We've all heard the stories about millennials being so close with family they take their moms with them on job interviews. My immediate reaction was that we are witnessing a generation of mama's boys and girls. Yes, I said girls. Woman can suffer from the same overinvolved, enmeshed relationships with their mothers that guys do.
Mama's boy has a pejorative ring, like Don Juan or gold digger, for good reason. I've said, in these pages, If you want a baby to take care of, then have a baby, don't marry one. As we approach Mother's Day, consider that your mother might prefer a grown up son…or daughter.
Typically, sometime during or after adolescence, you psychologically separate from your parents. You become a unique individual with your own set of ideas, beliefs and morals. You establish adult relationships with your parents. If you didn't have secrets before, you definitely have them now.
Mama's boys and girls do not manage the separation and individuation well. They remain attached in ways that can suffocate new relationships. Sometimes the problem behaviors are couched in religious, ethnic or regional cloaks, like, you must always respect your parents, or, your elders are always right.
Being a millennial is not a criterion for being a mama's boy or girl--you can be any age. There are obvious red flags, like living with your mom after age 25 or so, having her take your suits to the cleaner or relentlessly comparing partners to your mother. Here are some of the other ways you can spot the mama's boy or girl in you or your partner:
• Asks mother about everything. A particularly irksome aspect of this is checking in with your mother before discussing something with your partner. Is your mother's opinion is more important than your partner's? Does everything need your mother's seal of approval? Talking or texting endlessly with your mother is another clue. Pouring salt in the wound of too much talk is sidling off for more private conversations. This really stings and smacks of keeping secrets from your partner.
• Crosses boundaries. Telling your mother things most would consider private, like information about your sex life, is a not okay, unless you and your partner agree. Some couples like to keep financial and other information private. These are things to negotiate with your partner, not your mother.
• Expects to be catered to. You're watching TV together and you ask for a glass of water. Your partner says they're too comfy and would rather you get it yourself, to which you reply, My mama never minds getting up to get me a glass of water. You partner probably wants to scream, I'M NOT YOUR MAMA! Not only are you guilty of comparing, but you're missing the fact that grownups do things for themselves.
• Is always right. Though many of us suffer from know-it-all-itis, the mama's boy or girl probably has a lifetime of unquestioningly accepting mama's beliefs. Now that you're the king or queen of the castle, you expect your partner to treat you with the same deference with which you treat your mom. Newsflash: it's not a castle…there is no royalty.
• Won't say no to mother. You do whatever your mother wants, whenever she wants it, regardless of what you and your partner need or had planned. You see it as a response to your mother's needs. Your partner sees it as your response to your mother's manipulation to remain your top priority.
• Lies to mom. Dishonesty is the coward's way to avoid telling mom an unwelcome truth, like, I just want some alone-time with my family, or, We're having a party for friends, not family. Asking your partner to lie by not telling your mom you got a speeding ticket, or were fired from a job, is another way you maintain a child-like relationship with your mother. It's time to grow up!
Spotting characteristics of a mama's boy or girl need not be the death knell of a relationship. When you find yourself cringing at the way they relate to their mother, talk to your partner about your feelings. You can help them see unhealthy habits that interfere with your relationship. If you hit a wall, consider coaching or couples therapy.
If you're the one who needs to make changes, know that it's not only your partner you will please. Most mothers come to appreciate having an adult relationship with an adult child. Remaining close with family is wonderful, but growing up is the best Mother's Day gift.