Book Excerpt
Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men
by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross

An excerpt from Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross, published 2006 by Rodale Books.
Book excerpt reprinted with the permission of the publisher.
Copyright © 2006 Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross



Chapter Six

The Mental Work of Mothering

"The most important thing as they're growing up is that you believe that they have what it takes to cope, to survive, to grow, to build themselves physically and emotionally to get through life. If they feel that from you, it means everything."

-- Divorced mother Helen Lewis

Daily care of a child extends well beyond the physical into the realms of empathy, emotionality, play, and nurturance. Child-rearing skills in these areas necessitate more than just being an able-bodied adult. Mothering is work that requires not only complex physical and emotional but also cognitive commitment. A wealth of evidence tells us that men and women are very different from each other on that front. In almost all families, Mom functions as the overseer, the organizer, the list maker, the keeper of inventory. Beyond overseeing practical activities, mothers are also able to look out for and interpret patterns and rhythms in the child's daily life and respond accordingly.

In my work with two-mother families, I had the privilege to observe courageous mothers on the front lines of our society. These mothers -- alone and in pairs -- are undertaking the emotionally and culturally fraught work of raising boys without a father in the home and doing it well. Their success depends on the recognition that as mothers, they have the innate power to raise their sons right and that they must move from disempowerment and betrayal into a renewed acknowledgment of that power.

True maternal assurance, the kind that doesn't have to prove itself, spawns a freshness and an immediacy that is expansive for both mother and child.

Pam Ingalls's love affair with Cody began the moment she saw his picture. "He's a beautiful child," she told me with pride. "Gorgeous skin. Thick, long black hair. Black eyes. Very petite in his features. Very tiny. He was only 5 pounds, 10 ounces, when he was born . . . I think everyone immediately fell in love with him who saw the pictures. I definitely did." At last, when he was 6 months old, she was called to pick him up in Guatemala. When the baby was finally brought to her hotel, she held him, so overcome with emotion that she was unable to speak. "I had been warned that [newly adopted babies] might cry for hours or even a couple of days, being with unfamiliar people, [but] you'd never know he'd made any kind of transition. He has a very even temperament . . . He was just a very lovable child. I'm sure that contributed to it, but I had pretty much already accepted him, through pictures. I'd gotten one video of him. He was already Cody to us."

Cody continued to wriggle his way into Pam's heart, eventually adopting his mother's personality traits, down to her penchant for organization and tidiness. When he was about 3, she came to pick him up from the church child care he always attended while she was at choir practice, only to find the teachers laughing. He and two little boys had been playing together. When the other boys went home, Cody just sat in the middle of the room, shook his head, and said, "Oh, what a mess." Then he cleaned up the whole room. "He put everything away," his teachers told Pam. He did the same thing when they visited Pam's sister, an unrepentant pack rat and a slob. As Cody went around closing cabinets and tidying up, Pam's sister looked at her and said, "Oh, my gosh, it is environment, not heredity!"

During the 3 years since, Pam has figured out that we can learn to use our children's eyes to see the world as a realm of possibilities and explore it with them, experience it as they do, and regain some of the wonder we may have lost as jaded adults. "I think having Cody around has given me a renewed outlook on life," said Pam, whose 7-year marriage ended well before Cody came on the scene due to her former husband's lack of family commitment. "We go to the park more. I'd never do that if I didn't have him. We sit down and talk about things. We go eat ice cream on the back porch. Taking time to do things has definitely changed me. And I'm more spontaneous. I'll say, 'Okay, let's just go do that.' One of my good friends who has helped with Cody a lot is very spontaneous. Before I got him, she knew that if we were going to do anything, she had to plan it. Now she can call and say, 'I'm going out to the farmer's market. Do you and Cody want to go?' And we'll go. I know she knows that I've changed because Cody might like to go out there and see the vegetables and the flowers. I do things now knowing that would be something that Cody would enjoy. And I find myself then enjoying it, too. Like going to the county fair. I grew up in Albuquerque in the city. We were three little girls. We never got dirty. We never got out and played with the animals and stuff. So taking him to the county fair the last 2 years and walking among the cows and sheep and chickens, and him riding horses -- you suddenly see that this is kind of fun."

My research on parenting among two-mother and single-mother families engaged me intellectually and produced provocative results that I believe and hope will move the conversation about how to raise children forward in significant ways. I spent hundreds of hours with these mothers as they went about the daily jobs of mothering: making decisions, agonizing about whether or not they were right, sharing in the magnification of the moments in life with their sons. I saw the pride they took in raising these fine boys. I watched them standing back to let their sons make choices that they were afraid were wrong, intruding on choices they made that were right, worrying about being too strict or too permissive, wondering whether they said too much, too little, or just enough. I saw them suffer guilt for not being there, as well as guilt for being there too much. Whether these moms were single or partnered, however, I rarely heard them complain about the role of motherhood that they'd chosen and pursued only after painstaking planning and effort.

Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross,


According to prevailing wisdom, a boy must be raised with a man in the house; otherwise, he's bound to be a failure. That same wisdom tells us that mothers left to their own devices will smother their sons and turn them into sissies, and that sons of unmarried mothers are destined to a life of crime.

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., wasn't quite convinced that this "common" knowledge was accurate or true, so she embarked on a groundbreaking study that compared boys from female-headed households with boys from traditional mom-and-dad families.

The results were published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal, and they were so heartening that Dr. Drexler expanded her study into Raising Boys Without Men, which is an examination of these boys and their amazing mothers.

Rebutting confidently spouted opinions to the contrary, Dr. Drexler's research shows that boys raised without fathers are socially savvy, generous, caring communicators, while still remaining extremely "boyish" -- passionate about sports and adept at roughhousing with friends.

These boys' maverick moms are pioneering a new form of parenting which rejects social judgments about family structure and gender stereotype and stresses the importance of communication, community, and love. These brave women have much to teach us about a better way to raise tomorrow's men.

Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross,


Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, a former gender scholar at Stanford University, and former board member of New York University's Child Study Center. She and her husband of 36 years have two children, ages 12 and 26. They live with their almost teenage daughter and two yellow Labrador retrievers in New York City.

Linden Gross, former special features editor of the Los Angeles Times, is an accomplished ghostwriter with several notable books to her credit, including Julia "Butterfly" Hill's The Legacy of Luna. She lives in Northern California.

Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross,


"This is a comforting argument and an upbeat one for all the single parents out there: the divorcees who worry about their children, the growing number of women who have children without a husband, the growing number of fathers with sole custody of their children."

-- Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., best-selling author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce

"Truly a cutting-edge book . . . [It] will be an important book for everyone -- from parents of all stripes, to teachers, social scientists, and politicians -- who cares about the future of the American family."

-- Carol Gilligan, Ph.D., best-selling author of The Birth of Pleasure and In a Different Voice

"[Raising Boys Without Men] both illuminates and transcends its subject. [It] gives new and important insights into the distinct values these parents foster, insights which are of universal application to any parent who cares about what good parenting really means."

-- Richard North Patterson, best-selling author of Protect and Defend

"A strikingly fresh look at what makes boys go wrong, and right, in our society . . . we urgently need this book."

-- Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer prize winning former columnist for the New York Times and author of Gideon's Trumpet

"It is must-read material for anyone interested in the future of the American family. Her surprising and provocative studies . . . will add a groundbreaking yet compassionate and intelligent voice to the national debate, which is only going to get louder."

-- Carol Wallace, former managing editor for People magazine

"An important book that explains what truly is essential in parenting . . . This is a book that all pediatricians and parents need to read."

-- Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., founder and director of the New York University Child Study Center and author of More Than Moody: Recognizing and Treating Adolescent Depression

"An important new voice in the ongoing debate about what makes a good parent. At a time when we've all come to know too well the devastation caused by cultural stereotyping, it's a much-needed antidote."

-- Elsa Walsh, author of Divided Lives and staff writer for The New Yorker

"Peggy Drexler's work offers important psychological findings and valuable practical insights about how American families can raise boys to be strong and loving men."

-- Rita Wilson, actress, producer, and social activist

Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross,