When you envision a mother’s love, does a saintly ideal of a selfless woman pouring her love and devotion tirelessly into her children come to mind? Our culture often views a mother’s love as unconditional and inexhaustible. And indeed, in crisis, mothers often are the last standing in support of their children. A mother’s love is profound, needed, timeless, and immeasurable. But even while knowing the depth of their love for their children, many women understandably feel like a failure because, deep inside, they erroneously believe that they are supposed to be the original source of all that they give. The same belief drives a shameful society-wide neglect of mothers that needs to end.
One of the most important concepts everyone must understand during the childbearing year (and beyond!) is the concept of the nurturing system – or a nurture machine. This applies both to couples and single women and those that support them. It applies to society and how we structure policies to support parents. Every child deserves, and indeed needs, a massive outpouring of patience and love. Everyone from Obama to your mother plays a role in delivering this love to a child.
A Mother’s Love: Which is more important, the car or the fuel?
A mother’s love is truly a conduit of love, not a creator. She is a part of an incredible machine. This concept is a replacement for the iconic vision of a mother’s love: an independently nurturing woman whose love never runs short, is unconditional and as deep as the ocean itself, who can meet every need, whose sacrifice for her child will know no limit… This alternative – one of health and realism – is a deeply empowering notion for the mother as it serves to meet her needs and empower her deepest expression of love and nurture. This system will bring her joy and will benefit all those she touches, her child and her partner most significantly. This alternative is also deeply empowering for the fathers, partners, involved family and friends, and policy workers…. the village that raises the child. Understanding the idea of a nurture machine will bring everyone recognition, meaning, purposeful and moving involvement, and the deep sense of joy that connection through nurturing provides to all of us.
Nurturing is part of our human nature – all of us, everyone. We may express our nurturing in unique ways, but given opportunity and support, everyone will benefit from expressing their drive to love, especially to love our children. The nurturing system allows everyone to do just that, each as their own unique part in the nurturing machine.
So what is this machine or this system? It is simply this: in order for the mother to nurture and sustain her child physically through pregnancy and breastfeeding, and emotionally, intellectually and so on through the rest of their lives, the energy she gives out to her child must be continually replenished by those who love and care for her and/or through her connection to revitalizing experiences in nature or in self-development. Likewise, the attention and love of the father given to his child must be replenished by those who love and care for him and his experiences. For that which you put out, something that can sustain you must be put in.
These are the questions that help build a nurturing system:
- Where will the mother’s food come from? Who will prepare it? Who will bring it to her?
- How will the mother stay hydrated?
- Who or what will give this mother unconditional love and unconditional nurture or stimulation?
- Who will care for the mother’s physical body needs?
- Who will comfort the mother’s cries and sooth her discomforts?
- Who will ponder the mother’s needs and experience, and offer any and every help they can to bring her calm, joy, or growth?
- Who will create systems that allow a mother to devote months or years to caring for her children while knowing that her housing, food, and needs for intellectual/emotional stimulation are securely met.
These are the things that mothers do for their babies:
- They feed them.
- They quench their thirst.
- They reflect love into their eyes and stroke their skin and give them interesting things to see and learn about just because they love them for who they are, not what they do.
- They care for their physical needs: bathing, diapering, dressing in clothes appropriate for the weather, and so on.
- They comfort their cries, and rock and snuggle them to keep them comfortable.
- They wonder what is wrong and try to understand – they offer every kind of comfort they can think of to correct anything that disturbs them or to entertain them and make them laugh.
- They help them grow.
For everything she does, she must be replenished. Someone needs to do the same for her. In an efficient machine, it’s not replenishment, but actually input – fuel – that is there to draw from.
So this is where the machine analogy comes in. You would not expect a car to run without fuel. Which is more important – the car or the fuel? Nurturing is no different. The nurturer and the nurturer’s fuel are equally essential. The care we provide to one another as supportive adults is as essential as the care we provide to our baby.
In today’s world “the car” and “the fuel” are not domains set in stone prescribed to the mother and her partner. The partner can indeed be “the car” – giving direct care to the baby. The mother is indeed a source of fuel for her partner. This is great news! And in each family a balance that suits all members must be found. That balance will be unique from every other family and will shift during different stages of life.
For the sake of this system analogy I describe this as a simple machine, when in fact it is complex, involving not only shared and shifting roles, but also layers of support beyond the nuclear family. The point of this analogy is not to impress upon families that dads need to care for moms so they can care for babies… though if indeed you are a biological heterosexual family, this will be the case during some parts of the childbearing year. The point of this analogy is to make clear that anyone sustaining and nurturing a baby or young child needs to be cared for in order to establish or maintain health while doing so.
Taking care of a baby, before they are born and for years afterwards, requires relentless amounts of energy, both physical and otherwise. The days of making this energy invisible by expecting it to naturally well up in a woman so effortlessly that it is expected as a “given of female nature” should be, in my opinion, days of the past. Seeing and naming this energy, and considering its source, brings recognition and health to both parts of the system – “the car” and “the fuel.” With adequate fuel, all of the energies of mothering do indeed well up abundantly and often effortlessly! And that is wonderful. But without the fuel, the system breaks down. Even with the fuel, enormous effort is often necessary.
Putting the Nurture System Concept to Use for Your Family
As a vague concept, the nurturing system can be exciting or overwhelming depending on your dreams and your situation. As a planning tool, it is incredibly empowering. Turning back to the questions I posed earlier, I encourage you to answer each one – literally – for each member of your family. You will find that the answers to these questions will be different for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. But the same set of questions will lead you to an incredible pregnancy plan, a birth plan, and a postpartum plan. You could probably even use them to create a “family plan” for years to come. I have included a printable worksheet to encourage you to get started. Your efforts in planning will pay off 100 fold!
Get Ready! Meeting our Mind/Body/Spirit Needs Planning Guide