The very first Momfidence Principle is “I Make Affection and Connection My Number One Job.” When I was pregnant with my oldest, I began contemplating, and asking God, what kind of mother I should be. As I did so, I kept coming across beautiful and inspiring “mother and child” artwork. Almost always these pieces showed a mother cuddling or being close to her child in some way. This was especially true in images of Jesus and his mother, not just in his infancy, but through all his stages of life, including Mary cradling Jesus’ body in her arms after he is taken down from the cross. It became clear to me that, over thousands of years, the best of the mother-child relationship was represented artistically as an image of affection and connection.
As I meditated on this, I began reading a lot more about the science of infancy and parenthood. Confined to bed for most of that pregnancy, I had a lot of time to delve into this. That’s for sure! The vast majority of the science on the subject supports what the art conveyed, that strong affectionate mother/child bonds are best for the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of both the baby and the mother.
Affectionate connection between us and our children, at any age, is good for moms. The chemical cortisol is released during moments of affection. It brings down our stress and helps us engage our thinking brains so we can be creative and effective moms. Cortisol also helps our children calm down and sink up with us, and when that happens we find moments of peace and empowerment as moms. With this in mind, we can see that when frustration causes a kind of knee-jerk reaction causing us to wait to show affection to our children until we feel good about each other, it undermines our ability to be the amazing moms we want to be.
Moments of connection build relationship with our children and makes them more receptive to our correction and guidance.
No matter how tired, angry, or disempowered we feel, it's connection and affection we and our children are needing. No mom wants to feel like an ineffective mom. No kid wants to feel like a disappointment. Affectionate connection can help us overcome these difficult feelings and problem solve together.
But take our eyes off the research, and the idyllic, silent images, and put them on our real life days as moms and that kind of connection can seem pretty difficult to come by. The children in those artistic images don’t scream, or blow out their diapers at church on the only dress that fits our exhausted postpartum bodies. They don’t fail to ever let us sleep, or throw tantrums, or have obnoxious moments in their teen or adult years. The disconnect between that ideal and real life can leave us questioning our mothering abilities and feeling pretty awful at times.
As I grappled (and still grapple) with the daily realities of motherhood, God has shown me that those ideals are not so much unrealistic, as they are something to be developed and achieved through practice. Just as an athlete or dancer has to practice and perfect their skills, so do we as moms. So how do we practice when our ideals don't match our circumstances, or affection doesn't come naturally?
Start by building in daily routines that build connection. For example: Give hugs and kisses every time you greet each other or say goodbye, including waking and bedtimes.
Set aside a reconnection time at the end of the school/work day, having a warm drink and a snack together and catching up on how the day is going, without scolding or nagging.
Perhaps taking a walk together to clear your heads. (St. John Paul and his father did this together every day after school.)
If your child is an adult, set aside a time at the beginning or end of the day for a catch up/ encouraging text or phone call.
If your day isn't going well, stop and tell your child, “ I love you more than whatever is making us stressed with each other. Let's pause and give each other a hug.” (Let that cortisol kick in!) Then figure out how to solve the problem or improve the day together.
Keep track of the times you feel closest, and most connected to each child. Is it when your reading together? Doing a craft together? Working on a project together? Sitting together on the couch sharing your favorite funny memes? Prioritize those things in often. It will be like putting gas into the engine of your relationship.
Give yourself time to discern what your ideals for yourself as a mother are, and trust that with prayer and practice you can get closer to them one day at a time.