Being a mum is hard work. Not all hard work, I should say. There are the smiles and the giggles and the little cuddles while you are dancing to jazz on a weekday morning.
But in between those moments there are the bits of porridge to scrape off the walls and out of your bathrobe, the meltdowns over nicely cooked family meals you had been planning all day, the buckets of soaking clothes stained with carrot plucked early from the garden and the sleepless nights managing a fever.
That’s why, commercialised though it may be, I love Mother’s Day. It is not just the chance for breakfast in bed. It’s not just the card with lovely words, or the lunch we might get taken out to. It’s the time the celebration gives us to step back and remember that what we do more than just wash clothes, clean faces and deal with poo-splosions.
We are shaping lives. And in the day-to-day grind it is difficult to remember that we are doing something so important.
Nevertheless, amidst all the ordinary daily tasks a mum does, something quite extraordinary is happening, according to psychologists. In fact, they reckon that just by saying “nearly there, just wait” to a screeching child impatient for their dinner, us mums are changing the future.
We know that because the latest research on the mum-bub bond takes us further into the universe of human relationships than we have ever gone before.
For instance, Washington University School of Medicine researchers found that attentive, caring mums were linked to physical changes in a child’s brain, (a larger hippocampus for those wanting a bit more detail), specifically, the area of the brain associated with learning, memory and dealing with stress.
Epigenetics, the study of how environment might impact on the expression of our genes, has now found that healthy, happy mother-child relationships play a role in the prevention of disease. Childhood trauma, however, is linked to an increased risk of autoimmune disease.
Behaviourally, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that mums who meet their babies needs and gave them plenty of love were more likely to have kids with healthy adult relationships.
All of this builds on the foundation first laid in 1960s when attachment theory became a thing, and psychologists started started realising the child-parent relationship mattered rather a lot.
Fortunately, when the researchers talk about healthy relationships between mum and bubs, they don’t mean anything particularly special. They simply mean mums who notice their children are cold and put on an extra layer, smell the nappy and change it, keep little tummies full and who give cuddles to a crying child.
We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to provide endless developmental games and we don’t have even have to be full of energy. We just have to love in that ordinary, every-day way that most mums love.
And somehow, out of that ordinary, imperfect, exhausted love comes something powerful enough to shape little lives far into the future.
So to all of us; the solo mums and the foster mums, the adoptive mums and the traditional mums, yes it is hard work.
Yes, there are a lot of angry moments, scary moments, and exhausted moments and financially tight moments.
Yes, it feels like there’s always something we’re not doing well enough.
But the truth of the matter is what all the books say. In the end your kisses, your cuddles and your love matter most.
Happy Mother’s Day.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz