Mind Matters: Mothers are our most important resource

“Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters,” by psychologist Erica Komisar, confronts our beliefs about the importance of motherhood.

Using the latest scientific research on neonatal development, neuroscience, genetics, and hormonal differences between men and women, Komisar makes her case that mothers in the first three years of a child’s life are uniquely important. I remember when my children were between the ages of 0 and 3, I read books about this very idea. To me, it was a given that the mother-infant bond was supremely important.

Science, at the time, was beginning to catch up with the intuitive experience of motherhood and acknowledging the mother’s ongoing importance in the development of the infant and young child. Ironically, however, society purports to love mothers and children — look at all the mother-infant paintings, Madonna or no, all through the ages. However, when it comes to public support of infants, children, and their mothers, well, that’s another story.

Komisar confronts both society’s lack of material support for mothers and children by hardly ever providing paid maternity leave, and she also confronts cultural concepts that all caregivers are equal. She says, “Today when fathers are more involved in raising their children than ever before, the idea of the unique and irreplaceable role of a mother may seem old-fashioned. And yet there is significant evidence that biology has an impact on the different ways men and women nurture…most recent research has shown that a mother’s unique presence is critical to the emotional development and mental health of her children in their early years.”

Komisar is acknowledging the importance of fathers but notes how hormonal differences play a different role in childrearing. Where the mother (female) produces more oxytocin, the father (male) produces more vasopressin. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love” hormone or the trust and bonding hormone. Vasopressin, on the other hand, gives rise to aggressive protective responses. Both hormones are present in both parents, but not in equal measure. These biological differences are what makes the mother-infant bond unique.

Komisar argues that mothers, because of this difference, provide the infant and young child emotional regulation, soothing, and comfort. The father’s function is to help the child to separate from the mother as she or he begins to gain independence.

Because of the importance of the mother in the first three years of life, Komisar would like to see more women not have to work outside the home for those years. The whole of the country benefits when all children are given the nurture needed.

*Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or (610)388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, “Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine.”

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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