America Is Awash in Overmothered Men

This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.

The other day on my podcast, I spoke with Rose Skeeters, a licensed professional counselor in Philadelphia who used to be a single mother of a son. That son is now 10 years old, and Rose has been married for several years to a great man. This man, the boy’s stepfather, is literally changing who Rose’s son becomes. He arrived just in time.

Growing up fatherless, or with a father a son rarely sees due to divorce or workaholism (yes, that’s a thing), almost invariably stunts a boy’s growth. The end result is almost always too much mother, which means boys will absorb too much femininity and none of the masculinity they need. Ergo, he will spend years trying to figure out what it means to be a man.

It’s a tough subject, and thus taboo. But at some point, we will have to answer why there are so few strong, grounded, purposeful men among us when they used to be a dime a dozen. Video games have nothing to do with it.

You may recall Jordan Peterson’s popularity among men; that was no accident. His words resonated with millions of men who did not have strong fathers to guide them into adulthood. They clung on Peterson’s words for a reason: They’re dying.

Literally dying: Men die by suicide 3.53 times more often than women. But they’re dying metaphorically as well. On the inside, many are dead. They lack purpose. They lack drive. And they’re angry. Why? Because they feel cheated.

For all intents and purposes, a mother’s job with her son is over by the time he’s around 11 years of age. At that point, the boy’s father becomes critical. It’s in the second half of a boy’s life when he learns what it means to be a man. He will fail to learn this if his father is absent or when his mother doesn’t let go of the reins.

A mother can’t teach her son to be a man. She’s indispensable to him when he’s young, but his father is indispensable when he’s older. It’s simply unreasonable to expect these boys to become the men that boys with strong fathers become. They just won’t.

We have a hard time in this country acknowledging the problems that plague our boys and men; we’re too focused on women and girls to notice. But women suffer, and currently do suffer, just as much from men’s failure to launch as do men themselves. We know this because we’re forever hearing women ask where all the good men have gone.

There are two ways to practically guarantee boys will become the strong men women and society need them to become and that boys themselves want to become: when their mothers stay married to their fathers (women initiate 70% of all divorce) and when their mothers let go of control during the teenage years.

I can hear the naysayers now: Are you saying women should keep a bad father around? What about all those mothers who have to step in to do the job fathers won’t? And the answer to that is, it depends what we mean by a bad father. If he’s abusive or mentally unwell, obviously, women shouldn’t keep him around. But short of that, yes.

If that sounds harsh, switch the sexes. Would we be as cavalier about a mother’s lackluster presence in her daughter’s life? What would happen if we had a nation of motherless daughters or girls whose fathers were overly controlling?

None of this is meant to dismiss the absence of a strong father in a girl’s life, by the way — that has its own negative consequences. But for just a few minutes, I thought we could focus exclusively on boys. They get so little of our time as it is.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.