It was suggested to me recently that I should write a column on “the mother” in today’s world. When I began to think about it, I realized that it is impossible to separate the mother from the family and so I decided to write on the family and the importance of the mother in that capacity. I am going to more or less repeat an article I wrote in 1991, in which I stress the importance of good motherhood for the success of the family in every era, but particularly in what we term “the modern world.”

How important is the family? Of course, there are innumerable statements in Catholic church documents on the family and its importance, but I think it is perhaps more effective to confine myself to the opinions expressed by what I might term “non-religious experts,” such as social scientists and university professors who write or speak from what could be termed the “practical point of view.”

In an article written some years ago, Dr. Wilder Penfield, former president of the Vanier Institute for the Family, asked the question, “Is the family important for society?” He answered his question in these words, “There never has been, and there never will be, a durable society based on any other system than the union of man and woman and child and on fidelity to that union. Should the family fail, society and civilization are doomed.” A family life expert in the U.S. named Dr. Ross Campbell has written a book entitled How to Really Love your Child. In it, he says that parents are very discouraged today because they feel that no matter how hard they try to raise their children well, the influences of others seem to override their efforts. Dr. Campbell says that the opposite is true. He says that every study he has read indicates that the family wins hands down. Despite all the distractions, he is convinced that the family has the overall influence. The home, he says, “has the upper hand in determining how stable and secure the child will be, how affectionate or aloof he or she will be.”

Every study I have read on the family as the foundation of society stresses the paramount influence of the mother without downgrading the influence of the father. Some examples …

Many readers will be familiar with The Feminist Takeover by Betty Steele. Dr. Charles Fell, former chancellor of McMaster University, wrote the foreword. In it, he says, “If I were to sum up the book in a few words, I would say, ‘The mother is the heart of the family and consequently, of society.'” That is a powerful statement, but by no means new. We have all heard the old adage, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” In the past, it was always the mother who rocked the cradle. It was not necessary to mention her. It was taken for granted. But, is that true today with the introduction of babysitting almost as a profession? Sadly, in modern times, the hand that rocks the cradle is more often that of a teenage babysitter than the mother or – what is even more serious – that of a daycare worker. It is really impossible to find words to express the deleterious effect of daycare on the family and consequently, on society. Again, I must defer to the social experts, even though my own convictions on the subject are very strong. Dr. Donald Rinsley is professor of psychiatry at the Kansas School of Medicine. He has written a book entitled A Child Psychiatrist Looks at Day Care. The following are some relevant quotes:

“During the first three of four years of life, the child undergoes an enormous expansion of intellectual, emotional and neuromuscular development. From the very beginning of life outside the mother’s body, the infant seeks to relate to the bond with the mother by means of reflex actions of contact. The bonding relationship is essential for the later development of the child’s capacity to form human relationships, thereby becoming a socialized human being.” Dr. Rinsley then speaks of the importance of the father’s relationship with the child. But he says, “While others may at times replace the mother, there is evidence that the mother-infant bond, which actually begins to form during pregnancy, is unique and cannot be fully substituted for by even the most sensitive and caring surrogate mother figures … Men can carry out maternal functions, but their effect on the child is by no means comparable to that of the mother.” He continues, “It is, then, the solid, healthy, intact family which will ensure the future of mankind.”

Brenda Hunter is the authoress of two a books, Beyond Divorce and Where Have all the Mothers Gone? Her are some significant quotes:

“The attachment relationship that a young child forges with his or her mother forms the foundation stone of personality.”

“The young child’s hunger for his mother’s presence is as great as his hunger for food.”

“Even though society has tried to draft babysitters, nannies, fathers and corporations to serve as ‘mothers’ in recent years, mother, it seems, is not off the hook. She is the central figure in her child’s emotional development.”

Brenda then makes a very significant statement: “When the mother goes back to work during the baby’s first year of life, the baby comes to view the separation as rejection. While the mother herself may not be rejecting the baby, the baby interprets her absence as rejection.”

Brenda then continues, “Have we created a cultural climate in America that wars against mother love? … Is this partly responsible for the fact that infant daycare is the fastest growing segment of the daycare population? I believe we have created a cultural climate that makes it hard for women to elect to rear their children themselves. Just the other day, I received a letter from a mother who stays at home. She said that people often ask her, ‘But what do you do all day at home?’ This mother says, ‘The mother at home is continually intimidated and devalued by others. I find myself vacillating and wondering about my worth, due to the pressures placed on me by the world’s system of values.'”

As an Irishman, I cannot resist quoting from a beautiful Irish song, Mother McCree (Mother Dear), immortalized by the golden voice of John McCormack. Note the word “Colleen” means “Girl.”

There’s a spot in my heart that no colleen may own,

There’s a depth in my soul never sounded or know,

There’s a place in my memory, my life that you fill.

No other can share it; no one ever will.

Sure I love the dear silver that shines in your hair

And the brow that’s all furrowed and wrinkled with care.

I kiss that dear finger so toil-worn for me.

Oh God bless you and keep you, Mother McCree.