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Culture » Culture Features

Whatever, Mom

Maternal Adaptation




I can't think of a better word to describe a mother's role.

From the time her belly starts to show to the day her child leaves the nest, a mother is constantly adjusting to new conditions—always molding to her (and her little one's) environment.

Take the attachment theory, for example. For those first few years after the cord is cut (that initial physical separation), we moms typically remain the closest in proximity, keeping our attention and energy focused on the precious little lives we just created. We are their primary safety nets, their go-to comfort zones, and sometimes the only ones allowed in at all.

"Maternal availability is particularly important within the first two years of life," said the late child development psychologist John Bowlby, who was widely recognized for his ground-breaking work in attachment theory. "Even [experiences of separation] as brief as a few hours in duration can result in distress."

But as the kiddos begin to learn more about mama as a person (and not just as a baby-doting slave), the crying, skirt-pulling, separation-anxiety-every-time-Mom-leaves-the-room behavior begins to lessen.

"By the third or fourth year of life," Bowlby noted, "the child increasingly understands that his or her mother has motives and plans of her own, and their relationship develops into a 'goal-corrected partnership.'"

Suddenly, the physical distance isn't so feared anymore; thus, we must begin to let go—a little more each day.

"I can do it," my five-year-old son frequently reminds me these days. "I don't need any help, Mom."

It's an enthusiasm for independence—perhaps a bit similar to that skateboard he's been riding so much lately (at speeds faster than I care to watch). And as his newfound freedom shines more and more each day, I continue to move a little further to the back of the bus.

Who Moved My Cheese? has now become the story of my life. But personally, I find the changes to be quite exhilarating. Besides, he still turns to me for certain amounts of love, comfort, and protection (and the occasional "Mom, I actually do need your help"). For now, anyway.

Like Bowlby said—the attachment process is necessary for survival, and a mother's responsiveness is crucial. But yes, there will come a day when, much like the clothes in my son's closet, that need for maternal proximity is outgrown. There will come a day when the bedroom door is slammed in my face. And there will come a day when my son's independence actually translates to "I'm way too cool for you, Mom, and I have my own life now."

But it's okay; I'll adapt. Because that's what moms do.

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