After a duckling hatches, it will follow the first thing that it sees moving around. Since this is usually the mother duck, the duckling follows the mother around to learn to find food and protection as it grows and develops. I have always found it fascinating to see a single-file line of ducklings following their mothers across the street or through a lake or pond.
Of course human children are not birds. They do not walk immediately out of the nest to follow their mothers to the grocery store. But the bond between mother (or mother figure) and child has long fascinated me. A newborn baby’s eyes are not well developed at birth, but they are able to see about 12 inches, which happens to be the distance between their face and a parent’s face when being held.
In my practice, I get to see a myriad of human emotions play out, both for mother and child. And what I have witnessed and learned is that, by a very young age, the child looks to the parent for reassurance, comfort, protection and food just like other animals do. The younger children, still impressionable, will follow their mother out of the office when they are done. As they grow more confident, they will lead their mothers out.
When a newborn comes into the office for a blood test at two weeks, it is often the mother’s embrace that soothes him back to calm. By 6 to 9 months of age, a baby will look to her mother for reassurance that this person standing over her (me) with a stethoscope is a safe stranger. And the toddlers, who moments before have been wildly dancing around the exam rooms, immediately run back to the home base of mother, usually with one hand on her leg for comfort or desperately trying to climb into her lap, when I enter the room.
When I ask an elementary-aged child if he is eating fruits and vegetables, he will often glance at his mother’s face to see whether he should answer truthfully or not. And the adolescents, even while struggling and resisting to break away and find freedom, come running back to their mother’s arms for comfort when they experience failure or heartbreak. The young adults who have been well mothered will even admit by their mid-20s that their mothers were right!
While the daily drudgery of mothering can make you feel like you’re drowning in laundry, three meals a day, and policing your children, know that your arms and eyes are the ones they will turn to when they need it.
So keep mothering even when you want to scream because the infant you just got to sleep is crying 10 minutes after you put your head on the pillow. Even when your toddler bites you and laughs like it was the greatest moment of his life. Or your 9-year-old lies to your face. Even when your adolescent says she wishes you weren’t her mother. Just keep mothering.
Just like the mother duck leading her children across a lake, we mothers always have our children following us, watching us, emulating us. Until they reach adolescence, they will follow you across the lake. And after that, they will be able to cross the lake on their own, remembering where you showed them to go.
Even now, at 46 years old, I go running back to my own mom for advice or guidance. The mother-child bond is strong.
However your children came to you, whether through birth, surrogacy, adoption, or otherwise taking someone under your wings of protection, thank you for mothering your children across the lake of life.
And because mothering to me means providing nurturing behavior for a child’s well-being, I’m not excluding fathers -- or aunts, uncles, friends, siblings, cousins or grandparents -- from this mothering equation. No matter what your relationship is with the child, thank you for mothering as well.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!