Do mothers make the man?

If you want to know whether a man is good relationship material, look at the way he treats his mother

By Elise Low | Published: 8 May 2015

Men and their mums
Photo: iStock

A wise friend of mine once said, “Look at how a man treats his mother, because that is how he’s going to treat you.” Let’s leave aside the icky Oedipal implications for a moment. Based on my own experiences, there’s more than a grain of truth in these words. The friend in question happens to be an extremely good son – but the same can’t be said for every man I’ve met.

My ex-boyfriend was lovely, artistic and very absent minded. So absent minded, in fact, that he often forgot to call me. I once had a chat with his mother, and she complained that he hadn’t called to check on her after an operation. “I could have died,” she said. We bonded over tea. I broke up with the guy.

Then there was the fling. The flirt that played me hot and cold. He confided in me, during one of his more open moments, that he loved his mother very much but also lied to her. She was a strict Christian, you see, who wouldn’t approve of his lifestyle. I listened to him, touched at his honesty. Who doesn’t love a conflicted guy? Of course, later he lied to me too.

It’s not a watertight formula, but it’s an interesting litmus test to apply. If nothing else, it’s very attractive to see a man who knows how to treat his mum right. Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect family – every household has its quirks and kinks. Whether it’s the rules of Scrabble or the secret mistress, there are sensitive issues and sore topics. But this is precisely why you should pay attention to how your partner treats his parents.

In the more than two years I've been with my current boyfriend, I’ve never once heard him say a word against his mother. He doesn’t patronise her or argue with her. He also regularly makes time to see her and catch up. If he sees a missed call from his parents, he’ll call them back right away. I love this about him. Not only does it show his patience and attentiveness as a son, it also means that he understands how important my family is to me. He doesn’t moan if our plans are interrupted by a long phone call from my mum, or if I have to run family errands at the weekends.

As we get older, we realise that our parents are only human. Of course, we might still fight from time to time – old habits die hard. But being patient and attentive with your parents signals a certain maturity. It shows that you know what’s due to them. With all their annoying habits, they were the ones who brought you into this world. But a healthy relationship with parents also means drawing lines. As much as we indulge the stereotype of the overbearing Asian mother, our parents should recognise that they can no longer control our lives. A man will have a responsibility to his mother, but he should have a bigger responsibility to his partner. That’s what growing up means.

In an ideal scenario, you’ll like at least one (and hopefully both) of your partner’s parents. With all the festive family occasions in Malaysia, you’ll be spending a lot of time with them. If you don’t like them, maybe that tells you more about your own relationship with your partner. Because without his mother, he wouldn’t be the man he is today.

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