The holiday season is family season, and thus a time for mulling the peculiarities of our most important relationship. Things like, why women – no matter how successful and confident – still feel the need to call their mothers when the mud hits the fan, even if they don’t always get along with mom?
The answer is very simple, according to psychologist Dale Atkins, author of the book, I’m OK, You’re My Parents. Times of high emotion, positive or negative, can be very stressful, which makes us feel vulnerable. In those moments, we don’t want to be alone and so we reach out to the person we believe is strong enough to hold and comfort us. For many women, that’s Mom. As Atkins says, regardless of our age, we “want to get our boo-boo kissed and be told that it’s all going to be okay.”
While a friend or sister can help a woman by making her feel heard, understood and safe, no one knows a woman like her mother. Their life-long history can help a mother put things in perspective for the woman by, for example, reminding her of how she overcame similar challenges or heartbreaks in the past.
Of course, no one’s perfect, not even mom. Occasionally a mother will say the wrong thing to an upset daughter. But even that serves a purpose, allowing the woman to call her best friend, tell her woeful tale adding, “and you’re not going to believe what my mother said about it!”
Atkins notes that all of this is really a parent-child thing, not totally a mother-daughter dynamic. Sons will often call their father (or mother) to discuss what’s happening during a rough passage. And while today’s younger men seem more willing to share their feelings with a parent, women are more likely to seek soothing from mom.
And what do parents get from this dynamic? Something very powerful: a sense of purpose. Once our kids are grown and have started their own lives, it’s easy to wonder if we are still needed – whether our work as parents is done. Hearing from an adult child in their time of need reassures us that we are still a relevant, useful, even powerful presence in their life.
That’s a small but warm consolation as we listen and try to comfort them in a time of heartbreak or disappointment. You never stop being a parent, do you?
Cover Image: Flickr / Chris Martin