Moms and the Enabling of Toxic Masculinity

Photo by cottonbro on

I watched a video the other day where a mother had won a Youtube award by building her channel to over 1 million subscribers and was so excited to share about it she did a Q&A with two of her three adult sons. By the time it was over, I was pretty angry. By the time I read the comments under the video, I was so irritated I was sweating.

In the video she talked about why she started her Youtube channel. It was something she started as a way to find her purpose during the initial stages of the empty nest, which she admittedly confessed she wasn’t dealing with very well. She told her audience (mainly women her age) about the pain of the empty nest and how painful it was for her. I totally understood.

Instead of being met with compassion and understanding for sharing her transparency and truth, she was met with grievances about her; how annoying she was, they made fun of her, mocked her, imitated her, dismissed her, were not really supportive of her, and called her reaction where she described an incident of falling to the ground in devastation after they left home, “Dumb.”

When she turned to explain how painful it was for a mother to give everything, and then nobody need her anymore, he said, “So we’re to blame?” — First, she’s dumb for having the feeling at all and when she pushed back and explained herself, he accused her of blaming them. — No, they are called feelings. Talking. Not blaming. We have feelings and we are human. We are allowed to talk about them.

At one point, as the mother says she will hang the award in her office, the youngest son throws it off to the side. — Nice.

Next, they talked about diet. She told the audience about her diet and said that she ate very… “clean.” As she was searching for the word “clean,” the other son said, “horrible.” He said he’d like to visit and have more than kale and sprouts to choose from to eat. Mind you, he’s out of the house on his own…— Belittling her and being dismissive of her feelings wasn’t good enough, he needed to disagree and insult her lifestyle and diet and expect the house to be stocked with food to his liking even though he doesn’t live at home anymore.

When she asked what else annoyed them about her, one son looked at his watch and asked, “How much time do we have?”

The other son chimed in and mocked her use of reading glasses attached to her cell phone calling them a monocle. They all laugh and he added, “She has the vision of someone well past her fifties” knowing how important it is for his mother (who has a channel about beauty and staying young) to be thought of as beautiful and youthful. The other one says, “God forbid you go out without these (glasses) and we must read the entire menu to her.” — Oh, I’m just busting a gut here… I hope people are as kind to them when they are older.

Then, they accused her of not having “boundaries.”

Wait for it. Because she “never got out of asking them how their day was since their elementary school days.” — Wow. What a shitty parent. How dare she?!

She explained how she loves asking about their lives, their days, their friends, because she cared about them and still does. The one son said, “we’re just out there trying to be men.” — Yikes.

First of all, this kid doesn’t know what a boundary is. It’s some real stretchy, crazy-making behavior from him trying to compare a lack of boundaries with someone caring about you. Not even close to the same thing.

Secondly, the type of “man” who does this, is actually gaslighting you. This type of behavior needs to cease to exist in the future and that will not happen when moms (and dare I say, dads) don’t call this hurtful banter out for what it is: toxic masculinity.

She talked about her parenting and how someone once told her when she was a younger mom to light up like a Christmas tree when she saw her children. She said she loved that idea and has done that ever since. The one son says, “So, you were just ticking a box, not giving us genuine love.” She explained that she thought about how it would have made her feel as a kid if her parents would have done that and because she would have liked it, she always remembered to do it and therefore incorporated it into her parenting. The other son says, “light up like a Christmas tree… so fake.” They accused her of being a liar, a fake, of scarring them and said that the entire video wasn’t for the award, but to prove one thing: “that they caused her pain.”

There’s that narcissists epiphany they talk about.

They talked about the nice notes she used to put in their lunches. And… of course, instead of feeling grateful and appreciative, they remembered how they had to try not to let the other kids see the notes, and said that while all the other kids were trading their goodies with one another, they had apples, and carrots that no one wanted. — Oh, poor bebes. What trauma.

My blood was hot. It was all about them.

Then, I read the comments under the video. And I was beyond aggravated.

“Watching this was sheer joy.” someone wrote. (Not if you know what you’re looking at!)

“Remember when the boys in school threw rocks at us? That’s how boys show love.” (It’s not 1923 anymore, grandma.)

“When boys are comfortable teasing their moms that much, there is nothing but love there.” (No, that much… is too much. I can bet this mother can’t say anything or it gets real bad.)

Eight to ten years ago I would have thought watching another mother with her adult sons teasing and bantering back and forth was cute too. Then, I woke up to “toxic masculinity” and the “enabling” a mother in love with her sons actually does to perpetuate this behavior. Where did I learn this? In therapy.

I’ll be clear here: I thought I had confronted this behavior many times before in my own life with my son. I later learned I hadn’t. When you seriously address this behavior, in a non-joking manner and instead say, “I’m not going to take this hurtful behavior from you anymore,” you will likely forfeit a relationship with your child. And… it gets worse after you address it. How dare you hold them accountable. They will rage like a toddler. Which is why most parents continue to allow the hurtful behavior to continue. Boy, do I get it.

Therapy for both parties; preferably together is best to talk about this harmful relationship dynamic. But, good luck getting that together… it will most likely be a wife and a court order that makes these types of men eventually go to counseling.

At one point in the video, the mom says that she isn’t going to allow her feelings to be hurt anymore because she thinks it hurts her growth. My heart broke for her. — I used to be her. Until I decided that I was tired of swallowing down my pain, smiling for the camera, and showing the world what a “great” family I had, when in fact, it was only great when I was catering to everyone’s needs, was fun and easy to be with at all times, and said nothing about my feelings.

Fuck that. That mother doesn’t live here anymore. And I make no apologies. Feeling alone inside your own family; the one you’ve nurtured and cared for for decades is the epitome of feeling invisible and taken for granted.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to write a comment out under this woman’s video because I wasn’t going to ruin her moment of joy sharing her award by being odd woman out. I wasn’t willing to go head to head with people that have nothing better to do with their time than argue with me about what I’m seeing. I don’t have to defend myself, because I’ve lived it. And, because I’ve been there and done that, I know there’s nothing I’m going to say to this woman about her son’s treatment of her that’s going to open her eyes as to what she’s dealing with until she learns it for herself. It’s an education you get along the path of learning about narcissistic abuse and it’s an education that takes a very long time to get, understand fully, and then incorporate into your life. This woman strikes me as the type of mom that would rather have a toxic family than a fractured one in various stages of healing and understanding.

Here’s what I know this many years after dealing with this kind of behavior:

  • Things said in a joking manner are said for a reason. Those things needs further investigation from both sides. And let’s be clear: joking doesn’t mean it’s funny. A mom, wife, sister, aunt, grandma, friend that’s a girl; may smile and laugh now, but that biting comment will ricochete around in her mind for a very long time. People can only take so much and moms are no different. Learn not to say the biting thing.
  • Behavior like this starts in childhood; usually in teens, and is usually perpetrated by some other toxic male they are mimicking or parroting. Hmm? I wonder who that could be? This woman has three sons all watching the behavior of the other. It makes me wonder how the dad is? I dealt with this behavior each and every time it was exhibited; usually after visitation weekends when my son was a teenager, but kids grow up and become who they really are regardless of our parenting. Soon enough, we have adult males who think dismissive, belittling, devaluing language toward their mother, or women in general, is acceptable, and attractive. — It’s not.
  • Explaining yourself to boys that act like this, isn’t going to work. Our instinct to over-explain for validation of our feelings is a trauma response from our own childhood. Don’t do it. It antagonizes their rage and they blame-shift their accountability. Narcissistic abuse is an addiction to ego. Unless they are pathological, (have antisocial tendencies) they will come to their own realization they need to change in their own time. Nothing you say or do will make them get it sooner. That may mean we have to let them go to face their consequences, grow up, and come to some accountability on their own accord. Hard to do, but necessary.
  • When you learn about narcissistic abuse the first thing they tell you, is to listen to the words toxic individuals use. You’ll realize that in many instances they project onto us what they feel about themselves: “Dumb,” “Liar,” “Fake.” “No boundaries.” “Not getting genuine love.” “Scarred.” — All things the boys are being, doing, or don’t have for their mother. Pretty eye-opening.
  • It is high time we stop telling our daughters and granddaughters that when a boy throws rocks at her that this means he likes her. It’s abuse. Not like. Not love. This is an antiquated idea about how love starts and works that is perpetuated by an older generation who thought this kind of behavior was “cute.” That kind of love doesn’t work in this life anymore. Period.

It’s not a joy to watch a mother squirm, smile and giggle for the camera as she’s being belittled and devalued by her adult sons. If you’re not uncomfortable watching something like that, please educate yourself on toxic masculinity, narcissistic abuse, and enabling behaviors.

Teasing is one thing. I myself, love to banter, and for years I had that same innocent bantering relationship with one of my sons, but it’s important to watch for escalation in hurtful behaviors and boundary crossings. Having your feelings dismissed, being called names, being mocked for who and how you are, is not funny.

It’s time that mothers who are being devalued learn boundaries. (That means with our adult sons as well as our daughters. Yes, there’s a lot of toxic femininity, too) Stand up and say, “no more!” Take up space and do not tolerate disrespectful behaviors as something that is “cute. If they no longer want you as their parent because of this, that’s their choice. But know they are throwing a tantrum. Let them go.

It’s also time for fathers to stand up and say that belittling women; even in a joking manner is not okay. By saying nothing, you send the message that you’re fine with it.

When your adult male child doesn’t change after being told this kind of treatment hurts you, and doesn’t respond to correction, it means they don’t care and they don’t respect either of you. And yes, I know that hurts to hear, but that’s exactly how our adult kids can grow up to treat us. Even after we packed love notes in their lunchboxes and lit up like Christmas trees when we saw their face.

Our kids go on to have many more influences in their lives than just us.

Many of them can be toxic.

It’s time to write ourselves love notes and light up when we see our own faces.

Photo by George Milton on