According to the latest census stats, only 23.5 percent of American families are made up of a mom, a dad, and their children. How are boys doing in all this?
There are many books on helping boys grow up emotionally healthy. Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men (Rodale, $24.95), by Peggy F. Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross, is the newest book on the shelf. The twist is it’s a study on boys being raised by either single moms by choice or lesbian pairs. Dr. Drexler, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University, is a mother of two, married, and lives in Manhattan.
“This idea began as my doctoral thesis. In 1996, I recruited 16 boys being raised in traditional families and 16 boys being raised without men in the household. I wasn’t sure how I would be received by these women whom I now call ‘maverick moms’, but they were enormously receptive. They consider themselves pioneers and they all wanted information on how they’re doing. I got no resistance from the women or the boys.”
Dr. Drexler hopes that her findings, which are expanded on in her book, will be informative and comforting to all-female-headed households and equally helpful to traditional mom-and-dad families. She concludes that some sons from single- and two-mom families are growing up emotionally stronger and more empathetic, independent-minded, and well-rounded than boys from some “traditional” two-parent families.
She found from her study, for example, that the sons of lesbians and single-by-choice moms tend to be more empathetic towards others, as well as more aware of the good and bad feelings within themselves. She reports that this emotional well-being stems from a childhood of openly sharing and discussing feelings, without flinching and without cover-up.
Dr. Drexler says, “These boys are in no way isolated from male role models. These role models may be an uncle, another family member, a pediatrician, a neighbor, a babysitter, or sports heroes. But the boys are very in tune to these choices. They will reject models that they find not appropriate.”
Another point Dr. Drexler stresses is that boys being raised by lesbian parents are seemingly more aware of environmental concerns, more thoughtful about settling arguments with words, not violence, and more polite overall.
In the chapter titled ‘Head-and-Heart Boys’, Dr. Drexler asks readers to rethink certain ideas: “As a society, we automatically worry that unorthodox family arrangements will at best confuse or alienate kids and at worst cause irreversible damage. … I found that the boys from two-parent lesbian families and the boys from single-mom families exhibited an unusually high degree of emotional savvy. Some call that emotional intelligence.”
Regardless of parenting, boys will still be boys. With the help of their mothers, Dr. Drexler writes, sons raised in woman-headed homes are astonishingly deft at figuring out for themselves how to be boys. These boys have an ability to get what they need to establish a strong and resilient sense of their own masculinity.
Early on, the author explains that, “The boys in my study were not sissies or mama’s boys. Nor did they compensate for the lack of a father figure by becoming overly aggressive. Other studies have shown that sons raised in lesbian households are no more likely to become homosexual than they would if raised in heterosexual families.
“What I really want to stress is that good parenting goes beyond gender. Parenting is either good or deficient. Parenting isn’t ‘male’ or ‘female’. We have to let go of the ‘ideal’ or gold standard of the family unit. That’s changing. I’m saying that whatever your situation is, a woman can raise a well-adjusted boy.”
Dr. Drexler plans to continue to follow the lives and lifestyles of the boys in her study. “I got to know these boys when they were between 5 and 9 years old,” she says. “I will stay in touch with them and their moms as they reach adolescence and enter high school. There will be a whole new atmosphere there, and there will be new issues for these boys to deal with. I want to know how they handle those issues.” Dr. Drexler also plans to conduct a similar study of girls being raised by men.