An exploration of mothers' online qualitative self-reports concerning their perceived influence in their sons' development of masculinity

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This purpose of this study was to study mothers’ values, beliefs, and behaviors relating to topics of masculinity as well as their perceived influence on their sons’ development of masculinity. Mothers are under-represented in the literature related to gender role socialization and gender role ideology. While it is widely acknowledged that rigid forms of masculinity are detrimental to boys and men, and the literature is plentiful reporting interventions to address the issues caused by gender role strain in a way that involves men such as fathers, male teachers, mentors, community members, or therapists, the literature does not address what mothers do and can do to assist in mitigating issues related to adolescents’ development of masculinity. A qualitative study, using a grounded theory approach, was used to gain understanding about what mothers believe related to masculinity, how they interact with their sons concerning topics related to masculinity, and how they perceive their impact on their sons’ development of masculinity. Through convenience sampling, 23 mothers of adolescent sons participated in the study. The following five research questions were addressed in the study: (1) What traits and characteristics of masculinity and male gender roles do mothers value? (2) How are mothers’ beliefs about masculinity and gender roles related to their discussions with their sons about masculinity ideology? (3) How do mothers report what works and what does not work when they talk to their sons about issues related to masculinity and gender roles? (4) What are the challenges or motivating factors that influence mothers’ approaches to discuss topics related to masculinity? (5) Do mothers fear that some traits of positive masculinity will result in femininity in their sons? Using an online survey, data were gathered and themes were constructed. Four themes were identified: (1) Balancing Between What Impacts Sons and Sons’ Impact on Others, (2) Respect--Treatment of Women, Treatment of Others, Emphasis on Humanness Over Masculinity, (3) Moms’ Attitudes and Approaches towards Emotion with Their Son(s), (4) Moms’ Important and Unique Role in Sons’ Development. An analysis of the data provided insight into the ways mothers value and reject traits of masculinity, how they approach topics of masculinity with their sons, and how they perceive the impact they have on their sons’ development of masculinity. The mothers in this study did not relegate the exploration and development of masculinity to someone else, rather, they were involved and clear about their goals for their sons. Likewise, it was discovered that mothers conceptualize their role to develop good people or quality human beings, and the qualities of masculinity that they value most are not gender dependent. Based upon the findings, recommendations are given for including mothers in the research on gender role socialization and gender role ideology, as they are a valuable, untapped resource.

masculinity, attachment theory, mothers and sons