Capturing the powerful impact of a mother on her children’s lives with his quintessential brevity and pith, Abraham Lincoln once declared, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
Now, 150 years later, academic research has produced data to buttress what Lincoln knew in his heart. A mother’s care and involvement with her children has an impact on a spectrum of aspects of their lives, and that impact can continue throughout the years.
The family has been described the first “school of love,” and, correspondingly, the relationship of children with their mothers is associated with their development of social skills in dealing with others. A mother’s sensitivity in her interaction with her child from infancy through preschool years is the strongest and most consistent predictor of his or her social skills and behavior throughout childhood. Likewise, three-year-olds whose attachment to their mothers is insecure are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems.
Regarding cognitive development and school readiness, a mother’s presence makes a difference. Mothers’ presence during the first nine months of life is related to greater school readiness at age three. Likewise, those whose mothers were present throughout the day during their first year of life score higher, on average, in terms of cognitive development at ages three through eight.
Similarly, children who have positive relationships with their mothers when they are in kindergarten are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems and tend to have greater academic achievement when they are in middle school. Likewise, third- and fourth-graders whose mothers were in the home in their first year of life were less likely to “act out” or exhibit aggression toward peers and tended to have a higher tolerance of frustration.
A mother’s involvement and guidance continues to have an impact when her children enter the rocky years of their teens. Adolescents whose mothers talk with them about the social and moral consequences of early sexual activity are less likely to become sexually active.
Yet perhaps more powerful than the data of academic research is the wisdom of the heart spoken by Lincoln, whose mother died when he was just nine. In his words: “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”