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Spoiled boys, rotten partners?

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent


My friend Mel sat across from me at the neighborhood pub, a sigh painting her pretty face weary.  A sparkling carafe of purple sangria sat between us on the chipped wooden table, lemon slices and ice cubes bobbing invitingly at the surface.  I looked up and watched pub patrons ambling at the pool table, poised with their darts, stroking their beer mugs beside them.  Husbands, I thought, husbands and boyfriends and sons.

“I do blame his Mom, for 80% of his laziness at least,”my friend sighed, cocked her eyebrow at me and held the carafe over my empty glass.  I nodded.

“If she hadn’t spoiled him, done his laundry, paid his bills and bought his damned toothbrushes, he wouldn’t be so completely lazy,” she finished,”He is 29 and has no idea how to do laundry.  I’m serious.”

I nodded again, and shuddered too.

I could relate.  99.9% of my friends could relate, in fact: whether they were married or simply in a serious relationship.  So many of our men expected us to cook and clean and work and caretake — simply because their own Mothers had done it all.  They knew nothing else, we guessed.  But that didn’t make it any less annoying.

When my relationship with my son’s father imploded, relief mingled amidst the emotions of regret and turmoil. I felt almost giddy that I wouldn’t have to pay bills for someone else, pick up after anyone over the height of two feet.  I wouldn’t have to relay gigantic errant socks to the laundry bin and I wouldn’t have to be “the responsible one” for anyone but me.  What I didn’t fathom, though, is that even in divorce there is responsibility.  Once you have a child, obligations to one another morph into different beasts, but they’re still there.

Last weekend, my ex came to town for our son’s third birthday party (which went off absurdly well, thank you for the encouragement!)  I drove to the airport and rented a car for him, since he doesn’t have a credit card.  I booked his flight for that same reason.  I also forwarded his itinerary to him, three times, because he misplaced it.  And, after the visit, he followed me to the airport, so he didn’t get lost.  The caretaking pattern continues, in a different way.

I’m not declaring perfection, in any sense.  I’m distressingly stubborn, I leave mouldy bread on the counter, I lose toothpaste caps and I will argue even when I know I’m wrong.  But I do know how to take care of most necessary tasks of my life, certainly all the menial ones.

And one of my deepest hopes is that I pass that knowledge off to my son: refrain from spoiling him by doing too much for him.  One day, I’d like him to place his socks in the laundry bin and make his sweetheart a chocolate cake.  With homemade icing, even, because there’s nothing wrong with a Mama dreaming big.

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12 comments so far...

  • Well, I don’t know about the homemade icing part.

    As much as I’d love to believe it’s all about conditioning, my experience tells me otherwise. I had 3 brothers and a full-time working mom. Each of my brothers had to help out in the house at an early age - cooking, washing dishes, grocery shopping, changing diapers. Yet as adults, brother 1 takes almost no domestic initiative and brother 2 is an incurable slob. Brother 3 never could be convinced to act civilized even as a kid. It is definitely not due to a lack of trying on the part of my mom, and later, me (oldest daughter). I’m afraid it’s genetic. (The 3 daughters turned out different - though admittedly one is terrible at keeping her housecleaning up.)

    Definitely do what you can to encourage good habits and awareness of which “little things” are important. But don’t be surprised if your daughter-in-law one day complains to you about how helpless and hapless your son is.

    Look at the positive side - it’s just one more area where we women are superior to men.

    SKL  |  August 29th, 2008 at 9:38 am

  • My boyfriend is responsible, and so I am. I’m certain that neither of us would accept anything less in a relationship with another adult , so I guess it’s a good thing that we two grumps found each other! :) But oh, it makes life together so easy and so fun. He might be offended at the idea that this is an area where women are superior to men, but we’re dreadful hippies that way. :)

    I have no idea whether to give his mother the credit for the fact that he behaves like a grown-up should. He was raised by both parents, but they were divorced, so they each had to run their own household … Maybe that’s the key, in which case it seems Nolan is in a good position to follow in your footsteps! :) Regardless, it certainly can’t hurt to try and instill those values in him … I think your concern for the “adult Nolan” is both touching and wise.

    Nolan seems like a wonderful little boy, and you a wonderful mother … I’m sure someday he’ll put his socks in the laundry! :)

    squandra  |  August 29th, 2008 at 12:17 pm

  • SKL, interesting. I wonder how much is inherent and how much is learned? I *hope* that a lot of who you become is how you are raised, but you’re right, the two may be unrelated…

    Kristin D  |  August 29th, 2008 at 2:24 pm

  • I don’t mean to say moms can’t make an impact. But kids certainly aren’t the clay that we thought they were before they were born!

    I would add that my youngest sister was about as spoiled as a kid could be in our house, yet she still runs an extremely tight ship in her own house. Yeah, I’m really thinking it’s largely genetic. Not that your future daughter-in-law wants to hear that! But, having observed this phenomenon over time, I can understand why some mothers may give up on domesticating their boys. At some point, you feel kinda stupid beating your head against a wall. Especially when you have a girl who demonstrates more sense / responsibility at age 2 than your son does at age 6.

    Part of it is that males grow up more slowly. They might be quite irresponsible at 25 and still do most of the cooking and cleaning at 65 (that’s how it was/is for my dad). A young wife can make herself unhappy stewing about it, or de-prioritize it and focus on better things.

    This is another area where I wish we weren’t so much in denial that we end up hurting our daughters. The whole toilet seat up thing and a million other things - who decided that these things are worth our peace and happiness? Do we REALLY want men to be just like women? No? Then let’s celebrate the differences.

    SKL  |  August 29th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

  • I agree with this completely. I think its always a good idea to think about the other women in your man’s life. Strong mother/sister influences make a huge difference to how men treat women. I didn’t discover how much of my boy friend’s bad habits were a result of his upbringing.

    Uma  |  August 30th, 2008 at 12:02 am

  • Moms have an impact, and so do dads. If a son sees his father being incompetent, he may think that’s what all grown men do. Hopefully, his “significant others” won’t put up with laziness any more than you do!

    Daisy  |  August 30th, 2008 at 8:41 pm

  • I’m no expert, but I strongly feel that b/c of the situation with trying to juggle so much it would be impossible for you to do EVERYTHING for you son to the extend that he cannot take care of his own business as an adult.

    In my personal life I’ve know many son’s of single mother’s and learned that more often than not being raised by a single mother has 1. Made them more independent and 2. Made them strongly respect their mothers and women (in general) more.
    I’m not saying this is gospel, just my own personal swing on the situation.

    Miranda  |  September 1st, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  • I want to totally blame my husband’s do-it-all-for-him mother and his set-a-terrible-example father. But every time I do, I picture my future daughters-in-law blaming ME, and I put a big chunk of the blame onto my husband himself, who at the age of 35 can certainly have realized that women don’t/shouldn’t do all the work and men don’t/shouldn’t sit around doing nothing. (I still do blame my in-laws, though!) (Especially since he IS getting better over the years, with the persistent training I resent having to do.)

    swistle  |  September 1st, 2008 at 7:22 pm

  • Wait a minute. You are DIVORCED. Yet you did all those things for him? That is ridiculous. You have only yourself to blame for that. He may have been made “lazy” by his mother, but you are enabling the behavior.

    STOP. Just stop. Don’t help him. He’s a grown man who isn’t even your husband. He doesn’t have a credit card? Oh well. Not your problem. Lost his itinerary? Sucks to be you. Guess you’ll have to call the airline and deal with it like an adult. He doesn’t have directions? Should have thought about that ahead of time and printed some off the internet.

    Maybe some of these men/boys would grow up if only their wives would LET THEM!

    Robyn  |  September 2nd, 2008 at 1:36 pm

  • [...] even think of the comment on yesterday’s post,from Robyn, asking me what the hell I am doing taking care of my exes credit card requirements. I feel a wash [...]

    Fostering versus facilitating - Single Mom at Work - Work It, Mom!  |  September 2nd, 2008 at 11:47 pm

  • My boyfriend left home when he was 16. He’s now 22 and has baked me (amongst other sinful desserts) the richest, most delicious chocolate mud cake I’ve ever had, COMPLETE WITH HOMEMADE ICING! No word of a lie!!! He’s pretty terrific :)

    Allison  |  September 4th, 2008 at 12:17 am

  • A parent’s influence is vital to a childs development but you cannot forget the impact of society. I think Nolan will be a great man because you’re a strong, independent Mom.

    Also, I think that it’s pretty awesome that you were willing to help R in that way because if you didn’t the person that would lose out is your son. I even get the airport thing because Nolan wanted to see his Dad off at the airport and since Nolan isn’t quite old enough to drive himself home you had to go anyways - R may as well follow. The fact that you are willing to book the flight and the car just further cements that you’re a great Mom.

    Ashley  |  September 9th, 2008 at 3:02 pm