There is No More Important Job Than Being a Good Mother

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “Le Repos”, 1879
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “Le Repos”, 1879 (photo: Public Domain)

Think about the lies our society has bought into since the ‘60s.

Divorce isn’t ideal, but the kids will be fine. After all, parents’ desires matter, and children are resilient.

Abortion isn’t an ideal solution to an unwanted pregnancy, but what’s a woman to do? She should have control over her own body.

Day care workers or a hodgepodge of babysitters aren’t ideal caregivers for babies. But we can’t expect a smart, educated woman to put her baby ahead of her career.

Of course, we now have extensive research that makes it clear that divorce is, in fact, harmful for children. In her analysis of three decades worth of that research on the subject, Dr. Jane Anderson sums it up on the website for the American College of Pediatricians: “Divorce has been shown to diminish a child’s future competence in all areas of life, including family relationships, education, emotional well-being, and future earning power.”

As for abortion, we now have science to tell us what we really knew all along: that when a woman has an abortion she’s taking the life of a human being with its own distinct DNA.

And what about taking care of babies and young children? Does it matter who does it? We now have scientific research that it most certainly does.

Erica Komisar is the author of the book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Based on her clinical work as a psychoanalyst, and citing the latest neurobiological and psychological research on attachment, caregiving, and brain development, Komisar has the courage (some might say audacity) to write this:

“It is my belief that it is best for a child to have his mother as his primary caregiver and for her to be emotionally and physically present for as much of his first three years as possible.”

Komisar acknowledges that making such a statement is controversial and that there are very few people who want to talk about what is truly best for children. She sees the effects of maternal absence on children as a major social issue of our time.

Among other things, Komisar cites evidence that a mother’s nurturing presence in a child’s early years helps brain development and offers a greater chance of being emotionally secure. “The capacity to develop in a healthy manner, to regulate stress, to balance emotions, and to feel for another human being begins with mothers,” she writes.

Of course, mere physical presence isn’t enough: mothers must be emotionally present, too. In a society addicted to multi-tasking, Komisar writes that giving a child your divided attention – talking on a cellphone, reading text messages, checking the internet – is not being emotionally present. In her experience, it’s rare to see someone pushing a stroller or baby carriage who isn’t talking on a cellphone at the same time.

Komisar acknowledges that financial concerns are a huge issue for many women when deciding whether to return to work after the birth of a child. But she encourages them to consider whether those financial resources are needed or wanted. “Your baby does not care if she has a bigger room or a Florida vacation; what she wants is you and the safety and security of being in your presence,” she writes. Committing to having children, she says, should mean committing to making sacrifices. For mothers who must work, Komisar offers suggestions on everything from how to make the most of time spent together, to how to handle saying goodbye in the morning and reuniting later, and what questions to ask potential substitute caregivers.

In her 24 years of work as a psychoanalyst, social worker and parent guidance expert, Komisar has treated both adults and children for a variety of ailments, from behavioral and developmental issues, to depression, anxiety and addictions of every kind. “From my firsthand professional observation,” she writes, “I have come to understand the connections between these symptoms and disorders and the emotional and physical absence of young children’s mothers in their day-to-day lives.” Mothers often come to her because their children are having social, behavioral and developmental issues. Komisar believes that in many cases, those symptoms are related to “the premature separation of children from their mothers.”

Komisar goes so far as to suggest that we should consider whether the increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and other problems is directly related to the lack of consistent, intimate engagement of mothers with their children.

Komisar lived out her beliefs. She postponed writing the book until her children were older so that she could be, as she puts it, “fully present” for them. When each of her three children was born, she took six months off from her practice. Then she returned to work gradually, starting with one and a half hours a day, five days a week. By the time her youngest turned three, she was working three hours a day.

If you haven’t heard of this book, there’s a reason. Despite the fact that Komisar is, by her own description, a political liberal, the liberal media didn’t want to have much to do with her or her book. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Komisar, who is Jewish, says that while trying to promote her book, she was warmly received by Christian radio stations and on “Fox & Friends.” But she couldn’t get on NPR and was, as she put it, “rejected wholesale – particularly in New York – by the liberal press.” While ABC’s “Good Morning America” was one of the few network shows to have her on, Komisar reports that seconds before airtime, the host told her, “I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all. I don’t like your book.”

Society used to value motherhood instinctively. Now we have evidence that those instincts were correct. It’s time to acknowledge that there is no more important job than being a good mother. As C.S. Lewis wrote “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”

It’s time to encourage and support women who put their children’s needs ahead of their own, at least for a time. “The truth is, we can do everything in life, but not at the same time,” Komisar writes. “We cannot raise healthy children if we are not there for them emotionally and physically.”

This article originally appeared Nov. 17, 2017, at the Register.