As a mom, I’m always thinking about how what I do affects my children. After all, I’ve seen how the absence of a mom or dad has affected people close to me.
I have a close family member who has seen her father only twice, both times before she was five years old. At 15, she gave birth to her first son. Now 17, she is pregnant again by a different man. It didn’t have to be this way. If her father would have been there to support her and be present in her life, I think things could have been different.
My mother’s dad wasn’t around much, but when he was, he was abusive. Her dad would beat her from the time she was 3 years old. More than once, my mother watched as her father tried to strangle his wife, her own mother.
My mom became a teen mom, but she didn’t have a relationship with my brother’s father after he was born. After I was born, things didn’t work out with my father either, so she left the relationship to become a dancer and left me behind. My father let me live with his parents, so I at least knew my dad. But his focus was on my step-mother and a daughter that they had and raised together.
My Mom’s relationships with men didn’t last. She has many trust issues, and I’m sure, emotional and psychological scars from her father. But a new report Mother Bodies, Father Bodies: How Parenthood Changes Us from the Inside Out suggests that my mom and my other family member’s story is a common one among women who didn’t have strong father figures in their lives growing up. According to the report, when fathers are continually present in their children’s lives, there is usually a better outcome for many aspects of life for those children. For example, the study found that if a father is continually present and supportive in his daughter’s life, she is less likely to become sexually active at a young age and also more likely to avoid pregnancy as a teenager. A girl’s view of herself and of relationships is affected by her relationship with her father and I know this to be true from my own life.
But it’s not just dads that matter for children. When moms and dads are together, they’re like an all-star parenting team. Studies show that moms and dads have different parenting styles that are complementary and benefit their children. One study found that when a mom approached her infant, the infant closed her eyes and relaxed her shoulders, as if ready to sleep. But when a dad approached his infant, the infant opened her eyes wide and hunched her shoulders, as if ready to play. In other words, while fathers tend to bring excitement and surprise into the child’s life at even a young age, mothers tend to show and give closeness and availability to their children.
I never received that closeness from my mother, and I can’t help but wonder if it has affected the way I trust and form relationships with others. For instance, I tend not to say a lot of very close personal things to anyone. But then, I wonder, does anyone tell close things to their mothers? If they do, it must be a wonderful feeling to know that you can share personal things and feelings with your mother.
Some people say that your mother will always be there for you and love you. I hope that is true for others; it hasn’t always been true for me. But one thing I know for sure: I will always do my best to make that true for my children. As I strive to do that, I feel blessed to have a good man as a husband, who is also committed to that goal. We will never be perfect parents, but together we are committed to seeing that our children thrive.