Do mums really have eyes in the back of their heads? Dave Edgren explores the uniqueness of mothers.
It has been said that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” And now there is scientific research to back it up! In the January issue of Scientific American an article entitled “The Maternal Brain” reveals amazing things about the brain of the one we call Mother.
According to the numerous studies cited, chemical and physical changes happen in the mind of Mum when she is carrying, birthing and nursing her children. Here are a few of the things that mothers in the mammalian group (that's us, folks) are blessed with alongside their new infant.
I am guilty of poor multi-tasking. Recently my mobile phone rang while I was driving my kids to school. I took my eyes off the road for the briefest moment—a moment that is now burned into my mind—and smashed into the back end of a BMW. I've been told many times that men can't multi-task. But that doesn't mean I can't try, right?
My wife, research has shown, is three times more likely to successfully multi-task than I am. We have three children, all of whom she has carried, birthed and nursed. Due to child in triplicate she has received three doses of various oestrogen strains to her brain that I have not received. I feel compelled to cry out with my kids, “That's not fair!”
I'll tell you how unfair it is. Just staring at the face of her own baby gives a mother a rush of endorphins. How's that for unfair? I have to climb a mountain or build a rocket-ship to get the same buzz she gets from playing goo-goo. Not fair!
Hunt and kill
Mice that have been pregnant are much quicker at navigating mazes than virgin mice. And, when they need to capture and kill prey, they are five times faster! It makes sense; mums have more mouths to feed than the single mouse.
Skills that were beneficial in hunt-and-gather societies of the past are still useful to mothers in the modern family. Propelling herself out of bed at the slightest whimper, exiting deep sleep and entering the darkness of night, today's mum weaves her way through unlit hallways, deftly missing couches, tables and random toys underfoot, and arrives at the source of that whimper in record time.
But, if you think that's fast—just watch a mum when their inquisitive toddler picks up a bug from the ground and prepares to eat it. Five times faster that your average virgin, mum saves the day! She vaults fences and knocks aside grown men in her single-minded goal to kill the enemy. The bug is unceremoniously squashed. The child cries from the shock of it all. And all returns to normal. That is until the next time the world needs Supermum.
The stress of parenting makes demands on your body that would not exist without little ones nipping at your heals. To help out, the mother's body releases more cortisol, which will “boost attention, vigilance and sensitivity, strengthening the mother–infant bond.”*
This gives Mum not only the ability to wait on every little hand and foot but the desire to do so. Mother mice actually prefer pups to cocaine! The chemicals that bathe mum's brain each time she breastfeeds actually make her feel good. And that's a good thing, especially if you're the infant wanting a feed and needing a nappy change at 2 am.
This is why when Mum says she loves you, you believe her. She's done amazing things just to keep you alive. And she does love you. It is also why most children do things their mothers ask them to do without knowing exactly why. I was once told, “A jumper is something you put on when your mother is cold.” We all want Mum to be happy—because we love her. We bonded to her in those very initial infant moments and months.
Women are better at finding and preparing food. There, I said it. We all knew it, but now it's in print and the men can go back out to the shed and the women can make the sandwiches.
I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I have been unable to find something that my wife claims is in the pantry or fridge.
“It's behind the milk!” says the wise woman from the other room.
“Nope, already checked,” I reply confidently.
Enter wife (stage right): One simple flick of the wrist and the repetitious rebuttal comes, “There it is, right where I said it was!”
Memory, learning and longevity
“Oxytocin, the hormone that triggers birth contractions and milk release, also appears to have effects on the hippocampus [the control centre for our memory] that improve memory and learning.”* And, amazingly, these effects remain for life.
While many mothers may feel their kids are killing them, having children has been shown to slow the ageing process. A combination of the hormones of pregnancy and the busy life of raising children floods the brain with all it needs to stay young!
So, combining these three features results in mums living longer, wiser and more interesting lives. Go, Mum!
What about Dad?
It's been said that “a man's work is from sun to sun, but a mother's work is never done.” Many fathers have stretched the time they work from before and until after the sun makes its journey through the sky.
A young boy, after watching his father leave one morning, asked his mother, “Where does Dad go when he leaves every day?” His mother explained that his father had a job where he got paid for his time. The little boy ran to his room and returned with a handful of coins. He laid them out on the table, saying, “Mum, how much of Dad's time will this buy me?”
Fathers who spend time with their children bring untold blessing into the lives of those youngsters. But, like mothers, there are benefits to the male brain that result from spending time with their kids.
One research program studied marmoset monkeys and found that the male monkeys who were fathers (marmoset fathers help raise the babies) were faster and more accurate at finding containers with food in them. In human homes, the more time a father spends in the house, the less likely he is to be told, “It's behind the milk.” I have become so suspicious of the milk in our fridge that I have been known to check behind the milk before asking if anyone has seen my socks.
In all seriousness, dads, we've got a lot to answer for. We shouldn't be grunting, “I brought you into this world and I'll take you out” before we are willing to know and be known by our children.
“Father” is one of the most prevalent ways that the Bible refers to God. The first thing the mind of the reader or listener does when hearing this reference is to apply their own father to their perception of God. We bear not only our heavenly Father's image—we also bear His name. I don't know about you, but that challenges me!
God's right-hand woman
I once heard a preacher say that after making Adam, God had a good long look at the man and said, “I can do better than that.” And He did—by creating woman.
The Bible teaches that after making Adam, God waited until Adam realised he was alone before giving him a wife. Once the man asked for a mate, God put Adam to sleep, took a rib from his side—to show that man and wife were to stand side by side in authority and care of the family and each other—and created Eve. When Adam woke up and saw his lovely wife, he said, “Whoa, man!” and that's what we've called her since.
Evidently, while God had Eve on the creation table, He took great care in making sure that every mum would have all the strength, wisdom, vibrancy and love He could squeeze in to her. The care with which your Creator fashioned your mother is second to none.
George Washington spoke the thoughts of every child when he said, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” The wise man who authored the book of Proverbs in the Bible said, “Her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28).
Thanks, Mum. I know it wasn't easy, but you are God's most blessed creation. I love you. We all do!