How to create a strong mother and child bond
Updated: Oct 17, 2019
To love is to recognize yourself in another’ - Eckhart Tolle
Undeniably the role of the mother can never be underestimated. This may seem a blatantly obvious statement. However, we, as mothers need to frequently remind ourselves of the significance of our role. Particularly during those challenging moments when self-doubt and fatigue kick in. That without our loving presence our child cannot thrive into the kind, resilient, compassionate and self-loving being that humanity so desperately needs or whatever other values we hold dear.
Early childhood books and studies seem pretty unanimous on the fact that the mother’s loving connection and bond to her child in those first six/seven years are crucial to their healthy development. Scientists like Bruce Lipton talk about the importance of the first six years of a child, that it is what shapes their brain. He says, “the first six years is the structure of the subconscious mind”. We are literally programming our child for the rest of their adult life. Bruce continues by saying, “what parents tell us we become”. I would also add what we emanate and model the child becomes.
Watch - Bruce Lipton
This incomparable bond a mother has with their child builds a solid foundation for them to create a strong sense of self-awareness. It’s that inner strength the child requires when facing life’s challenges. As Dr Daniel Siegel says – “emotional intelligence, self-esteem, cognitive abilities and social skills are built on their early attachment relationship.”
There’s undoubtedly remarkable alchemy that takes place between mother and child that is quintessential to the child’s well being. Even if for some it takes time to connect and adjust to the rhythm of having a baby.
A friend of mine, when her first child arrived, felt quite overwhelmed by the energy required to care for her newborn. She particularly struggled with her sense of loss of freedom. In her eyes, she was missing out on all the fun stuff she used to do and missed her career. Intellectually, she felt she wasn't receiving the stimulation she normally enjoyed. Simultaneously, she was an extremely attentive and loving mother and had a deep desire to do what was right for her son.
One day I pointed out to her that this incredible attachment she was forging with her son would be his anchor for life. If only she could see that this fleeting moment was a mere pause in her old life. I suggested she accept her thoughts and emotions, and at the same time attempt to enjoy the simple pleasures with her son. Appreciating the slowness of the mundane, such as walking around the garden, observing the birds and insects or watching her son interact with his toys, etc.
As Brene Brown puts it – “Joy comes to us in the ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary”.
With time she realised that she wasn’t missing out on anything. In fact, even if she could choose to regain her old life, it would no longer be the same, because she was no longer the same since the arrival of her son. Her perception and appreciation of life had changed.
In the case where we are able to stay home, then it’s good to remind ourselves of the possible pressure from mainstream belief that a child needs social interaction at an early age, without their mother. My experience tells me otherwise. I feel children only really need their mother in the first few years. Children have plenty of time to enter into school once they are psychologically ready. This doesn’t mean we can’t be sociable; we all need our tribe of women friends and kids to feel connected and nurtured. I truly believe that we need the support of others. Our current individualistic and competitive society is the opposite of what we as humans thrive on. We need a cooperative and loving community to a raise child.
Someone recently shared with me that her 3-year-old son was crying uncontrollably every time she left him at day-care. She tried numerous approaches to make her son feel safe before she left him. Additionally, she felt pressure from the childcare workers who were advising her to leave quickly, because her son’s reaction was due to her mishandling the situation. And all the while her son was clearly verbalising his distress by saying ‘mummy later, Louis can go later - not now – I am not ready’. She felt torn between the opinions of those telling her that this socialisation was good for her son and those who felt kids could wait.
I remember having the same dilemma with my girls about what felt right and what society was telling me was the right thing to do. When our girls were little, we were living in France where they start school at two and a half. French society believes integration into the school system at a very early age is to the benefit of the child.
School is certainly not the only option. We are so lucky today with all the information out there that is so readily accessible. Learning can be approached in many different ways and adapted to our child’s learning needs. We just need to follow the thread of their natural curiosity and interests. So why not take our time with our child in the first six years. For kids, the whole world is a “learning playground” – if it is digging around in the garden, building a sandcastle, climbing a tree, singing and dancing, ...
I genuinely believe the stronger the attachment to the mother in early years the safer the child feels and more trust they have of the world around them. This emotional security gives them higher self-esteem, confidence, and greater independence to explore. Paradoxically, conventional belief is we should encourage kids to be independent from the start. When in fact autonomy happens naturally when they feel safe to do so at their own pace.
At all stages of my daughters’ development, when they felt unsure about doing something, I would either reassure them that it was safe to give it a go. Or when I felt they weren’t ready or fear was blocking them I would stay close. This gave them a safe space to naturally adventure out when they felt ready. I don’t see this as overprotectiveness, which I think can create an anxious relationship. I have always wanted my girls to take appropriate risks that lead to success or failure – the latter being just as important. It’s more about listening and observing when they were ready to try something. Later, as they got older, I encouraged them to listen to themselves for answers and allowed them to naturally work things out. This also gave them the opportunity to bounce back when life presented its difficulties.
Undeniably, I sometimes got it wrong and misread their cues, so I would do my best to repair these mistakes by reconnecting with them. All the while, I attempted to not be over-responsive (other than when they were babies) or permissive, because I also feel kids benefit from age-appropriate limits.
For me, there is not a set way of being. It’s more about continually using my sensitivity to tune into my child’s feelings. And it took time to learn to read my kids as they all have their own unique ways of communicating, so I needed a lot of patience with them and myself.
Today, when I look at our three eldest daughters (early and mid-20’s), I see loving, caring, empowered and independent women. I’d like to think my healthy bond contributed in making these young women who they are, that they felt heard and loved – most of the time.
Staying at home with our child certainly presents immense advantages. However, this doesn’t suit all mothers all the time, so it is essential to understand what we truly desire as a mother and as a woman. I worked part-time from home helping my husband with his business when my first three girls were toddlers. As always, it’s navigating that fine balance between parenting, working and whatever else we can fit in - hopefully, the stuff we love. And these aspects evolve as the family grows, circumstances change and we change.
Eventually, I stopped working when our fourth child was born. At that stage, I loved every minute of being a full-time mum.
If we are unable to take time off work or want to work alongside raising our child, and this decision engenders guilt, then we need to recognise the guilt, embrace it (it is what it is), so we can move through it. A working mum is still synonymous with a loving and nurturing mum. We have plenty of opportunities to cultivate a healthy bond with our child, even while juggling a career or a job to pay the bills.
What’s essential is we compensate those periods of absence with our total loving presence when we are reunited with our child. We could be a stay at home mum and spend a lot of time on social media and texting, while our kids are stuck on screens. While, on the other hand, a working mum could give her child her wholehearted attention once she returns home. Essentially, all the child needs is plenty of eye contact, full-body presence, a listening ear, playing time, cuddles and kisses, ... In other words, it’s the quality of the interaction that counts.
Added to the equations of work and parenting, we also need to remind ourselves to allocate some time for our soul-nurturing creativity. As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it – “creativity is how we share our soul with the world. The only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born of creativity”. Even if this means integrating our passions incrementally at first while our child is young and allocating more time to it as our child grows. Because what the child needs the most is a happy and fulfilled mother.
“The emotional quality of the earliest attachment experience is perhaps the single most important influence on human development.” Alan Sroufe and Dan Siege.