- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Sixty years ago, Sigmund Freud called the mother-child bond “unique” and “without parallel.”

Today, a study of more than 2,000 mothers confirms Freud’s wisdom: 93 percent say the care of their children is “so unique” that no one else can replace it. The same percentage believe the love they feel for their children is “unlike” any other love.

The study was released last week by the New York-based Institute for American Values (IAV), a nonpartisan marriage and family advocacy think tank. IAV questioned mothers nationwide who are 18 and older with at least one child younger than 18.

“What we realize, especially from this study, is that motherhood is alive and well in America,” said psychologist Brenda Hunter, who is a member of the Mother’s Council at the IAV. Mrs. Hunter said the mothers questioned were “not the New York or Washington elite” but instead came from a broad range of racial, educational and income groups.

Mrs. Hunter included Freud’s views on mothers in her 1997 book, “The Power of Mother Love: Transforming Both Mother and Child.”

What was revealing about the study, she said, is that the women almost unanimously rejected the notion that motherhood is too demanding.

“Sacrifice is not a dirty word,” Mrs. Hunter said, noting that 94 percent of mothers agree that they had “gladly” made sacrifices for their children and only 3 percent say they were dissatisfied with their “life as a mother.” And 81 percent describe mothering as “the most important thing” they do.

The idea that mothers are unique in the lives of children is time-honored, said Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.

“It’s one of the givens,” she said. “A child who is hurt cries for mom. The child waking up in the middle of the night wants its mother. … Men dying in foxholes will call for mom. Moms just hold a very special place in everybody’s heart.”

Well, maybe not in everybody’s heart: Much of academia and social science doubts that mothers are all that special. A meta-analysis of 171 parenting studies found “few significant differences” between mothers and fathers, City College of New York psychology professor Peter Fraenkel wrote in a 2000 article.

“An open-minded review of the existing literature suggests that parenting roles are interchangeable, that neither mothers nor fathers are unique or essential,” he wrote.

What the research suggests is that children do best when they have “a consistent, caring relationship with at least one responsible adult,” especially one who can show affection, respond to a child’s needs, offer discipline and serve as a positive role model, he wrote.

The IAV mothers rejects such ideas.

Asked whether mothers and fathers care for their children “pretty much the same” or “in different ways,” 87 percent of mothers said the care was “different.”

When asked directly if “mothers and fathers are interchangeable,” 62 percent of mothers disagree, 36 percent agree, and 2 percent didn’t answer.

“Obviously, moms and dads need to work together, to be a team,” Mrs. Crouse said. “But I think the data clearly shows that for most people, traditional roles are there because they work.”

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