired with a sports analogy. “Mom, the problem is that they’re playing you out of position.” Kate states to her friend, “I hope you don’t think it’s odd that I get career feedback from my nineteen year old.”
Her friend did not think that, and the exchange instead sparked a conversation about the intensity of their relationships with their sons, and deep emotional connection to them…the kind of conversation that Kate would have time and again during the course of her interviews with hundreds of moms of boys around the country (following a 1,200 person online survey).
But, perhaps most notable: the same woman was also quick to remind her journalist friend never to quote her on what she’d said. Her fear and shame were palpable…spurred on by a society that has hardly supported a positive mother/son relationship, and in fact, has been quick to downright malign it. “We live in a homophobic culture profoundly fearful of mothers ‘feminizing’ their sons,” says Kate.
With these thoughts in mind, Kate embarked on an odyssey to understand how we reached this sorry state of affairs and to explain why it’s no surprise that mothers feel a certain level of shame and a desire to maintain secrecy or even altogether hide their closeness to their sons. The image of a mother close to her son readily segues into accusations of the domineering mother.
“There are countless books and movies that have portrayed any mom who is close to her son as overbearing; the image is of sons who become weak or a “wuss” or over dependent as a result. All manner of over-dependence and dysfunctional have been blamed on mothers,” Kate told me. “I received feedback from mothers with children as young as two and three who received the ultimately destructive message that their boys are expected to stand on their own two feet.”
At our local playgrounds, moms may typically feel pressure, for example, to let little boys grin and bear their boo boos, while little girls are picked up and comforted with a hug.
Kate compiles evidence that clearly shouts out that mother/son closeness is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. And that, au contraire, an intimate connection with our sons is absolutely critical to their positive emotional development, improved academic performance and for preparing them for adulthood in ways that may surprise you.
Mothers who stay close, despite the pressures, rear boys with higher emotional intelligence that serve them well in interpersonal relationships…and also in the marketplace. “Boys are no longer entering an economy that’s going to value their brute strength.”
Over the years, here in town, Kate carved out a successful freelance career as a part time writer for the Times so that she could, in fact, stay close to both her children. She would “get out of” interviews that were too close to three by stating that she had a meeting to attend. “My meeting was, in fact, with the yellow vehicle called the school bus.” The rewards have been innumerable…her County Lines column struck a chord with so many of her loyal readers here, including moi. She recalled one of her favorites, which recounted how moved she was at a ceremony for “soccer moms” at Greeley high school. In it, she recalled various highlights from the time her son, Paul, made the travel team in the 4th grade.
Today, Paul, 23, teaches elementary school. Her daughter, Jeanie, 26, is a consultant to a company advising charter schools in New York City. I asked her how her daughter felt about her writing a book about the mother/son relationship. “You know, you’re the first person to ask me that,” said Kate with the perpetual twinkle that appears to reside in her clear blue eyes. Jeanie, she said, like Paul, has enjoyed watching her mom soar and, with her keen sense of fashion, has also been instrumental at helping mom project a sophisticated and striking image as she makes the media rounds. Kate is married to Michael Lombardi, a finance consultant.
Toward the end of the interview, I asked Kate for her best suggestions on how to keep our sons close. “Carve out time alone with your sons. Establish traditions. Encourage them to express their feelings. All boys have them and they are told in so many subliminal ways not to show them. But If you move away from being judgmental, they will open up. And that’s only a good thing.”
Grace Bennett is publisher and editor of Inside Chappaqua Magazine. Since reading “The Mama’s Boy Myth,” she has been working harder to nurture a close bond with her own beloved 15-year-old son.