Mother’s Day this year is on May 14, and I hope you are beginning to think about it. I want to begin my letter this month with a true story that will be familiar to some of you. It’s about the horrendous fires that ravaged Yellowstone National Park in June 1988. Birds and ground creatures fled for their lives as flames raced through the forest. One of those birds was a little mother who had laid her eggs in a bush at the base of a tree. After the fires had been extinguished, a park ranger found her charred body still on the nest. She had remained on her eggs as she burned. They survived. She did not.
Isn’t that a wonderful picture of a mother’s love for her babies? God put something within her that was more powerful than life, despite the terror that swirled around her. Most human mothers have a measure of that same devotion. I know my mother would have given her life for me in a heartbeat if circumstances required it.
She and I were crossing a railroad track on foot one night when I was five years old. I don’t remember the cause, but we found ourselves in the path of a huge locomotive that steamed toward us just a few yards away. It scared me to death! Mom was holding my arm and I instinctively pulled her backward. We jockeyed back and forth for a fraction of a second as our lives hung in the balance. My mother then pulled me across the tracks and to safety as the big engine roared past us. Do you know that my mother and I never mentioned that incident again to the end of her life? It was so terrifying that we just didn’t want to talk about it. But I lived always in the knowledge of my mother’s love and protection.
Not every child has been so fortunate. I am going to share an editorial now about mothers who also give a full measure of devotion to their maternal charges. The writer makes a great case for nurturing, despite what an Australian feminist wrote to the contrary.
The Daily Telegraph recently published a piece by Sarrah Le Marquand in which she says it should be illegal for mothers to stay at home once their children are school-aged. She draws on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recent report which said mothers “would be better off putting their skills to use in paid employment.”
My first reaction was, what in the world? My second reaction was laughter at the absurdity of her argument. After reading the whole thing, I prayed to God that enough people in America would unapologetically tell the government where to get off if an idea like this was ever proposed here. Because while it is idiotic, it’s also genuinely wicked.
Le Marquand says, “Rather than wail about the supposed liberation in a woman’s right to choose to shun paid employment, we should make it a legal requirement that all parents of children of school-age or older are gainfully employed.”
Practically, What Would That Look Like?
Charity requires that I first give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she was under some sort of intoxicating influence when she wrote this. It is hard to imagine it coming from anyone of sound and sober mind. She wants the law to force every mother to be “gainfully employed” once the kiddos are off to school (and I assume that means preschool).
Are there really that many jobs in Australia that every single woman could find work for which she was qualified and wanted to do? Or does it not matter whether she’s qualified? Or does it not matter whether she wants to do the work? Are we talking forced labor here? What’s the minimum number of work hours required?
How exactly does Le Marquand propose enforcing such a law? Shall women who don’t want employment be fined? Prosecuted? Imprisoned? Will women have to “register” for some Work Force manifest that includes their children’s birth dates so that the government can notify them when their kids are “old enough” and Mom must now leave home and get a “real” job?
Will mothers of special needs children be included in this new mandatory Work Force? What about disabled women? Will this requirement come with a maximum-child cap? It would have to, or you’d never know when Mommy was “eligible” for the Work Force. If she has another baby, then the clock starts over, and we can’t let that happen indefinitely, now can we?
State Before Family
Le Marquand first denigrates and patronizes stay-at-home mothers by talking about Play-Doh, nappies and play groups. Next, she tries to pay homage to the importance of parenting and the needs of children and makes much hay about taxes and benefits.
Finally, we get to the wicked heart of this proposal: “Holding us less accountable when it comes to our employment responsibilities is not doing anyone any favours. Not children, not fathers, not bosses — and certainly not women.”
For Le Marquand, the primary responsibility is to the State, not the family. Gainful employment that pays taxes is a higher duty than parenting. Children’s interests are best served not by their mothers, but by the State. Women’s interests can only be fulfilled by the State. We areaccountable to the State.
Home is merely where everyone lands to sleep after doing their duty to the State, earning a taxable income all day. The children will be shaped and indoctrinated by the State each day to be obedient little wards who become compliant adults who keep their “responsibility” to the State. (Necessarily axed by all this, of course, would be homeschooling. Can’t have children educated and shaped by their parents’ morals and values rather than the State’s!)
What Liberal Feminism is Really About
Le Marquand also admits that liberal feminism isn’t about freedom:
Only when the female half of the population is expected to hold down a job and earn money to pay the bills in the same way that men are routinely expected to do will we see things change for the better for either gender.
Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that “feminism is about choice” is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history.
I wonder if Le Marquand caught the irony of insisting that “choice” is dead. We all know the only “choice” liberal feminism allows women is to kill the child in the womb.
No, we’re expected to hold down a job and earn money. In the State-centered universe, the purpose of life is work and serving the State, and the interruption of children will only be tolerated for so long. Husbands and wives are not free to decide for themselves how to meet their family’s needs, because the family’s needs are secondary to the demands of the State. Women are not free to be fulfilled in caring for their homes and children. We’re “better off” being “gainfully employed.”
There’s no mention at all of the physical and emotional needs of children, and how to best provide for those needs. Such concerns are irrelevant, and contrary to the real agenda here. We can’t just shrug and say this kind of coercion could never happen in America.
We have abandoned the truth that marriage is between a man and a woman for life, for the benefit of their children. We’ve forgotten that the family is the first cell of society. The adults’ wants now outweigh the children’s needs, so we’re well on our way. When the State becomes god, then get ready for the Work Force and all the tyranny that comes with it.1
Thank goodness for the counter argument of Jennifer Hartline in response to the foolishness of feminist Sarrah Le Marquand who put forward a radical and unworkable proposal. What La Marquand fails to comprehend is the vital connection between children and their mothers. That emotional linkage is known by every child psychologist as “attachment,” and it is absolutely vital to healthy child growth and development.
Attachment has a hormonal base (it is driven by oxytocin), and is critical to the security of children and grown-ups alike. I wrote about it in both my books,Bringing Up Boys and Bringing Up Girls. It is highly relevant to both mothers and daughters and, in a different way, to mothers and sons. These are my written words. Please take them seriously:
It has been demonstrated that the failure of mothers and babies to attach is linked directly to physical and mental illnesses of all types. The reason is apparent. If a child is regularly overwhelmed by negative feelings and stressful circumstances, her inability to cope in infancy becomes a lifelong pattern. The link between maternal attachment and poor health is not merely theoretical. It is a reality.2
By contrast, something wonderful happens when a nurturing mother intercedes lovingly on behalf of her distressed baby. Typically, she talks softly to her frightened infant, cuddles her, changes uncomfortable diapers, sways with her gently, and sings quietly while providing a warm and nurturing breast. The child in her arms is calmed both emotionally and physically, and her fears subside. From that deeply satisfying experience for mother and baby, a bond begins to form between them. It will establish a foundation for all that lies ahead. The relationship the mother and child forge will never be completely abandoned or forgotten, even though it may be severely strained at times. This is why wounded and dying men, hardened by combat on a battlefield, will often utter one last word through their tears: “Mother!”
Infants are like sponges soaking up the affection showered on them. They clearly prefer human stimuli above anything else. Girl babies more than boys are attuned to faces, touch, voices, and even smell. They are more sensitive to speech and singing than any other sound. Is this the origin of the lullaby? It must be. A newborn has been listening to her mother’s voice from inside the womb for many months, and she is comforted by it.
Brain development is greatly influenced and aided by the care and attention given in a nursery by mothers, grandmothers, or mother substitutes. As months pass, this attachment provides a secure base that encourages the exploration of the surrounding environment. It also defines a child’s style of relating to others, teaches her to trust, helps her interpret her feelings, and acquaints her with intimacy. We cannot overstate the importance of this maternal bonding to the health and well-being of a child of either sex.3
To put it succinctly, Mom, you are indispensable. The start your baby gets in life is in your hands—and in your voice and in your heart. What a wonderful privilege and responsibility it is to welcome your boys and girls with open arms. That little bundle arrives straight from the hand of the Creator as His precious gift. King David wrote about his own formation in one of his most beautiful psalms:
For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with You. (Psalm 139:13-18)
Lauren Porter, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker, puts it this way:
“As children continue to age and develop, their needs evolve but their reliance on the attachment system endures. Even adolescence, often viewed as the pinnacle of developmental challenges, has its focus in attachment. Adolescents struggle with the tension between their connection to family and their formation of independence. The foundation built in the early years is the groundwork for this phase of life; if the attachment is secure and established, child and parents can negotiate the events of adolescence with little struggle.”4
But what about fathers? How do they fit into this attachment phenomenon? When a child is an infant, Mom provides the cornerstone of healthy child development, but Dad is hardly irrelevant. His role is primarily to be supportive of the mother. He should also begin to connect with the baby in the months to follow. His masculine voice, size, demeanor, and gentle discipline provide the security produced by defined limits. In a permissive world where many parents have forgotten or never knew the importance of appropriate authority, it is the responsibility of a father to help guide behavior and teach self-control.
Here is another example of a father’s role as related to gender. Boys are not born with an understanding of what it means to be male. It is a dad’s responsibility to introduce that concept over time. Beginning at about eighteen months of age and continuing over the next four years, sexual identity is being formed. During that time, boys need exposure to a loving father or father figure who will serve as a role model for masculinity. They still need their mom’s affirmation, to be sure, but not in an overbearing way that prevents them from becoming the males they were made to become. Said another way, the mother is no less significant to her son during that period of identity formation, but something new is being added to the mix. A boy will usually observe as time passes that “Dad is different, and I should be like him.” Hopefully, the mother will not be threatened by that realignment and, in fact, should encourage it.
For girls, dads play a unique role. The attachment is no less vital, but it is different. Most parents are aware that boys need their fathers and girls are dependent on their mothers. It is equally important to know, however, that the cross-sexual relationship is also of inestimable significance. Girls need their fathers as much as boys do, but for different reasons.
The establishment of attachment between generations is made much more difficult for boys and for girls because of dramatic changes in the culture in recent years. Before the Industrial Revolution, fathers and mothers worked side by side on farms or in family-owned businesses. They raised their children together, and except for men in the military or those who sailed the seas, most dads lived and worked close to home. For example, we read in Mark 6:3 that Jesus was a carpenter, a trade obviously learned from his earthly father as a child (see Matthew 13:55). We assume his mother, Mary, was a full-time homemaker living nearby. That family structure is now rarely seen. Only in the last one hundred years have fathers left home all day to make a living. Now, approximately 51 percent of mothers are also employed full-time in the workforce.5
This is where establishing attachment encounters a challenge. There are enormous pressures on millions of new mothers to “get back to work” as soon as possible after giving birth. The U.S. Census Bureau indicated several years ago that only 42 percent of new mothers take more than three months at home with their babies.6 Many return to work within a month or six weeks. Given what we have seen about the importance of early bonding, that can be a big problem. If at all possible, I would recommend that moms take at least a year after birth to heal, bond, and establish a family routine. I recognize that full-time homemaking is not possible for many mothers because of financial pressures and other concerns. Single mothers usually have no choice. It is unfortunate that so many women face that dilemma. Most new mothers know intuitively that the time spent with their babies is precious and fleeting, and they often feel a unique agony when the time comes to hand their babies or preschoolers over to a caregiver and head back to a job outside the home.
Psychologist Daphne de Marneffe, Ph.D., advocates for at-home mothers in her book entitledMaternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life. After giving birth to her third child, she acknowledged an ache inside to be with her children. She writes, “I felt an invisible tether drawing me home.”7 After talking to many other conflicted mothers in the workplace, she concludes, “Maternal desire is not, for any woman, all there is. But for many of us, it is an important part of who we are.”8 Dr. de Marneffe gave up her practice and became a full-time homemaker.
Freelance writer Ellyn Spragins sought to explain why mothers in the workforce become easily offended when even casual references are made to their employment. She writes:
“What makes a working woman act this way? Having her heart broken each morning by a tearful 2-year-old who has to be restrained from running down the sidewalk after her when she leaves for work? Forcing herself to linger on a phone call about decorations for the fifth-grade Thanksgiving feast when her client is checking his watch in the reception area? And, of course, needing her paycheck to pay the bills.”9
Then Spragins turns the coin over and describes the sensitivity of full-time homemakers.
“I’ve straddled these two worlds for most of the last 13 years because I work at home so I can be near my daughter, Keenan, 13, and son, Tucker, 11. Sometimes it makes me feel like a thin-skinned spy. I wince when I hear stay-at-home acquaintances slam an employed mother and become indignant when working friends wonder what stay-at-home moms do all day.”10
The trend, it would appear, is moving toward more women staying home. According to a Pew Research Center survey of 2,000 women conducted in 2007, only one in five (21 percent) of employed mothers with children under seventeen said full-time work is the ideal situation for them. That is down from 32 percent in 1997. Sixty percent of these moms said part-time work would be their ideal, compared to 48 percent in 1997. One in five (19 percent) said they would rather not be employed outside the home at all. Stated another way, 79 percent of working mothers of minor children would rather not be employed full-time.11
On the other side of the ledger, only 16 percent of stay-at-home mothers with minor children said their ideal situation would be full-time employment, down from 24 percent in 1997. Forty-eight percent of these stay-at-home moms said not working outside the home would be the ideal situation.12 In 2007, only 16 percent of mothers with children under five thought it would be ideal to work full-time, down from 31 percent in 1997.13
In summary, the majority of stay-at-home mothers are content with their decision not to enter or reenter the workforce, and those who are employed full-time say they would prefer to work less or not at all. These preferences are not widely reported in the mainstream media, but they reveal something significant about mothers. Most of them work outside the home because they feel they must, and the younger their children are, the more they yearn to stay home. What a shame it is that women who desperately want to stay at home with their babies do not have the opportunity to do so.
It comes down to this: kids thrive in an environment of order, vigilance, and close supervision, which is very difficult to provide by those who come home every night exhausted, distracted, and frazzled. The question that every family raising small children must answer is one of priorities: where is the best place for a mom to invest her time? All things being equal, I recommend that mothers who do have an option consider the welfare of their children first, especially when they are young.
Attachment won’t wait!
I’ll conclude by wishing Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there who are investing your lives in raising healthy, growing, spiritually nurtured youngsters. Despite the pressures of building your homes and families, you will never regret what this period of your life will mean to you in the days ahead. Bouncing along behind you is a wagonload of humanity that God Himself pronounces as “a blessing.” He commanded us to “Go forth and multiply.” Enjoy these passing days, because they will be gone before you know it.
God be with you.