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Is This Motherly Love or Something ‘Toxic’?

Is This Motherly Love or Something ‘Toxic’?

Avery Woods has deleted a video that made her the subject of recent online discussion, but that doesn’t matter. The internet never forgets.

Ms. Woods, an influencer and podcast host with more than two million followers on TikTok, posted the video earlier this month, in which she appeared in the eyes of some to prefer one of her children over the other.

It shows her sitting in her car after receiving her son’s recent school pictures. “My boy moms feel me on this,” Ms. Woods says in the video, “but my son has my heart. My heart and my soul.”

She adds that she is “obsessed” with her daughter: “She is just the greatest little girl in the whole world. But my whole life I always wanted to be a boy mom.” Then she shows off several photos of her son.

A boy mom would seem to be just that: a mother to a male child. Online, however, the term has been taken to represent a mother who takes special enjoyment in raising a son.

There are nearly 18 million posts with the hashtag #boymom on Instagram; on TikTok the same hashtag accounts for more than 31 billion views. Some videos use romantic language to describe a mother’s relationships to her children. “You’ll be his first kiss, his first love, his first friend,” goes a popular audio track that many boy moms have used in videos of their child. “You are his mom, and he is your whole world.”

Ms. Woods, who declined to comment for this article through a spokeswoman, frequently posts video content that shows her doting on both of her children without causing a firestorm. The video that centered on her feelings for her son, though, led to a debate that went on for days.

“POV: you’re a boy mom who does not feel her on this,” one TikTok user wrote onscreen in a response video.

Abby Eckel, a content creator in Kansas who regularly posts about motherhood, wrote a lengthy caption to her reaction video: “This type of relationship tends to not have or allow boundaries, creating an unhealthy relationship. I would never place that much pressure on my son(s) to tell them one of them is my ‘heart and soul.’”

Ms. Eckel, who is 35 and has two sons, said in an interview that boy moms have “a lot of negative connotations,” including the idea that they are “weirdly obsessed” with their sons. Ms. Eckel added that her concerns were not about a single mother or a single video, but about “the toxic messaging that a lot of moms perpetuate.”

Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart, a communication studies professor at the University of Iowa who focuses on family dynamics, said she found Ms. Woods’s video to be innocuous. But Dr. Mikucki-Enyart added that she had broader concerns about adults who post content about their children, and said that parents who expressed a strong preference for a child based on gender may create unintended consequences.

“It really sets up or reinforces these really gendered expectations we have for these extended family relationships,” Dr. Mikucki-Enyart, who is 42 and has one son, said.

She called the #boymom trend “toxic,” saying it could lead to family tensions between mothers who call themselves boy moms and their sons’ romantic partners.

“I know some people joke, ‘Oh, you’re taking it too seriously. It’s just a fun little hashtag,’” Dr. Mikucki-Enyart said. “But words matter. Messages matter.”

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