by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.
It's funny: during my pregnancy, I took really good care of myself plus got a lot of attention and support from my doctor, husband, and relatives. Even strangers would stop me in the market and remind me to get lots of rest.
But now, a year after Allie was born, I feel like I've fallen off of everybody's radar. It's like you're expected to do life -- go to the job, do housework, drive around, shop, pay bills, get gas, etc. -- just like before, as if the infant you're still super responsible for is not a factor at all.
But she's a HUGE factor, of course! I think about her all the time, I'm the person who mainly takes care of her when I'm not at work, I still get up at night and don't sleep that well, and I feel, honestly, more and more run down. And she's just a year old! Where is this going, and why doesn't anybody seem to notice?!
1. She's a person. Every human being deserves a chance to be happy and healthy.
2. Her cupboard was already pretty bare. Before their first pregnancy, most mothers don't consume all the recommended vitamins and minerals. Those shelves need re-stocking.
3. Her body's carried a big load. Taken as a whole, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and weaning are the most physically demanding activities most people will ever do. Big outputs require big inputs.
4. She does hard work. Studies show that raising young children is more stressful than most jobs. Any kind of demanding work calls for respite and replenishment.
5. She contributes to others. Mothers get worn out not because they've been eating bon-bons, but because every day, for twenty years or more, they've been making a family for innocent and precious children. Their giving gives them moral standing, a valid claim on society's care.
6. It's good for the children. A mother's well-being affects her children in a thousand ways, shaping the the lifetime course of a human life. The best way to take good care of children is to take good care of mothers.
7. It's good for her partner. A mother is much more able to be even-tempered, affectionate, and loving when her mate is an active co-parent, shares the load fairly, and is just plain nice. It's enlightened self-interest for a mother's partner to take good care of her.
8. It's good for the marriage. Mothers who are well-nurtured and have supportive partners are much more likely to stay happily married than those who do not. Besides the rewards for children and their parents, lasting marriages benefit society in many ways, such as bringing stability to communities, lowering demands on the court system, and fostering respect for family.
9. It helps the economy. Maternal stress and depletion increase the nation's medical costs, and they decrease workforce productivity. They're public health problems, and addressing them would add hundreds of billions of dollars each year to our economy (with related benefits to tax revenues).
10. It's good for society. A culture that values caring for those who are vulnerable, giving, and engaged in long-term wholesome projects (like raising children) -- e.g., mothers -- will be generally more humane and infused with positive values. And that's good for everyone.
And a bonus reason: Being compassionate, considerate, and generous with a mother feels good in itself. It's also a deep form of spiritual practice to "love your neighbor as yourself" -- even the one sitting with you at the dining room table.
Wow, you definitely said it there. You're totally right: having a child is absolutely a big deal, and there's no longer the strong network of social support for it -- from relatives, friends, and neighbors -- that there was in generations past, let alone in the hunter-gatherer groups in which humans evolved.
And many fathers have not stepped up to fill the vacuum: the average mother is working away about 20 hours a week more than her partner is, whether or not she's drawing a paycheck. As result, the day-to-day -- minute-to-minute -- activities of caring for a young child usually fall mainly to the mother.