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Mother Matters: Affirming a Mother's Role

By Susie Cortright

Ninety percent of men and 92 percent of women identify family as the most important institution in society. That's according to Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Ben Yagoda's book, The Value of Family: A Blueprint for the 21st Century.

The authors go on to point out a few incongruities. For instance, we point fingers at the family for a host of social ills, from street crime to school shootings. At the same time, we laud workaholics, we envy wealth, and we long for the freedom—and the cash—to go anywhere and buy anything at a moment's notice.

We conduct studies to prove that mothers don't matter. Some researchers, it seems, are bent on reminding us that this role could just as well be filled by the average babysitter, which the U.S. Department of Labor feels necessitates less training than a shoe salesperson (source: Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles).

The Children's Defense Fund has their own statistic: Most states require 500 hours of training to be a hairdresser, but 32 states don't require a single hour of training for childcare center employees. Some studies show that even moms who sacrifice their careers to stay home aren't making a difference in their children's lives anyway.

Consider these recent studies:

Just last week, I saw a news broadcast detailing a North Carolina study that tracked a group of students in a special day care program over a period of several years. These students, the study found, were better suited for academic achievement. But the news program failed to answer the question: Better suited than whom? The program under study attributed its success to two factors: a low teacher-turnover rate and low teacher-to-student ratios.

I can't think of a lower teacher turnover rate or lower teacher-to-student ratio than that of a mother or father to a child, whether that care takes place after school, before school, or all day long.

Perhaps we could best use these study statistics and information not as a way to champion childcare--at the expense of other options--but as a way to strategize toward the optimum mom. Socialization is important to a child's academic and social development, so that should be part of a mother's daily activity. Playgroups and field trips with neighborhood friends could fit this bill nicely.

All parents want to help their kids develop--to provide a firm foundation for a child's emotional, social, and academic development. According to a parent poll on the Zero to Three website, five million infants and toddlers in the United States have parents who feel they don't spend enough time with them.

This Parent Poll on Early Childhood Development, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates concludes, "[Parents] do not fully understand the connection between their own parenting practices and the social, emotional, and intellectual aspects of child development."

The poll found that 60 percent of children ages 0 to 3 are cared for on a regular basis by someone other than the parent. Twenty percent have been cared for by a parent exclusively since birth. At the same time, 39 percent of these parents say they have the greatest influence on their child's emotional development.

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In short, the study revealed that there are two child development concepts that many parents fail to grasp: the fact that the continuity of a caregiver is important, and that the quality of stimulation provided to a child is more important than the quantity. All stimulation is not healthy, age-appropriate stimulation.

While we gather information about the best environment for our children, let's give moms some credit, too. Moms need to feel important in this society. It is both arrogant and dangerous to tell mothers that the average daycare worker is more capable of raising her children than she is and that she is somehow damaging them if she sacrifices or postpones her career to be with them.

The profile of a mother no longer fits a common mold. Of all families with children, just 16 percent (a little over 5 million) fit the traditional model, in which the father brings home the bacon and the mother fries it up in the pan. That is, dad is the wage-earner and the mother stays at home.

The Labor Department reports that the fastest growing segment of the labor force is mothers of children under the age of 6. Thirty-seven percent of married mothers work full time, and another 36 percent work part time. Fifty three percent of mothers with children under the age of one are working mothers.

But all moms--whether you stay-at-home, or work at home or in an office--should object to having the all-important role of mother relegated to little more than a child care worker.

We know what kind of a role we occupy in a child's mind. We don't get it from a study. We get it from the look on her face when she tells you about her day at school. From the cries in the night when he needs his mother's milk, and from the dreams we have of them all taking on the world with the same vision and idealism that we once had.

Our role is determined not by the latest study or political climate, but by our nature and instincts as mothers. We know it is the most important thing we will ever do. So we do it, and we do it well.

Even if recent surveys have undermined the role of the mother, scientific evidence affirms it.

In our rush to approve everything from attachment parenting to boarding schools, we can't forget the basics. Caring, close families and nurturing mothers really do matter. Parents occupy a huge role in helping their children develop and thrive intellectually, physically, and socially throughout their lives.

Young children are so impressionable. Research shows that, unlike other organs, our brain changes throughout life (unlike other organs). In fact, the brain is not fully developed until after puberty.

New brain research proves that the kind of care you provide in the early years has a significant impact on the actual development of your child's brain.

How it works

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby's brain bubbles with twice the activity of that of an adult. And the first three years holds a child's highest potential for age 3, your child's brain is already 80 percent of its adult size.

A newborn's brain has 100 billion neurons, which grow and connect with other neurons in systems that will allow us to see, move, hear, and feel. Networks of brain cells allow us to think and learn. Each brain cell sends and receives signals to other brain cells. Repeated connections among cells create and strengthen a network of neurons.

So, repeated experiences result in repeated connections and, thus, stronger connections. This repeated activation leads to brain development: scientific proof that your child's early experiences actually shape the organization of his brain.

Researchers have also identified a direct link between a child's relationships in the first part of his life and development in the social and emotional parts of the brain.

Since repeated experiences activate nerve systems in the brain, experience in the real world allows your child's brain to mature.

Healthy relationships, complete with love, attention, and snuggling, teach your child empathy, confidence, and resilience, as well as communication skills.

A predictable, safe environment helps children develop a sense of trust and self-reliance, confidence, curiosity, enthusiasm, and motivation to learn.

These children might also have a better handle on stress. Studies show that these children's bodies actually produce less of a stress hormone called cortisol.

One theory is that a predictable environment allows children to focus on learning without the distractions of continual changes. And a study conducted by Alan Sroufe and Byron Egeland at the University of Minnesota found that children who had predictable, reliable relationships developed fewer behavior problems at school. These children also showed higher confidence levels and better social relationships.

An child friendly environment, that allows the exploration of all the senses through books, toys, and music, can further a child's cognitive development.

© Susie Michelle Cortright
Susie Cortright is the founder of and Momscape's Scrapbooking Playground - Join her scrapbooking club here: or learn more about starting your own scrapbooking business on Susie's team.

Read more articles by Susie Michelle Cortright.


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