Motherhood ain’t what it used to be
Mother’s Day looms large for most of us—whether our mothers are alive or have passed on; whether our relationships with our mothers are positive or negative. While interviewing a number of mothers for this column, some with babies, others with grown children or grandchildren, and one great-grandmother, it became apparent that while some mothers were “there” for their child(ren), for various reasons, others were not. With each new interview, the simple “Let’s pay homage to Mothers” column we intended to write became more complicated. But we felt it important to share our findings—both sunny and dark. So let’s explore the flip sides of the most important person in the universe and how being there—or being MIA—affects both mother and child.
We heard from several mothers of all ages that they were amazed at the exquisite feelings of love they felt for their little ones. One young mother said, “I didn’t think it was possible to love anyone as much as I loved my husband. But since I had the baby, I have fallen more deeply and completely in love—with our child! I have never felt this much love before…” Another interviewee, the mother of three children ranging in age from 10 to 15, stated, “I loved my first child so much, when I found out I was pregnant with our second, I worried that I wouldn’t have enough love to give. But I felt the same deep love for my second baby, and again for my third.” What these mothers expressed is unconditional love—limitless affection; a deep desire to protect and nurture their progeny.
When we feel unconditional love for our children and we are fortunate enough to be able to focus on raising them in a wholesome, healthy way, we pave the way for our children to grow up well-balanced and able to cope with life as it unfolds. But what if we have hang-ups? Can we pass these on to our kids? The answer is a resounding YES!
“I had a nightmare…
…that both my husband and my young child were hanging from a cliff. I could only save one of them. I chose my child. As I reached for my child’s hand, my husband said, ‘What about me?’ I cried and told him I was sorry. The look on his face was devastating.” This mother was upset that her subconscious was telling her she loved her child more than her husband. But when we explored further, she said that in her nightmare, she quickly assessed the situation and realized that she wasn’t strong enough to pull her husband—who was quite a bit larger than she—up the cliff but she could easily save her child. In her life, she found that since the birth of their child, her husband was needier and that she was constantly pulled between the needs of her husband and the needs of her child. She admitted to wanting to do everything for their child on her own and that when her husband was given a child-related task, he didn’t do it properly which meant he didn’t do it “her way.” For instance, her husband wasn’t particularly interested in color coordinating outfits, which drove her crazy. We discussed how her husband was being cheated from bonding with the child as well as important parenting skills. By including him instead of excluding him, as well as easing up on her expectations, she would help enrich everyone’s life. So what if the child wears a flannel shirt with striped pants? We also talked about how important parental dates—at least a couple of times a month—were to rekindle their previous closeness to show her husband he continues to hold a maximally important place in her life.
Along with unconditional love, motherhood can harbor a flood of anxiety which is experienced by many mothers, especially new mothers or mothers with one child. A measure of maternal fear is natural, such as the fear that your child may become ill or injured either physically or emotionally, or worse—die. Unfortunately, these fears can escalate into maternal anxiety, which may cause problems not only for mother and child but other family members as well. It’s not unusual for a mother suffering from moderate to severe maternal anxiety to inadvertently pass on her anxiety to her youngster. The effect of maternal anxiety can be a child with an eating disorder, narcissistic tendencies, tantrums, withdrawal/isolation, or an intense desire to be away from home—meaning away from Mom. (If you are interested in reading in more detail about how this can happen, see Resources, below.)
The Working Mom
In today’s world, a stay-at-home mother is close to being an endangered species. According to The National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies’ 2012 article, Mothers in the Work Force (http://www.naccrra.org/sites/default/files/default_site_pages/2012/ccgb_mothers_workforce_jan2012.pdf):
“…71.3 percent of women with children are in the labor force.
• In 1975, only two out of every five mothers with a child younger than age six held a paid job. As of 2010, 64.2 percent of women with children younger than age six were in the labor force, and 61.1 percent of mothers with children younger than age three were in the labor force.
• Between 1970 and 1990, the number of single parent families in the United States doubled, contributing to the greater demand for child care.
• More women are going back to work sooner after having a child. In 2010, the labor force participation rate for mothers of children younger than a year old was 56.5 percent.”
The results of having someone else raise your child the majority of hours each day can be liberating and expansive for both mother and child if the caregiver is capable and compassionate. If not, it can be heartbreaking. One mother explained, “The hardest day of my life was turning my three-month-old over to someone else’s care so I could return to the job I loved. About a year later, when I found out I was pregnant with our second child I quit the job, sold the house, and purchased a much more modest, smaller home in the country so I could be a stay-at-home mom. Steaks were replaced with ground meat and beans and rice were the new staples. And I was happy. When my children were in preschool, I was fortunate to find a job in a similar field with flexible hours.” We wish every working mother had such an opportunity! Unfortunately, most do not. So what can we do?
If you are a mother, and especially a working mother, at times you may have chastised yourself for not “being there” for your child. Perhaps you weren’t there for your child’s first step, or had to miss school activities or events due to work, or had to catch up on the household chores that have stacked up over the week and couldn’t play with your child, read them a book, or watch their favorite program with them. Guilt rears its ugly head and you think: Is this what motherhood is all about? More work, more stress, more guilt?
Seasoned mothers know that a young child’s needs are endless until they fall asleep. And trying to balance those needs with everything else—including other family members’ and our own needs—can feel like you are on a bad reality television show.
For those of us who are working moms, we know we don’t have a quantity of time, so the precious time we do have with them should be quality.
Most young ones have a laser-like focus on whatever they are doing if it is fun to them. And children view time differently than grown-ups. Ten to 15 minutes can be a long time for a child. Start by carving out at least two blocks of time each day to do something with your child that they like to do. Chore-oriented tasks that can be done together—such as folding clothes, cooking, and bath time—don’t count. But they are a bonus because you spend additional time with your child while you teach important self-sufficiency skills. Also, family meals together as often as possible have proven to encourage communication and strengthen bonds.
As your child grows, they will need you less and less. Try not to be a mother who regrets not having spent at least 20 minutes of quality time a day with your child. And if you are, then consider apologizing to the kid—or paying for their therapy!
Bottom line: Quality time coupled with lots of affection can make a world of difference in the life a mother and child. And Happy Mother’s Day!
How are Children Affected by Maternal Anxiety and Depression, Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Science Daily, October 24, 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131024102036.htm
Maternal Antenatal Anxiety and Children’s Behavioural/Emotional Problems at 4 years,†Report from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, by O’Connor, et al. Science Daily, September 11, 2001.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131024102036.htm
Maternal Anxiety, Overprotection, and Anxious Personality as Risk Factors for Eating Disorder: A Sister Pair Study, by Taborelli, et al. Springer, January 19, 201 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10608-012-9518-8#page-1