Mother's boy

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A mother's boy, also mummy's boy or mama's boy, is a man who is excessively attached to his mother at an age at which men are expected to be independent (e.g. live on their own, be economically independent, be married or about to be married). Due to cost of living of some states, this is a viable option for many single men or even newlyweds. Anecdotally, this age of independence varies throughout each stratum of every human society in the world, sometimes greatly. A mother's boy may be effete or effeminate, or might be perceived as being macho, or might have a personality disorder, such as avoidant personality disorder, or might be schizophrenic, so that the mother acts as a caregiver.

In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus complex denotes a child's desire to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex. Sigmund Freud believed that a child's identification with the same-sex parent is the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex.[1][2] If this identification fails, the boy remains a lifelong "mama's boy."

Being mother-bonded is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness, and has a social stigma attached to it in many places, although in other places it may be more acceptable or perceived as normal. A mother-bonded man is seen to give control of his own life to his mother.



It is generally accepted that mothers and the social experiences they provide for their children, have a huge influence on the child’s social behaviour. American psychiatrist David M. Levy’s wrote in his seminal work on maternal behaviour:

“His outlook on life, his attitude towards people, his entire psychic well-being, his very destiny is presumed to be altered by the maternal attitude […] If human behaviour is influenced so markedly by maternal attitudes, then surely the most important study of man as a social being is a study of his mother’s influence on his early life.”[3]

The term ‘mama’s boy’ is not a clinical definition, but is understood as a particular kind of mother-son dynamic that reflects co-dependency, while also resulting in a number of social, emotional and emotional intelligence, and even physical deficiencies when seen in the most extreme cases.[3]

Despite limited academic literature on the long-term effects of maternal overprotection in creating grown ‘mama’s boys’, a man’s abnormal dependency on his mother for emotional, financial, moral, and other kinds of support are widely believed to originate in a prolonged, mutually dependent relationship with his mother in the first years of life. This relationship may be caused by a number of factors, including the mother’s personality, social and maternal anxieties, relationship or separation from the father, cultural context and expectations, lack of emotional, social, or financial independence, or prior experiences with child-raising. Often a mother’s excessive care in early infancy is triggered by a child’s unexpected illness, birth defects, or accidents, and may be prolonged treatment that does not end even when it is no longer needed.[3]

In psychoanalysis, this mutually-dependent relationship and the deficiencies it brings between mother and son may be explained as a direct result of maternal overprotection, a specific kind of maternal relationship that develops in early infancy, often in the first year of life. Although defining ‘overprotection’ as an extreme form of behaviour can be difficult due to cultural, social, and economic backgrounds of families, in clinical settings cases are usually deemed extreme according to the norms within the mother’s cultural ingroup. In D. M. Levy’s study, children displaying “emotional disturbance” as a result of prolonged contact and infantilizing treatment by their mothers were hospitalized by the efforts of their fathers, teachers, social workers, and other figures in close proximity to their mother, pressuring her to seek extra help for her child’s resulting behaviour [3]

Clinical views[edit]

Clinical studies have shown two main relationship dynamics that characterize overprotection:

Submissive child – dominating mother

The submissive child is often socially awkward, unable to relate to other children, experiences anxiety when physically separated from his mother, lacks the ability to make strong, independent decisions because of mother’s dominance. His dependency on his mother is reinforced by her overly-dominating decisions and presence in his social life, and her desire to control his social, physical, and emotional environments as a way of ‘protecting’ him from perceived harms of the outside world.

Aggressive child – indulgent/submissive mother

This kind of mother-son relationship gives near-complete dominance to the son, making his every wish the responsibility of the mother to fulfill. Often, the son of a submissive, indulgent mother who is also overprotective may experience the opposite in personality shaping, and display infantile power, showing a tendency to manipulate his situations in order to be the centre of attention; losing his temper when crossed or corrected, may be sexually or physically aggressive in later life and relationships. Levy describes this relationship as: “A process in which infantile power, unmodified, expands into a monstrous growth that tends to subjugate the parents” [3]

Theoretical Approaches[edit]

Maternal Love:

Early years have paramount influence on later life. This thinking conforms to the Freudian Oedipus complex, where the mother plays important role and investment in the child’s material, emotional, and physical reception and understanding of pleasure and other feelings[3] (564), and where the son displays a behavioural disposition to compete, manipulate, and exhibit a temperament to gain his mothers attention. In several cases within Levy’s study, few of these boys displayed sexual responses to their mother[3] (585-6)

Maternal Attitude:

This viewpoint emphasizes that the style or stage of life set by the mother on the son influences and projects the child’s relationship to his mother to the rest of the world. A son who exhibits hunger for power and dominance, anger when crossed, or a desire to be at the centre of attention in social situations with other children were likely spoiled with constant attention, devotion, and obeisance by his mother (564).

In a normal mother-son relationship, four basic patterns of maternal care include:

  • Physical and social contacts with friends, relatives, family members; where a child is exposed to social situations and himself learns how to create, maintain, and strengthen relationships
  • Infantile care is a basic instinct for many mothers, this includes close contact and affection, cleaning, feeding, nursing, and other forms of physical and emotional nurture
  • Protection against danger, ensuring that the child is safe and taking care to protect them from harm and danger in the best way possible
  • Balancing between disciplining and indulging the child, correcting a child’s mistakes in ways that are healthy and appropriate for their age, personality, intellect, and behaviour

In the case of maternal overprotection, the patterns are pushed to their extremes and are consistent across behavioural characteristics:

  • Excessive contact with the mother. She is always present in the child’s life, even when it is not appropriate – such as in school, or as a stand-in for friends and external social networks. When contact is excessive, infantilization and prevention of the child’s independent growth are natural outcomes (584). Examples include constant companionship of mother and child, prolonged nursing care, excessive fondling, sleeping with mother long past infancy (589)
  • Infantilizing. This unwillingness or inability allow her son develop into an adult is often seen to reflect the mother’s wish that her son remains an infant forever. She still treats him like a baby, feeding and preparing food for him, taking direction of his wardrobe and other decisions he should be making independently, all out of either a submission to his every will or treating him like a helpless child who cannot make these decisions on his own.
  • Prevention of independent behaviour. Similar to the previous characteristic, the mother won’t let her son grow up or take any risks, stunting his emotional, social, and even in some cases, physical development.
  • Lack OR excess of maternal control – a mother lacking in control cannot modify or change her child’s behaviour. In extreme form, she is subservient to her child, who possesses her full attention and services in the first year of life. The latter, excess of maternal control, is the opposite: a dominant mother who perceives experiences outside of her presence or control as a threat to her social monopoly over her son.

These characteristics often overlap, and are consistent with the presence of related dynamics like sibling rivalry, marital relations, maternal rejection, paternal roles, other behavioural problems and experiences that shape personality, such as disease, family life, and infantile experience [3][562]


It is a popular conception that many son's stay living at home because they lack the necessary finances to support themselves. There is at least some evidence to support this. In Italian culture in particular, the decision to stay home until marriage was more common for men who were unemployed. Traditionally, people have turned to their family in times of economic uncertainty, and historically can be seen as the only guarantee of survival in uncertain times.


Popular Culture[edit]

With several books and a Hollywood movie titled “Mama’s boy”, it is the more popular and common form of referencing this term.


David Goudreault book titled Mama's Boy,[4] won the 2016 Grand Prix littéraire Archambault [5] and has been translated to several languages from the original French. It tells the story of a young man in the quest to find his mother after bouncing through the foster care system in his childhood. Penned with dark humour, it is the first book in a trilogy that was devoured by the writer's hometown of Quebec by selling more than 20,000 copies.

With the same name but about a mother of a murder suspect grappling with turning him in or helping him run, ReShonda Tate Billingsey's [6] family drama has a rating of 4.58 on Goodreads [7] and promises to be a tearjerker.


A Hollywood comedy movie titled Mama's Boy [8] was released in 2007 starring Jon Heder, Diane Keaton, Jeff Daniels and Anna Faris. Revolving around a boy whose easy life thanks to his mother becomes threatened when she becomes engaged to a self-help guru, the movie was not well received by critics and only scored a 5.2 on IMDB.


Several meme's sport references to the term Momma's or Mama's boy to jibe at sons close to their mother and thus possess reduced stereotypical masculine characteristics. These range from lack of confidence in interacting with women to being overly dependent on their mother's even in adulthood. The condescending demeanor of these perpetuate and exaggerate stereotypes about men who have a close relationship with their mother.

Italian Culture[edit]

In Italian Culture, it is much more accepted, and oftentimes even encouraged, for a son to live at home until marriage. This is seen more with Italian men than women and accredited to the especially strong bond Italian men tend to form with their mothers. These men are referred to as "figli per sempre," which translates as "sons forever." [9] This is often shown in pop culture versions of Italian families, where the mother is the strong matriarch.


The term "mama's boy" is often used in a degrading manner to refer to someone who is "soft" or lacks manliness. The relationship to the mother, as opposed to a more "manly" father figure, is shown as emasculating, and is often used as either a comedic device or a way to show someone as undesirable in platonic or romantic relationships. The mother is also stigmatized, considered to be coddling her soon or stunting his maturation. This is the only parent-child relationship that has been subject to this type of stigma. Father-daughter relationships are the most stark contrast: a close relationship to her father is considered vital for her self-esteem later on.

However, the opposite school of thought has recently arisen. Popular figures like LeBron James, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have cited their close relationships with their mothers as being critical for their success.[10] There is science to support this as well. Studies have found that son's that have a strong bond with their mothers tend to have less behavioral problems, lower rates of delinquency, better quality romantic relationships, and a higher sense or morality.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles Rycroft A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London, 2nd Ed. 1995)
  2. ^ Joseph Childers, Gary Hentzi eds. Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Levy, David M. (Fall 1938). "Maternal Overprotection". Psychiatry. 1: 561 – via ProQuest.
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  9. ^ "Global Psyche: Forever Mamma's Boy". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2018-12-02.
  10. ^ a b Drexler, By Peggy. "Opinion: Raise your son to be a mama's boy - CNN". CNN. Retrieved 2018-12-02.