Are Sons Closer to Mothers or Fathers? (Explained)



Many sons enjoy a close relationship with their father and their mother, but most people tend to gravitate towards one parent or the other. There are several different reasons for this, but sons are especially known for favoring one parent for reasons of nurturing and one for role modeling. 

Sons are usually closer to their mothers than their fathers in an emotional way. Fathers are seen as role models and usually bare the brunt of the discipline. This can make a more emotional attachment between sons and mothers than with fathers.

The relationship a son has with his mother or father can be complicated. Some of it deals with how they relate in the present tense and some is determined by how sons mature and want to be in the future. Read on to learn more about the relationship between sons and their parents. 

Most Sons Are Closer to Their Mothers 

While relationships within families are always complex and dictated by interpersonal traits or behaviors, studies have shown that most sons claim to feel a closer emotional bond with their mother than with their father. This doesn’t reflect a bad relationship between father and son, but rather a more emotion oriented one with their mother. 

Relationships are only partly developed on emotional levels. Emotions are byproducts and though they should not be discounted, they should not be the primary measure of the importance or intensity of a relationship. Fathers may not evoke the same emotions that mothers do, but in many instances and especially for boys, that is a good thing.

So, when asked how sons feel about mothers versus fathers, the answer will be given in terms of emotions. Love is not an emotion, but an act that can evoke a multitude of emotions. There are many aspects that cause children to love both of their parents in different ways. And again, that is a good thing.

Sons Are Socially Closer to Their Mothers

One of the major reasons sons tend to bond more closely with their mothers than their fathers is because of social conditions and the roles that each inherently play. Here are a few social reasons why mothers develop a strong emotional bond with their male children: 

  • Mothers are more likely to be ready to comfort. Especially in infancy and childhood, women are responsible for the bulk of child-rearing activities for the first several years of life in most human cultures around the world. This proximity forges an emotional bond between mother and son that is difficult to top even with a father who is socially engaged from the start. The bonds that develop with fathers are more instructive and corrective in most cases. There are emotions involved, but admittedly not at the same levels.
  • Mothers teach relational empathy. Mothers are often heavily involved in instructing children from a young age in a wide variety of tasks. This could be self-care tasks like brushing their teeth, how to treat brothers and sisters, or getting dressed responsibly on their own. Mothers can also be responsible for imparting a sense of secure attachment in their children. They show how to utilize the emotions that come from situations and interactions with people. Fathers teach sons more how to cope with emotions and to act in spite of them in some cases. Both are needed, but mothers will be seen as more comforting and relational as a result. (Source: University of California Berkeley)
  • Mothers are communicators. As women, mothers tend to have a more open communication style with their sons that encourages bonding in an emotional way. Men tend to communicate in more pragmatic ways and also show how to deal with situations in a more detached manner. Many sons will identify with a mother’s perspective when young, but as they become men a fathers modeling leads them to respect his role. 
  • Mothers are comforting. While boys are taught from an early age to “rub some dirt on it” and toughen up from the men in their lives, mothers comfort their sons during physical or emotional pain. This can lead a son to be more likely to seek out their mother for comfort as an adolescent as well as in early childhood. Some mothers feel a distinct sense of loss as sons begin to do this much less in their teen and early adult years.

Many of the nurturing qualities that make women naturally attentive and loving mothers can help forge a lifelong bond between them and their son. This can also cause some emotional pain for mothers as this bond naturally gives way to new familial bonds in an adult son’s new young family.

While fathers are often responsible for the bulk of the discipline and control in a household, mothers are generally responsible for spearheading emotional well-being. (Source: Iowa State University)

Evolutionary Bonding Between Mothers and Sons

Along with the social reasons that mothers and sons tend to be closer than fathers and sons, there are also several reasons that go back thousands of years in human evolution. Here are a few of the evolutionary reasons why mothers and sons are more likely to get along: 

  • Motherhood is a known quantity. Fathers have throughout history and in many respects today been the ones to go out and provide for their families. Many times this would take them far away and require extended time out of the home. Sometimes the work may have been close, but would take all day and some of the nighttime. Mothers have traditionally been in the household during the day and always ready to aide whether emotionally or with other help. This made mothers a symbol of home and a place to always come back to in order to recharge and get ready for the next childhood adventure or challenge. 
  • Mothers are less likely to play favorites. While a majority of both men and women have been shown to play favorites among their children, men are more likely to play favorites among their children than women. Men tend to be more pragmatic when thinking of their children. Though there are greater deficiencies found in both mothers and fathers in how they relate to their children, both have been found to favor some children over others. (Source: University of California at Davis) From either parent, favoritism among siblings has been linked with low self-esteem and the difference between men and women is slight. 
  • Mothers have more physical contact on average with babies than fathers. This emotional tendency is by evolutionary design to encourage new mothers to take care of their infants. Likewise, male testosterone decreases when his wife has a baby, encouraging the need to protect rather than go out and conquer. However, some fathers may avoid contact, especially in infancy and early childhood. Lack of confidence as a parent can lead to a lack of physical contact from mothers and fathers alike. This admittedly happens more in men, which can lead to weakened bonding. (Source: UC Davis Medical Center)

Mothers naturally feel driven to love and protect their sons. This is a bond that is built over time, but due to the emotional response to their children, it’s also a bond that is inherent to the mother/son relationship from the moment of birth. This bond has developed as an evolutionary benefit to help mothers keep their children healthy and safe and emotionally strong, even in adverse circumstances. 

However, suffice it to say, this isn’t always the case. To read another perspective on how the mother son relationship can turn bad, I’ve written a popular article on sons who treat their mothers poorly.

Encouraging Closeness Between Fathers and Sons

Emotional closeness between fathers and sons may not come as naturally as between mothers and sons, but this doesn’t mean that fathers are doomed to have a more aloof relationship with their male children. This also dosen’t always signify a problem. Men are in general less emotional than women. This is another aspect of how men an women fulfill their roles in a family.

There are several ways fathers can encourage a closer emotional bond to develop with their sons from infancy on for those that may be a bit too distant by nature. It is normal for fathers to be less emotional, but if a sons openly shuns his father for a mother’s affection there may be something that the child needs to learn, or some way the father needs to improve.

Here are some tips fathers should use for fostering closeness with their sons (Source: Very Well Family): 

  • Spend time together. It’s a good idea for fathers to set aside special time to spend with each of their sons, especially if they have multiple children. Rather than forcing children to engage in an activity that the father enjoys, fathers should make a point to try to meet children on their level to learn about their son’s interests. This should also be coupled with good ‘father son talks’ to develop the unique bond. A mother will have a closer emotional relationship with her son much of the time, but a father’s relationship with him in no less special.
  • Increase physical contact. It is just as important for new fathers to hold their infant sons and initiate different forms of contact if more emotional bonding between themselves and the child is desired. Since there is a developmental window in neonatal infancy when this kind of bonding is most effective, it should be exploited. Much of who a child will become is set by age three. It is important for mothers to develop the relationship they want with their sons before then, and no less important for dads. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine)
  • Look for common interests. Fathers and sons can suffer a strained relationship if their naturally-occurring interests are very different. Mothers have to overcome this with their boys often who may love dirt, roughhousing, and generally throwing things. Most fathers and sons can come to some common ground if they make an effort to develop a hobby together since they both may tend toward similar general activities.
  • Use responsible punishment. Corporal punishment in the years past toddler stages should be rarely utilized. Overly stringent rules followed by long or severe punishments can cause resentment. Sons as they grow into teen years may remember back that they deserved to be reprimanded, but they will judge the punishment with new forming reason. This could bring a lack of respect if punishment is vindictive or merely punitive. The goal of a father is to redirect and instruct, not to get revenge on a son. This may sound like something everyone knows, but many fathers can look back and recall, even if they aren’t willing to admit, times when they may have went a bit far.
  • Work through conflict constructively. Fathers and sons are prone to conflicts, especially in adolescence and beyond. This is a normal transition sons make from boyhood to manhood. This is when sons begin to draw away from their parents and develop independence. Rigid fathers who are unwilling to meet their son in the middle on issues may find their son drawing away during this tumultuous developmental period. This by no means is to say that truth, respect, morality, or other character related issue should be changed or altered in order to ‘get along’. What I am saying is that approaches are different with sons from toddlers to adolescents to teens, even if the outcome is the same.
  • Practice active listening. Active listening is a skill that is often not cultivated in relationships whether male or female. Fathers should go out of their way to make sure that they are an available sounding board to help their sons work their emotional and intellectual problems. Mothers are close to their sons in early years because they connect with the emotional needs of children through listening. The deep bonding instilled by these conversations can last a lifetime even if they are not based on emotions. Fathers can develop this bond in a uniquely masculine way. 

Sons may not have as quick or easy of an emotional bond with fathers as their mothers, but that doesn’t mean that fathers are doomed to a poor relationship with their sons. If done right, they can have a deep and meaningful relationship with their sons, just in a different way. Simply putting forth the effort to bond and connect with your son in your own way can result in a closer, more healthy relationship. 

Why Mothers Think Spoiling Sons Makes Them Closer?

Much of what goes into over-indulgence in children has to do with emotional needs and control. Usually this has nothing to do with the child and much more to do with the parent. This is most seen in mothers and grandmothers. There is a simple way to understand the need to give too much and offer more than a child should have.

Emotion plays a big role in this sort of interaction between parents, grandparents, and children. It all comes down to a form currency. For some, to get emotional fulfillment they need attention and to feel needed. This desire is much stronger in some than others and is more prevalent in women than men.

Mothers That Spoil Their Sons

If a mother lacks in self confidence either in herself or in her role as a mother, she may seek constant emotional affirmation from her son. This not only speaks to a deficiency in her self image, but also in her husbands ability to aide her in this area. This is part of a husbands job and children should not be used to supplement where fathers are lacking.

This is extremely detrimental for sons, as they begin to overemphasize the emotional aspects of their relationships with their mothers. They also begin to believe that they should always be the center of every room they enter. It not only is a disservice to themselves, but more importantly to their sons if they insist on over-indulging them in order to get emotional validation.

Over-Indulgent Mothers Turn Into Over-Indulgent Grandmothers

Though it is not always the case, it is likely that an overindulgent grandmother will have been overindulgent with her son in her young motherhood days. Some begin to feel irrelevant and not secure in their changing roles. They may unintentionally attempt to buy emotional acceptance and affection from their grandsons through gifts, doting, and relaxed discipline.

The ‘golden years’ should be something looked forward to and cherished. Some of the experience of this time will depend on other family members and their involvement in a woman’s life. If there is something lacking from those in the family that should be helping the women in their lives take on their new roles, grandsons should not be used to fill any gaps or desires for emotional comfort.

We who are strong are supposed to take up for those who are weak. The men in families should take on the role of caring for women of all ages. Young boys should see these men doing it, and can even help. Yet, their shoulders are simply too small to bare the brunt of the load.

What Sons Need From Their Mothers and Fathers

Sons have unique needs that they have to have fulfilled by each parent and it is important that they are met in a healthy way. This is why a son needs his mother and his father. Even the most well meaning and capable parent is a poor substitute for the other.

It may seem an obvious statement, but many today have been misinformed or try to deny what we all inherently know. Mothers and fathers are different and offer different things to their kids. Both are crucial and have different roles to fulfill that aren’t better or worse than the other. They are equally different and vital for the development of a well adjusted and healthy son.

What Sons Need To Be Close To Their Mothers

Sons need their mothers to show them how to be empathetic, not completely dismiss their emotions, and treat those that are weaker or less fortunate with the same respect as those who are not. Can fathers teach this? Sure, but it is something that women simply are better equipped to do in normal circumstances.

There are exceptions to everything, but we live by the rule. The general rule is, women are going to be able to help sons connect emotionally with the world around them. If women begin to put themselves and their needs before their sons, this can turn into overindulgence and become something detrimental instead of constructive for boys.

When sons are younger their needs will also be different than in adolescent and teen years. They need their mothers to ease up and let them explore the world around them and yes, start to be more like their dads. It takes an emotionally secure mother to do this, one willing to not put herself at the center for the sake of her son. That is being a good mother to a son.

What Sons Need To Be Close To Their Fathers

Sons, especially older ones need a role model to mimic like they need air to breath. Since they are not as emotionally connected to the world as girls are, they need their dads to show them how to be. Telling them is a mother’s job, showing them what it looks like to sacrifice for others and support a family is a dads role.

Dads should try to support their wives and do it so that their sons can see it. This teaches them how to relate not only to their mothers, but to their future wives as well. How a son treats girls and women is a direct reflection of what he has seen from his father.

Make no mistake, an absent father is speaking volumes about how to treat women in good times and bad by his actions. If he has chosen not to be around, he is sending a clear message about the importance he places on the women in his life and by proxy the children as well. Sons will grow up to look vary similar in most cases.

If you would like to read more about how sons grow up to be just like their fathers, read our article here.

Wrapping Up Are Sons Closer to Mothers or Fathers?

Even though mothers are naturally more inclined to bond closely with their sons emotionally than fathers, both parents can develop affectionate, long-standing bonds with their sons from infancy through adulthood. Mothers and fathers alike can build a close bond through shared interests and emotional support, though it may look different in practice.

So, are sons closer to their mothers or their fathers? They are closer emotionally to their mothers, but to their fathers in respect. If this not the case the natural order may be out of balance. It is not that hard to fix with some concerted effort. Yet, if the effort is not given, lasting repercussions could be the result. 

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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