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Raising Boys Without Men

by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross Rodale; $23.95

Along with my joy at adopting an eight-month-old boy, as a single parent 22 years ago, I remember worrying about providing male role models. I know I would have felt comforted had I been able to read Peggy Drexler's Raising Boys Without Men back then.

While she does not focus on single, adoptive mothers per se, Drexler provides a broad view of mother-only families—and her findings are reassuring. A psychologist at Cornell University, Drexler challenges the view that boys need a strong male presence in the family "to grow to manliness." Most of these boys, raised by single moms or lesbian couples, "exhibited striking levels of stability, independence, creativity, and caring."

Drexler's book is more of an analysis than a how-to, but some of her findings can serve as guidelines:

  • On male role models: "Boys raised in mother-only families were remarkably resourceful in securing role models for their masculinity," including teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends of the family.
  • On their sense of maleness: "Being raised in a predominantly female environment had no effect on their sense of themselves as male." In fact, they "exhibited a wider range of comfort with a variety of styles of being a boy."
  • On whether we will smother (read emasculate) our sons: "The boys in my study were not sissies or mamas boys. Nor did they compensate for the lack of a father figure by becoming overly aggressive." She debunks the notion that mothers need to "cut the cord" in order for boys to become men.

Raising Boys does focus on a privileged subset. Drexler's subjects were, for the most part, white, upper-middle class, and highly educated. And all of these "maverick moms" were strongly motivated to become parents. Drexler "doesn't want to present these moms as saints in the making." Yet, I sometimes felt they lacked the imperfections so many of us struggle with daily.

Overall, however, Drexler offers reassuring findings. And, at a time when the so-called "traditional" family, with a married mom and dad and their children, accounts for less than 25 percent of U.S. households, this book provides many important insights.

Reviewed by LEE VARON, a single adoptive mom and author of Adopting on Your Own: The Complete Guide to Adoption for Single Parents (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2000).

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