My son is 15. Pretty soon there will be girlfriends. I always wonder if I will be one of those mothers whose son is referred to as a “mama’s boy”. I can’t see it happening, since this is the age that teenage boys run as far away from their mothers as they can. Anyways, his role model is his dad; he looks like him, hunts like him, wants to be in his father’s business etc. And frankly I have no issues with that. I also have always come to terms with the fact that our children are, as Khalil Gibran once wrote,” the children of the world.” So what is the deal with mothers having this overly-clingy neo-Oedipus complex when it comes to their sons?
Having been a student of Greek classics, I was in love with Greek tragedies and Euripides’ plays “Medea” and “Electra”. They were
always so over the top in drama they would make the Star Plus ‘Saas-Bahu’ vendettas look normal and rational.
Just look at Medea who was so enraged by her cheating husband that she resorted to hurting him by killing her own children!
It was of course the psychologist Sigmund Freud who coined the terms Electra complex and Oedipus complex. Oedipus is a mythological Greek character from a play by Sophocles who is separated at birth from his parents. A prophecy predicts that Oedipus will kill his father Laius, the King of Thebes (unwittingly) and marry his mother (also unwittingly). And he does, while also having two children from the incestuous relationship.
When he discovers his fate his shame is such that he blinds himself with his mother/wife’s golden brooch while she hangs herself.
Now Freud believed that the Oedipus complex was universal and innate in human beings, stemming from competition between father and son for the possession of the mother and that the story is a metaphor describing son-father psychosexual competition for possession of the mother.
The Electra story, on the other hand, revolves around a daughter who kills her mother Clytemnestra when she discovers her mother’s affair and involvement in her father, the Greek king Agamemnon’s murder.
To Freud, the attraction of a girl to her father and rivalry with her mother is called the Electra complex.
The American poet Sylvia Plath also suffered from the Electra complex, and her poem “Daddy” quite literally captures the complexities of the complex in ink.
Now, there have been many stories and movies about such complexes, my favourites being Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride and Jane Fonda’s Monster-in-law!
Somehow, most fathers have issues dealing with their daughters having a man in their lives and their position feels threatened by the young man she falls for. Similarly, most mothers cannot give up their saintly status and no woman their son brings home can be good enough for the handsome and intelligent one-in-a-million ‘beta’!
Have you ever felt like your husband or boyfriend is too devoted to his mother? Does he bring her up in conversation so often it makes your jealous bones vibrate?
Does he cancel dates and appointments with you to be with his amma? Does he cringe if you ever bring up any criticism about her?
Oh yes, most of us have been there. I too had a mother-in-law who thought her son could never love any woman more than he could love her and never ceased to tell me this either. Her obsessive devotion and pampering made me nauseous and I always found it too weird to be true. But true it was.
One of my friends told me how her mother-in-law always competed with her for her son’s attention. When he came home and requested dinner, she actually raced her to the kitchen to prepare the meal he had requested. Does this sound like a Saas-Bahu drama on Star plus? Well folks this is real life and a real tragedy to boot. Another colleague of mine had a mother-in-law who would feign sickness at least twice a week just to get attention from her son and this illness would begin exactly at 6pm when he would return home. Naturally, he had to sit with her till she felt better.
What about you men? Don’t you despise being compared to her father or brother? Does the phrase “Abba would have done things differently!” not drive you insane? How about when you have a fight? Does the tension between you and your wife and her parents make you uncomfortable.
In cases where your child is living out of the city or country, how many of you dads have actually felt comfortable going to your daughter’s house to stay?
Men, whether they are labeled daddies, babas or papas, can’t come to term with the fact that their daughter will have sex. They want their pristine, innocent child to be forever pure and untouched. The pregnancy is an affirmation of the loss of innocence and the fact that they will now be grandfathers. The son-in-law is thus the evil man who has destroyed this innocence.
A young lady in my office told me that she and her siblings never had a relationship with their dad. He felt it was his duty to sit with his dominating mother till 10 pm, ignoring his wife and children.
When his mother died he tried to establish that bond but it was too late. Sadly, dedicated mama’s boys forget that their own
family stands very little chance if they only devote themselves to their mother.
Given that “the path to heaven lies under your mother’s feet,” the status of parents (especially moms) in our society is crystal clear. But can’t we draw a line when this behavior starts getting a little unnatural?
Of course, it’s not just a ‘desi’ thing either. It is not uncommon for mothers to pay more attention to their sons even in the United States. My friend Sandra from Atlanta knows a ‘gori’ lady who ignores her daughters’ soccer games and activities because she is so much more involved in her son’s life. Her daughters are made to do more chores around the house, like laundry, cooking and cleaning while the son shares few responsibilities. The daughters are also made to miss activities just to support the brother. (Sounds very Pakistani to me.) The mother rushes home to help her 12 year old do homework and won’t date because her son won’t let her.
How can such “Mothering” ever amount to any good? The
message to the daughters is that “men” still rule. I would love to tell more stories but unfortunately, many are reluctant to speak about their experiences in such matters.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 15th, 2011.
More in FashionMr know it all