The Case for Mothers and Mothering

It is curious it was not until the early part of the 20th century that it took a woman by the name of Anna Jarvis1 to create a day that honors and officially acknowledges the importance of mothers. Mother’s Day will be celebrated this year on Sunday, May 14.

But ‘the times they-are-a-changin’,’ and what may have applied in her time doesn’t go far enough in our present society. A distinction should be made between the mother and the act of ‘mothering’- one is a noun, the other a verb. Historically and biologically driven, the role of mothering has been, and to a large extent still is, primarily fulfilled by the biological mother. But with changes in family structures and shifts in values and priorities, this role is now often carried out by a variety of mother substitutes such as fathers, grandparents, adoptive, foster, step-parents or paid caregivers.

Selma Fraiberg, in Every Child’s Birthright: In Defense of Mothering’ (1977),2 was prescient when she wrote that, “mothering…is the nurturing of the human potential of every baby to love, to trust and to bind himself to human partnerships in a lifetime of love.”

Mothering, whoever takes on the responsibility of raising the child, requires a strong and prolonged commitment towards the goal of maximizing his human potential. Fraiberg notes the evidence from various sources converges in the consensus that the human capacity to love is formed in infancy and this bond should not only be considered as a ‘gift’ of love to the baby, but a right – ‘a birthright for every child.’

John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, and the father of attachment theory, emphasized the significance of our first bond with the mother (or substitute) in an historic study in “Attachment and Loss” (1969). 3 Attachment is essential in developing trust and empathy and is the root for establishing meaningful relationships with others. It is a necessary prerequisite to a successful learner and develops within a safe, secure and stable home with a consistent, nurturing and empathic caregiver.

Unfortunately, the recognition and awareness of the crucial role of mothering in a child’s healthy development, and consequently, to future generations, is gradually being eroded. It is often seen as a secondary role in the scheme of our busy lives.

It was 40 years ago when Fraiberg wrote we are seeing a devaluation of parental nurturing and commitment to babies and young children in our society, which may affect the quality and stability of the child’s human attachments in ways that cannot yet be predicted. She warned deprivation of a mother or mother substitute will diminish the child’s capacity for life. Her cautionary notice is eerily apparent in the ever-growing numbers of young children and troubled youth as reflected in mental health issues and criminal behaviors.

For example, a Report in Canadian Bullying Statistics (2012)4 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, indicates 47% of Canadian parents have had a child victim of bullying; Canada has the ninth-highest rate of bullying in the 13-year-old category on a scale of 35 countries; and at least one in three adolescents have reported being bullied recently. Any participation in bullying increases risk of suicidal ideas in youth. Amanda Todd,5 for example, who committed suicide by hanging herself in October, 2012, left flash cards to tell of her experience. It went viral after her death raising worldwide attention (See follow-up of her story).6

The explosion of neuroscience research over the past few decades is providing a meteoric rise in neurobiological literature with findings that support their predecessors’ observations and predictions. Louis Cozolino, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, writes in The Neuroscience of Human Attachments (2014),7 there is… “a causal link between interpersonal experiences and biological growth. These links are of particular interest in their impact on early caretaking relationships when the neural infrastructure of the social brain is forming.

And, Linda Graham, a marriage and family therapist (2017),8 says  “experiences in those early relationships encode in the neural circuitry of our brains by 12-18 months of age, entirely in implicit memory outside of awareness; these patterns of attachment become the “rules”, templates, schemas, for relating that operate lifelong, the “known but not remembered” givens of our relational lives.

Fraiberg’s words are as true today as they were in her time. The basic needs of children have not changed – our values have. Our priorities have been rearranged as advertisers shape our wants into needs. We did not invent childhood. We are only discovering what has likely existed since the beginning of time. Doris Lessing (1986), 9 British novelist and poet, pointed out in the CBC Massey Lectures in Canada, “… what we have, we take for granted. What we are used to, we cease to value.”

As Lloyd de Mause (2006)  says, mothering is essential to humanity

            because ‘mothering’ is a labor of love

            because ‘mothering’ is an investment in the future of the next generation

             because ‘mothering’ is an investment in the future of civilization and

            because psychic structure must always be passed from generation to

             generation through the narrow funnel of childhood…”10

So, to all the mothers and mother substitutes, who have taken on the loving and arduous tasks of mothering with all the pleasures and perils of parenting, we honor you May 14 and every day.


  2. Fraiberg, Selma, Every Child’s Birthright: In Defense of Mothering, Basic Books, Inc. (1977) (xi).
  3. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss, Volume 1. (Second edition.) New York: Basic Books
  4. Canadian Bullying Statistics, Date modified:   2012-09-28
  6. Todd, Amanda, Counting victories against bullies, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, MB. Saturday, March 18, 2017 (B1).
  7. Cozolino, Louis, The Neuroscience of Human Attachments,Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London (2014) (xviii)
  8. Graham, Linda, Marriage & Family Therapist (2017), Resources for Recovering Resilience,
  9. Lessing, Doris, Prisons We Choose To Live Inside, CBC Massey Lectures, CBC Enterprises, Toronto (1986).
  10. deMause, Lloyd, The Evolution of Childhood, First Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2006, Lanham, Maryland 20706, p 3.5.








The Case for Mothers and Mothering

Libby Simon, MSW

Libby Simon, MSW, is a retired school social worker and parent educator who was employed in child welfare for several years followed by 20 years with the Child Guidance Clinic of Winnipeg. Also a late-blooming freelance writer, her numerous publications have appeared in a variety of periodicals in Canada and the U.S.


APA Reference
Simon, L. (2019). The Case for Mothers and Mothering. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 6, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Sep 2019
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