Wendy Walsh: Back when my kids were babies, I always rushed to pick them up, rock them, sing to them and basically continually shower them with love.
I spent wall-to-wall time with my tiny angels, giving them baby massages or engaging their mysterious little whims. When I had to leave them, it was only for short periods -- and I was paranoid about the quality of childcare providers. But I did this at a cost. I endured the glances and comments from a chunk of our society who imagined that I was spoiling my children, and that this kind of spoiling could come to no good.
There is so much debate in American culture about how best to parent an infant. Should you let a baby cry, or pick him up? Teach him to self-console, or help him learn to depend on others for help in stressful times? The capitalist pressure for people to become independent quickly is at odds with the more socialist idea that we are an interconnected species with elaborate social structures that require a system of interdependence. (You know: the ability to lean on another's shoulder when needed, and to offer a hug when asked.)
Well, new research supports my personal maternal instinct. Researchers from Harvard, Duke and Brown pulled data from a 1960s study on mothers and infants, wherein psychologists had observed the interactions of mothers with their 8-month-old babies and ranked the quality of motherly affection from "little" to "normal" to "excessive." (Note the biased terminology: "Excessive" implied that it was too much, even before any hypothesis had been proven!) Anyway, the new group of researchers tracked down nearly 500 of the babies who'd been studied (who obviously are now in their mid-30s). And guess what? The group who received the "excessive" mothering had the lowest rates of depression and anxiety and the highest-functioning relationships!
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that no exception was made for children who came from stressful economic conditions, indicating that a parent's strong affection can be a buffer against the effects of poverty. So I can exhale. My kids won't grow up to be selfish brats. Hopefully they will have good mental health and, just as importantly, will have great empathy and compassion for others.
Now if I can only get them to make their beds and hang their clothes up without damaging their psyches ...!