Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Wayne M. Levine, M.A.
If you want a very quick take on how important this article may be to your future happiness and success as a man, honestly assess your reaction to its title.
What did you feel? Were you aghast? Did it offend you? Did it piss you off? Are you utterly confused? If you’re this guy, you DESPERATELY need the wisdom found below.
Were you intrigued by the title? Did it resonate with you for some unknown reason? Did it make you smile? If you’re this guy, you also DESPERATELY need this wisdom. The difference is, it may be much easier for you to take action.
And if it turns out that you have already taken this courageous action, terrific. You’re now in a mature relationship with your mother. Good for you, and for those around you.
If you other good (or not so good) little boys want to feel what it’s like to be a real man, a real man in your relationship with your mother—and ultimately, a real man in your relationship with a significant other—then pay close attention. If you follow the advice you’re about to receive, you will never be the same. And that’ll be a good thing!
Damn That Little Boy
We’re having this conversation because something isn’t working in your life. And one place you can see it manifest is in your relationship with your mother.
You may be in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, even 60s. But when you’re visiting your mom, or having a phone conversation with her, you feel like that little boy having to obey her rules, feeling compelled to argue with her, angry as hell, or terribly sad, with how she makes you feel with her words, her “looks,” or the attitude you know so well.
You’re nodding your head. Your stomach is tightening. Your breathing has become a bit shallow. Do you know why? Well, we’re talking about you and your pain. You have felt it for years. Your girlfriends, wife, buddies, and kids have seen what happens to you when you’re in the presence of your “mommy.” What the hell is going on?
Here is where the wisdom begins. Take a deep breath. You can change what’s going on between your ears, and that will change your relationship with your mother, and that will change everything for you as a man.
Weak vs. Powerful
When you’re with your mother, or just having thoughts or a discussion about her, and you find yourself angry, resentful, sad, withdrawn, irritable, silent, withholding, stubborn, argumentative, or just numb, you are what many of us guys in the men’s biz would call “not in your power.” You know when you’re not in your power. You can feel it. You just might not have ever labeled it. You’re not in your power when you feel weak, stuck, paralyzed, victimized, and in the problem. And you feel weak when these negative feelings take hold.
How did this happen? Well, you had help. When you were young, you learned how a man behaves with, responds to, and deals with women. Your greatest teacher, for better or worse, was probably dad.
Whatever your circumstances, a young boy learns from his parents (or other adults) how to thrive or survive in relationships. Depending on the level of dysfunction in your family of origin, you may have had to develop some very interesting coping skills.
For example, if dad was a coward, and mom grew to be (in your eyes) an angry, controlling “bitch”, you know very well how to “please” mommy so as to avoid her wrath. Or, dad may have left (divorced, died, abandoned, abused, etc.) the family when you were young, and mom bestowed upon you her resentment toward men.
What happens for these unfortunate boys is that they grow up to be self-hating men. These men unconsciously do not trust other men or themselves. For these guys, being who they are—men—is shameful. As a result, they relinquish all power to the women in their lives, without even being asked. This offering up of men’s power is one of the main contributors to women feeling unsafe, insecure, and, ultimately, resentful and angry. (A fabulous topic for a future post.)
To relinquish power is to be other than the man you want to be in a given situation. You don’t speak up. You avoid conflict in the face of intolerable circumstances. You lie to appease. You lie to yourself, attempting to believe that you are not disappointed or even disgusted with your own behavior.
Back to mom.
Though this will probably not come as news to you, you are a “mama’s boy.” You don’t like that diagnosis? You want a second opinion? OK. You never feel, honestly, as if you measure up as a real man. There’s your second opinion.
Your primary concern is in pleasing your mother, trying not to worry her, worrying about her and how she feels, trying to change your mother, annoying your wife with your concerns about your mom, arguing with your mom, letting your mom dictate family schedules, allowing her gift of guilt to guide your choices… must I go on? This is so painful. Let’s get out of this problem and into the solution, shall we? Let’s blow up this relationship and give you the opportunity to finally be the man, husband, and father you want to be, and that your family needs.
“Blow up? That sounds so violent, Wayne, so unnecessarily macho. Couldn’t you communicate this concept in a more professional, therapeutic way, a way that honors me, my mother and our relationship?” Mmmmm, let me think…NO! Grow up.
There’s nothing to be honored about your current “good little boy” relationship with your mother. It has run its course. You no longer have any need of it. It needs to be jettisoned, like a rocket booster that’s out of fuel. It’s killing you, killing your relationship with your woman, compromising your effectiveness as a father, and keeping you weak as a man in every part of your life. Got it? Let’s blow this “muthah” up, move on, and be the best man, husband, father, and son you can be!
Blowing Up Your Relationship
Ultimately, you’re going to create a whole new relationship with your mother. It’ll be a mature relationship, on your terms. It’ll be loving, attentive, helpful, considerate—whatever you want it to be. But it won’t be like the old relationship. And as difficult as it may be for you to imagine this change in your life, I can assure that I, and many men I’ve coached, have made the transition and have lived, happily, to tell of it. Here’s what you’ll want to do:
Set Your Terms
I teach men to develop and honor their N.U.T.s, non-negotiable, unalterable terms. Without these terms, expect nothing to change. With these terms, everything is possible. Remember, these are changes in you, in your thought process and in your behavior.
We’re not talking about changing others, though you changing may very well motivate others to change in response. Blowing up your little boy relationship with your mother doesn’t require anything of her. This is where you start to take back your power.
Here are a few terms (N.U.T.s) to consider:
When she becomes critical, our conversation is over. (Because you will no longer conduct conversations with your mother that you would not conduct with any other human being.)
The needs of my new family supercede those of my mother. (Because you want to be happily married. This doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate and care for your mother in an appropriate manner.)
When my mother visits, the conditions of her visit will first be agreed upon by me and my wife. (Because you need to remember whose life and house you’re responsible for.)
My mother will not be left alone with, or allowed to drive, my kids. (Because you do not trust her, or she has lost her capacity to responsibly care for your children or to drive an automobile. You are responsible for making this call, period.)
I will no longer try to change, correct, or argue with my mother. (Because I no longer need to be right, or work on my own issues through my mother. What I have to change in me, I will address. She’s responsible for her own life, choices, and growth.)
Make No Announcements
You can’t ask for permission to be the man you want to be. So don’t try doing so here. There’s no need to alert the media about this change in your intentions. There’s no need to make any form of announcement to your mother, or to anyone else, though it’s perfectly fine to include your wife in your plans.
Grab your balls and act. At your first opportunity, honor your new N.U.T. If you’re really being the man you want to be, nothing she does or say can truly keep you from following through.
She will definitely be unhappy with you. But eventually, if you’re consistent, she will learn that if she wants to have a relationship with her son, she will have to conform. This works. It REALLY does. You don’t have to explain a thing. You’ll just have to tell her, ONCE, that if she insists on doing that thing she does that is no longer acceptable to you, you will end the conversation.
As you can already anticipate, this is going to be, possibly, enormously difficult for you. It will upset you. You will find yourself in doubt and fear. You might feel guilty that you are somehow “slowly killing your mother.” You might believe what she tells you about yourself. All of this is to be expected. It’s the fire you must go through. But you don’t have to go through it alone. You’ll need support.
That support should come from other men. Let a man, or circle of men, hold you accountable, prop you up, and encourage you to stay the course. Chances are, these other guys have to do the same demolition to their own relationships with mom.
You Must Remember This
You must remember that this process has nothing to do with blaming your mother. The problem is that you already do. What’s being suggested here is to stop blaming her, to start accepting her for who she is, and then relating to her as an adult who needs nothing from her, rather than a little boy who is completely dependent upon her.
And this can happen even if your mother has already passed. You can still—and you must—honor her for having done her best, and accept her for whatever you saw as her shortcomings. Then, let her know, in your own way, that you no longer need her to mother you, and that you have matured into a grown man. You’re ready to cut the apron strings. Create a ritual, and take this exercise seriously. Let your mother know, and let it sink into your own heart, that you love her and thank her for having done her best.
If you’ve always had a loving, respectful relationship with your mother, and have never felt anger toward her, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not angry and that you don’t need to create a new, mature relationship with her. For many good little boys, being angry with mom was—something you learned as a child— totally unacceptable. Allow yourself the opportunity to become completely conscious and assess your true feelings for and relationship with mom. Consider how your unexpressed anger with her may be seeping out onto your girlfriend, wife, daughter, and other relationships with women.
When you blow up this relationship, and allow yourself to have a mature, loving relationship with your mother, your life and all of your relationships will forever be altered. You’ll feel more like the man you want to be, and you’ll be more the husband and father your family needs you to be.
I encourage you to do the work necessary to get clear about your current relationship with your mother. If you have the courage to do this work, you’ll see you have the courage to face any challenge in your life.
Wayne M. Levine, M.A. is the director of BetterMen.org in Agoura Hills, CA, where he life coaches and mentors men to be the best men, fathers, husbands and leaders they can be. He also coaches women, couples and teens. Wayne facilitates several weekly men’s groups, and created the BetterMen Retreat for men. Wayne, a relationship expert, is the author of the best-selling “Hold On to Your N.U.T.s—The Relationship Manual for Men.”