A new book outlining the importance of mothers in the first few years of life has been receiving a lot of flack because it doesn’t back up the path many mothers are taking today.
The researcher didn’t intend to cause an uproar with her work, she simply wanted to help parents provide the optimal conditions for early childhood development. What she found was that the role of a mother from birth to age three is far more critical than modern women have been led to believe.
Simply put, the researcher found a mother’s care and nurturing serves as an external emotional support system for the child. Babies and young children, she found, depend far more on mothers to help them develop the cognitive ability to cope with the stressors in life and to learn to self regulate their emotions, than anything else.
In short, babies learn these skills from the outside in, with the constant reassuring presence of a mother literally serving as a neurological system by proxy. Short of a stable, emotionally solid mother (the author did admit not all women are suited for the task) the researcher recommended a single constant caregiver during the early years, preferably a female relative.
Interestingly, she found the worst possible environment for early childhood development was a group daycare setting. Studies showed babies and young children in such an environment were not learning these critical skills while at the same time their blood cortisol levels indicated they were also under great duress caused by the coming and going of multiple caregivers and an overly stimulating environment.
These findings indicated the increase in the emotional and social issues children experience today (poor emotional control, lack of empathy, aggression, social issues, personality disorders, and perhaps even some form of autism) could be caused by mothers going back to work after only a few months rather than after a few years.
Additionally, once those formative years passed, the window for developing these critical developmental skills closed, leading to a lifelong impact, both for the individual and also for society.
Fathers also provide young children with equally important but different skills, the researcher found, such as helping boys learn to regulate and channel aggression in a productive way, as well as helping girls develop a solid sense of self.
Where mom soothes a boo-boo, she said, dads help kids brush it off and get back in the game. Both parents are key, but according to the researcher as far as the day to day care, at least in the first few years, a mother’s presence was far more developmentally critical, while dad’s role dovetails in and grows larger and larger as the child moves from infant hood to toddler to child.
When presenting the premise of her book to a millennial, the author was shocked to get an almost violently angry response and was accused of trying to set women back 50 years. The author was surprised at the reaction, as she never intended her research to be politically charged.
But needless to say, it unintentionally flies in the face of the current narrative that moms and dads are interchangeable, and that any caregiver will do.
Her research does not surprise me, and it is something I just intuitively sensed with my own children. A good friend who is also a therapist advised me, when I asked what makes children grow up to be happy, healthy, functional adults to, “Baby your babies when they are babies. Don’t let them cry it out too young. Attend to their needs. Put them first. Because if you don’t, nothing will ever be enough when they are older.”
I can understand this research may not be what modern women want to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The author recommended women who desire children should take an attitude that they can have it all, career and motherhood, but not all at once. Those initial years spent working towards helping baby develop cognitively and emotionally will pay off far more than currently believed — in fact, for a child’s entire lifetime.
What do you think? Please share in the comments.