Mothers and their children are connected even before birth. All those months spent together mark the beginning of a sometimes challenging, yet rewarding, relationship. Moms have an important role in their child’s mental health because they provide basic necessities (i.e. food, water, shelter, and sleep) and form a secure attachment with their young child. Attachment is the emotional bond that develops between an infant and caregiver. Children who have healthy attachments with their caregivers are more likely to form stable relationships later in life.
Forming an attachment with your children involves:
- Holding them
- Providing a safe living environment
- Talking to them
- Laughing and playing with them
- Making sure they get enough sleep
- Feeding them and eating with them at mealtimes
- Having appropriate expectations for them and setting limits
- Learning to understand their unique way of expressing themselves (i.e. facial expressions, sounds they make, how they communicate their needs)
In addition to nurturing children, setting limits is an important part of the mother-child relationship. Children should not run the household, you should – and can. Be clear with your child when setting a limit. For example, “It’s not okay to pour water on the couch; we should put it in the sink.” In this example, you identified an unacceptable behavior and told the child the behavior you wish to see. Remember, once you tell your child what to do, you must follow through. If the child does not listen to what you said, it may be necessary to help her complete the task. For example, you might walk with her to put the cup of water in the sink.
Being able to form a healthy and safe attachment with your son or daughter begins with you taking care of yourself. As a mom, you are often busy, and stress can really wear you down. Just like your child, the first step is to meet basic needs (i.e. food, water, shelter and sleep). Without enough sleep or food, you cannot be at your best. When these needs are met, it is important to think about how you deal with stress. Do you let it build up until you explode with anger and frustration? Do you take it out on your family and kids? Do you feel sad and hopeless? These are all common reactions to stress and you deserve some support. If family or friends are unable to provide support, you can look for community agencies, like Penfield Children’s Center, which offer services that can benefit you and your child. You can also find small ways to cope with your stress every day.
Throughout the day, emotions are constantly changing – happy to sad, sad to frustrated, annoyed to angry – the list goes on. When you sense that your emotions are moving away from your “norm” or “baseline,” (the emotion you feel most often with minimal stress), it is time to stop and think. By taking a couple seconds or minutes to focus on your stress, you give your body and mind a chance to go back to that “norm” or “baseline.”
Before you act on your stress, first:
- Walk out of the room
- Take deep breaths
- Count to 10
- Take a sip of water or listen to music.
Then, take some time to think. What am I thinking? How am I feeling? Am I calm yet? A healthy child can’t be raised without a healthy parent. As a mother, you deserve to respect and love yourself for all that you do.
Being a mother is a tough job. What are some of your biggest challenges and rewards?
Jessica Scheunemann is a family therapist. She provides in-home therapy to families with children under the age of 6 that have emotional and behavioral concerns.