An overview: the golden rule
A mothers’ love is both simple and complex. To love is often putting your child’s needs above your own yet is this healthy? Some mothers love in a compensational manner – wherein the love is sporadic, coming and going given the emotional availability of the mother. And when the mother realises this, she compensates – showering her child with love in abundance. Regardless of your relationship with your child, and how they might feel about it – your love for your child is a unique bond. Your role as a mother is to nurture a life that you’ve helped create. Most mothers feel protective over their children.
I first came across the concept of ‘Mothers’ Love Mathematics’ in a book or a TV show (I now can’t recollect which it was). A mother’s firstborn, insecure of her newborn sibling at the time, asked how she could love both. The mother gushed “Sweetheart, I will always love you, haven’t you heard of mothers’ love mathematics” Her child shook her head no. “A mothers’ love multiplies – it never divides” she explained to her eldest.
When the mother explained this to her firstborn she was re-affirming the idea that it is possible for a mother to love both her children. I can hear the question in your mind: Equally? Do we love anyone equally? Although we can try. This message is directed at all mothers: mothers that are expecting their second child, first-time mothers that are pregnant but know they want to have more children, mothers that are already parenting siblings and mothers of twins.
What is motherhood and why do children do the math?
Children, especially at young ages, crave their parents’ attention. The bond between a mother and their child is special and distinctive as the mother physically carries her infant pre-birth. Erik Erikson, a German-American developmental psychologist, explains this bond in his attachment theory. He believes that a caregiver’s response to an infant crying (this is also applicable to other signs of body/verbal language) helps them establish trust. Erikson emphasizes immediacy. And in a way, immediacy also applies to motherhood. Many mothers can attest to their children feeling a sense of urgency for things they need. This feeling also applies to things they think they need to do as mothers. So, what is motherhood?
In this article by the Washington Post (which I don’t, for the record, typically read but came up during my research on the topic and struck me with its realness), 10 moms define what it means to be a mother. Their experiences are thrilling, exhausting, inspiring and surprising all at once.
The complex nature of this precious relationship between mother and child is precisely why children do the math. They yearn to feel loved by their parents, to feel fully understood by their mothers. This is why for many elder siblings, their soon to be newborn baby sibling can come across as a threat. They think “Mommy won’t love me as much anymore” and don’t yet comprehend the idea of sharing. Or, perhaps they do. Perhaps they understand exactly the gravitas of what it will mean to share. Perhaps they just don’t want to.
What next? For both mother and child (when expecting)
- Perspective: If your eldest (for example a 5 year-old) is worried about their baby sibling being born and this taking away your time, you step in to offer perspective. If they look at this as an intrusion, you offer it up as an expansion. Your family is growing. Their world is too.
- Reassurance: You can love both. You will dedicate quality time to both. Reassure your child but state what that new normal will look like. Your child is likely wondering: Will I have my own room? Do I have to share all of my time with this baby now? And, if older: How will my role within this family change? What will life with this tiny human be like now? At the onset, they just want you to provide reassurance.
- Quality time: Dedicate this. To your partner. To your youngest. To the newborn. To the eldest. To yourself. As your family begins to navigate this new reality, quality time will be instrumental for each member to feel truly heard, seen and loved.
Whether you’re the mother of a three year-old or an eleven year-old, of twins, or siblings or soon-to-be siblings… mothers’ love mathematics can seem a lifelong dilemma. It doesn’t have to be. Your connection with your child, as their mother, gives you the unique ability to strengthen that bond over a lifetime. Maybe for some mothers, you choose to stop doing the match. For other mothers, you multiply and never divide. Regardless, both kinds of mothers adapt, learning and growing as they do. Their love has peaks and dips, and peaks but this is normal. For many mothers, their sense of self-identity is intrinsically tied to the manner in which they love their children. For these kinds of mothers, please refer to my blog post about Donald Winnicott’s term “good enough” mother and what this means.