Mother’s Day reflections are helpful and important, I believe, because they remind us to think about our life over a longer time frame. Most of our daily lives are just that, “daily”, and very present-focused. As a result, we tend to not pay attention to the longer trends in our lives — which includes parenting (both being “parented” and parenting our children).
So let me make one or two reflections, both from my mother as well as observations from watching my wife with our four children (now 17, 21, 25 & 25).
From my experience, mothers are:
- Self-sacrificing. Mothers give of themselves from the very state of pregnancy, through birth, infancy and nursing, on throughout their lives. Whether it is biologically-based or not, mothers seem to serve their children in a sacrificial way more than dads do. In fact, one weakness I think many mothers have is that they give too much to others and, as a result, don’t take care of themselves well.
- Able to show love in ways that are meaningful to their children. Although dads obviously love their children, we seem to be more limited in how we communicate our love to our kids (financial provision, discipline). Mothers, though, seem more versatile in their expressions of love — and seem to parallel the five love languages which have been identified: verbal praise, time, touch, gifts, acts of service. Think back to your childhood — how did your mom show you she loved you? Hugs, rubbing your back at night (touch). Telling you that you did a good job (verbal praise). Being there when you got home from school, or attending your school activities (time). Making you your favorite meal for your birthday or helping you get your big homework project done (acts of service). Knowing that you really wanted xy or z for Christmas and making sure you got it (gifts). Moms are great at showing us that they love us — and do so in different ways.
- Available and good listeners. The moms that I know and see who are “connected” with their kids (whether they are school-age, teenagers, or young adults) have a knack for being able to get their children to talk and share what is important to them. And they work at it — they know when their child is upset and also are aware when they aren’t “talking”. Listening takes time — hanging out in the kitchen, running errands together, sitting on their bed at night. And good listening requires putting problem-solving on “hold” — which is why dads typically aren’t as good listeners, we tend to move into problem-solving too quickly.
Obviously, there are lots of other characteristics mothers have, but these stick out to me.
Let me close by sharing why “mothering” is so critical (the points are valid for fathers, too.) Children learn about the world from their early life experiences, and primarily those within the family. In essence, the family is their “world” in the early years. Therefore, whatever experiences and lessons they learn within the family, they tend to generalize to life and the world, as a whole. So if parents are trustworthy (they do what they say they will), children largely believe authority figures can be trusted. When mothers care for their children, give them a sense of security and love, and respond to their needs, then children feel safe to explore the world. Obviously, Erik Erikson and others have expounded on the psychological needs of children (cf. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
I believe we are missing this major point in our culture today. In many ways, we have minimized and degraded the importance of parenting, and specifically mothering. Although I am well aware of the economic realities of many families, that both parents may need to work, we also must assert that it is better for a child to be cared for primarily by one of their parents (and I believe mothers are generally better nurturers than dads) in their early life, than to be in a day-care setting.
When asked by young parents on whether a mother should stay home or not, I always say: “Generally speaking, if you can make it financially, the longer you can stay home in the early years, the better. Eight weeks is minimal. Three months is better. Six months is better yet. One year, two years, three years, until kindergarten (or beyond), is incrementally better.” I know it is a sacrifice, but I believe the benefits in the mental health and well-being of the child (and the family) is worth it.
Is this a value-based decision? Yes, largely. And there are exceptions on both sides — mothers who stayed home and it wasn’t healthy for them or the child; and mothers who have worked from early on and their kids are doing great. But it is not good to make decisions based on exceptions.
Regardless, I want to emphasize — mom’s are important, they give something to us that dad’s typically can’t, and we need to give honor and respect to those women who are choosing to invest into their children’s lives (regardless of whether it is full-time or while working outside of the home.)