This may seem like obvious information (or it may not) but now researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, have put some science behind what most of us moms already know. Loving and nurturing our children makes them healthier, happier people. There have been countless studies over the years, which have tried to either prove or disprove the role that genes play in the development of mental illness.
In the 60’s and 70’s pretty much everything was blamed on mom and how she cared for, or didn’t care for, her children. In later years there was a push to shift the blame solely to genetic predisposition. But now the science seems to be swinging the pendulum back in the other direction.
In this resent study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, researchers looked at 92 children ranging in age from 3 to 6 years old. They gathered the children in a lab setting, along with their primary caretaker, which was most often the mother.
The children were given a task that would cause some level of stress, typical to that of daily life, and their parent was there to help them to manage that stress. The interactions between parent and child were caught on videotape. Several years later these same children underwent a brain MRI to determine the size of their hippocampus.
This is the area of the brain, which is responsible for a number of important functions; and its size has been directly correlated with everything from mental illness, responsiveness to anti-depressants to Alzheimer’s disease. Stress, in general, can cause our hippocampus to shrink over time and this leaves us more vulnerable to these various illnesses. It is a precious part of the brain, as it is responsible for how we store our personal and meaningful memories.
What we have learned from this study and others is that mothers can actually facilitate the growth of their child’s hippocampus, by loving and nurturing them. Many animal studies have shown the very same results. Lest we as parents feel all too powerful in this equation there are certain genetic circumstances, such as children who show very early signs of depression, in which hippocampal growth does not result from a nurturing mother and the reason for this is yet unclear. But for the majority of individuals, those early years of nurturing are truly life altering.
This is just another important reminder of how crucial it is that we be present and loving towards our children and that, while parenting is certainly not the only determining factor in defining the quality of one’s life, it is one that can and does have a lasting and profound effect.
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