When I observe my wife and all she does for our family, I can’t imagine a job harder than being a mother. I know a lot of mothers. Some are stay-at-home moms, some work outside the home, some are single, some are married. Regardless of life situation, I don’t know of any job that requires more effort, more stress, more worry, and more love than that of mother. Maybe I’m simple-minded, but it blows my mind how mothers seem capable of thinking about so many things at once. And on top of being a mother, women have to deal with us—the fathers of their children. In many cases, a friend once told me, women finish raising their husbands. I know that’s been true in our home.
When I think of mothers, of course I think of children. The two are inseparably connected. You can’t have one without the other. And the longer I live, the more I’m convinced that regardless of which parent spends more time with the kids, nobody has more influence on a child than the child’s mother. Argue with me if you want, but there is no overstating the importance of a mother in a child’s life. Kids learn from their moms. Kids’ media habits often mirror that of their moms. Kids’ focus on health and education seems to mirror mom’s focus on these things. I think kids sense when mom is having a bad day. I think they can sense when something is bothering mom. When mom feels good, children seem to feel good. When mom is happy with herself, children seem to be happy with themselves too.
Now, moms, before you go feeling the weight of the statements I’m making, before you go feeling parenting guilt, know that this post is actually not about you. This post is really meant for those of us who support you. Oftentimes, that person is the spouse or other life partner. Research shows that when things are good between mom and her partner, children also tend to benefit. Because moms already have enough to worry about, I think one of the best things partners can do for their children is to strive for a good relationship with their mom.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, researchers surveyed 358 mothers of children ages 1-4. The average mother in the study was 30 years old, had a college degree, and lived in a suburban neighborhood. Among other things, the survey measured how good mothers felt their marriage or committed relationship was going. Mothers also reported the frequency of their child’s tablet use. After taking into account a bunch of different variables (including mothers’ levels of stress and depression), the study found that when mothers felt their relationship with their spouse or partner was going well, their children spent less time on the tablet. And when they felt that this relationship wasn’t going quite so hot, their children spent more time on the tablet.
I’ve learned that mothers have only so much energy. And when we partners are doing things that make life harder for her, I think many mothers try to devote more of that limited energy to making things right with us, and less of that energy to her kids. In other words, I think we partners can sometimes suck away too much energy from the mother of our children. I know it’s true for me, that I get so focused on my work or my own interests that I don’t devote enough energy to my wife and to pulling my share of the load with our kids, meaning my wife has to pick up the slack, even when she doesn’t have enough of herself in the tank to give. She still gives. She gives even when it’s all gone.
So, when research shows that kids spend more time on media when mom is less satisfied with her relationship with their partner, I don’t think for a second that mothers should feel like they need to give more. The person that needs to give more is her partner. We should do a better job of giving our energy to her. She needs our support. She needs our love. She needs us to think more about her than we do about ourselves. She needs us to take her to dinner. She needs us to make it so she has time for herself and with her girlfriends. She needs more of our gratitude and appreciation. She needs more of, simply put, us.