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The Sacred Responsibility of Mothers
The Family: A
Proclamation to the World
, states: "Parents have a sacred duty to rear
their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and
spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the
commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live."
Every woman who bears a child thus has a sacred responsibility to provide loving
nurturance so that child can develop toward his or her highest potential. While
both mothers and fathers are essential to a child's healthy development, this
article centers on the contribution and responsibility of mothers. See articles Equal Partnership in Marriage
and The Sacred Responsibility of Fathers.
Mother as Nurturer
Biologically, mothers have been given the hallowed opportunity to bear children.
Because they nurture the developing child in their own bodies, they almost
always feel a compelling drive to protect the new, entirely dependent life
they've given birth to. Most mothers also feel inherent motivation to comfort
and guide their child. So it's natural in the vast majority of cases that a
mother becomes her child's primary caregiver, especially during the first few
years of life.
Infants and small children are completely dependent on their caregivers to
survive. As a child grows, she becomes less physically dependent but continues
to need the nurturing care of her mother, including acceptance, love,
understanding, and teaching. These many hours of care each day make mothers
most often the person closest to their children and the person with greatest
influence. Experiences with Mom powerfully shape a child's perspective,
attitudes, and sense of self. Without good nurturing in these early stages, a
child's development can be seriously harmed. See article Being Loving and Nurturing.
A Mother's Contribution
Mothering is among the most complex and demanding work imaginable. Being a mom
can require learning the stages of a child's development, preparing
nutritionally balanced meals, and helping with algebra. The role is made even
more complex by the need for individualized parenting. As a mother spends
quantity and quality time with each child, she learns each child's individual
needs and the best way to lovingly fill those needs. See article Practicing Individualized Parenting.
Studies show mothers approach parenting differently than do fathers. While
fathers tend to be more physical with their children, wrestling and tickling
and playing ball, mothers tend to talk with their children more, explore
feelings, and foster social skills. As children share what's going on in their
lives in casual conversation, Mom gets the chance to gently guide, teach, and
advise. When she does this well, her children come to see her as their number
one supporter. See article Parents as the First and Foremost Teachers .
Motherhood Often Devalued
Motherhood often is seen as a submissive role with few rewards. In a world that
values material possessions so highly, the intangible and unpaid work of
mothers can seem unimportant. A paycheck may become attractive because it may
help Mom feel more valued and allows kids to have a higher standard of living.
Women who buy into these ideas might start to think they're not needed at home.
Maybe their children can take care of themselves or someone else can care for
them just as well as they can. A mother might decide her children need the
material advantages of life more than they need her presence.
But children need their mothers. No material possession can replace a mother who
is present and available to her children. They thrive when Mom is home when
they are, when she's loving and accepting, and when she listens to them and
tries to understand. While children might complain if they don't have
name-brand clothes or the latest technical gadget, as they mature they come to
understand and deeply appreciate the gift of a mother who was present for them.
The Problem of Burnout
Pure fatigue is a universal experience among mothers. Add to that a society that
says what you're doing isn't really very valuable and you get a dangerous
combination. The risk of burnout for stay-at-home mothers is perhaps greater
today than it has ever been. Mothers – and fathers – should be on alert for and
guard against this danger.
Burnout rarely occurs because of major crises. Instead, it builds from the small
everyday events that happen to every mother. It's more likely to occur in
mothers who have unrealistic expectations and mothers who hold themselves
personally responsible for things they can't control. Researcher Carol
Tannenhauser (1996) offers four ideas to help mothers – and couples -- diminish
the frustrations and fatigue of motherhood.
Align expectations with reality. What if things don't turn out
perfectly? Does it really matter? As mothers sit back and look at what's truly
important, it's often easier to see that life's minor follies can't spoil the
Do what works for you and your child. Think through your own ideas about
what it means to be a good mother and what parenting style is the best fit
between your personality and your child's personality. Get advice when you need
it, but stay in the driver's seat. You don't have to follow other people's
advice if you don't feel right about it.
Time take for your own rejuvenation and development. As valuable as it
for you to be available at home, you don't have to be there every minute. You
need time to yourself. If you don't set aside reasonable time for your own
interests and development, you're more likely to burn out.
Maintain a support system. Every mom needs a network of relatives and
friends to lean on for socializing, reassurance, and childcare relief. Nurture
these relationships and ask for help when you need it. When you're under
particular strain, consider supplementing your support system with professional
Benefits of Mothering to Mothers
Studies show that women who are mothers believe their lives have greater meaning
than women who don't have children. It's difficult to measure the value of
unselfishly giving of yourself to a child who depends on you. In the words of
lawyer and mother Jennifer C. Braceras, mothers "reap extraordinary rewards
that are impossible to quantify" (p. 2). And as researcher Ellen Galinsky
(1987) points out:
Taking care of a small, dependent, growing person is transforming, because it .
. . exposes our vulnerabilities as well as our nobility. We lose our sense of
self, only to find it and have it change again and again. . . . We figure out
how we want to interpret the wider worlds, and we learn to interact with all
those who affect our children. . . . In the end, we have learned more about
ourselves, about the cycles of life, and humanity itself. (p. 317)
Written by Jennifer Crockett, Wendy Woodfield, and Sarah Smith,
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