When asked to describe an experience of a specific event with either a father or a mother, most children often have an easier time describing an experience with their father.
It isn't hard for Jenet Jacob to understand. "A mother," she said, "is like the sun. We don't look at it all the time…. But it is ever present, ever influencing, ever warming, ever lighting. It is hard to choose specific things about our mother because she is so present in us."
A researcher who will receive her doctorate from the University of Minnesota this summer, Sister Jacob has spent several years focusing on the impact of motherhood and learning what "mothers themselves are saying about mothering."
The good news, she said, is that many women across the country are highly satisfied with their work as mothers.
Latter-day Saints interviewed for The Motherhood Study in 2005 were some of the most likely to be in the work-family situation they preferred of more than 2,000 mothers surveyed. "They were more likely to be at home, and they were more likely to prefer to be there," she said of the 56 Latter-day Saint women in the study. "These mothers were also more likely to feel appreciated, confident and content and less likely to feel isolated, burdened and depressed."
Perhaps, she said, that is because the Church teaches women from an early age that their work as a mother is profound. Research, Sister Jacob added, backs up the Church's teachings.
Research shows that sensitive mothering impacts social, emotional and cognitive development, she said. It also impacts a child's ability to form healthy attachments as an adult.
"The home that she creates — dinner, reading, talking with and asking questions — is very significant in the healthy development of children."
Sister Jacob said there was a time when some thought that the environment and patterns of the home had little to do with cognitive development and I.Q. But more and more there has been recognition that there is also great importance in what a mother does. All the things children get training to do as they grow up — the singing of lullabies, the counting of a baby's toes, the pointing out of a tree or bird — strongly influence how children's minds and hearts develop, she said.
As a result, researchers see the importance of measuring the home environment as another way to predict childhood outcomes.
For example, Sister Jacob said the one common factor among national merit scholars from the past 20 years was that they came from families where they ate together three or more nights a week. "A lot happens over the dinner table between parents and children that stimulates thinking and well being," she said.
Research also shows that when mothers spend longer periods away from their children, the sensitivity of their interactions with them decreases. Children who are with mothers who are attentive — not intrusive but responsive — for greater amounts of time develop a healthier sense of interacting with the world than children who are not, she explained. They are less likely to develop behavioral problems later on.
Nationally, mothers recognize their important role, said Sister Jacob. The Motherhood Study found that the majority of mothers place a high priority on reducing family violence and promoting healthy marriages. Collectively, they would like more attention paid to the matter of financial security for mothers, they want to spend more time with their children and on personal and family relationships.
Sister Jacob said mothers who had high levels of religious involvement, and were married, educated and had financial security, had the highest wellbeing and drew the greatest satisfaction from their role as mothers.
That finding, she explained, enforces the very important role of fathers. "His greatest work is to enable her to perform her greatest work," she said. "He nurtures her as she nurtures their children."
Mothering, she concluded, is the closest thing to God's love for His children.
"The work of mothering is challenging," she said. "There can be guilt when we experience ambivalence as LDS women about what it means to be a mother. We think, 'This is so hard. This is taking everything I have. I shouldn't be feeling this way because I know what I am doing.' But it is exactly because it is so important and refining that it challenges and invites so much of us. That is true of all significant and holy work — and nurturing souls is the most significant and holy of all work."
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