AU-mothers 5/9/96

Janet McCoy (mccoyjl@mail.auburn.edu)

WHAT IS A GOOD MOTHER? AU FACULTY HAVE SEVERAL ANSWERS

AUBURN -- What are the qualities that make a good mother? Does it include a nurturing spirit, consistency in discipline and praise and the patience of a saint?

These questions were posed to several Auburn University faculty experts. Here are their comments:

Wally Goddard, associate professor, Department of Family and Child Development, and a family and child specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says, "A good mother is one who builds a relationship. That includes many things including a commitment, sensitivity (an awareness of the child's needs), and a willingness to grow. No one is as caring, patient, or loving as she should be. But we can be relationship builders."

Judith Lechner, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Technology, who is an expert on children's literature, says "the hundreds of versions of Cinderella tell us . . . tell us clearly that it is the mother's nurturing that provides the lasting legacy which allows her child to survive the brutalities that she meets at the hands of others. While the best known version has little or nothing to say about a mother, only a godmother (but read mother) . . . in the German version as well as an Italian version Cinderella goes to her mother's grave where a tree grows and where she finds sustenance and help.

"And Ijomah in an African tale continues to tend her dead mother's garden which grows a magical tree that helps Ijomah withstand her stepmother's cruelty and to become independent and rich in the end.

"Finally, a quote from Hope Edelman's Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss.: 'Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture. In the redwood ecosystem, all seeds are contained in pods called burls, tough brown clumps that grow where the mother tree's trunk and root system meet. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire the trauma stimulates the burls' growth hormones the seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother's root system which remains intact even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

"'I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide'."

Catherine Solheim, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Child Development, says it's difficult to "describe a 'good' mother because there are so many styles of 'mothering' and a lot has to do with the unique needs of the mother and child in particular relationships. Even within a family, mothering may look very different for different children, depending on what their needs and personalities are.

"One management related feature of good parenting of younger children relates letting your child be a child. We have a tendency in this culture to overschedule our children at such early ages and they don't have time to play, dream, and imagine. It's great for children to have opportunities but realize they have lifetimes ahead of them. If they've done everything by age 10, what's left to look forward to?

"Be conscious of the commitments your children have and ask yourself, 'Is it too much?' Does your child have time to be at home with no strings attached? Are you spending time with your child when you're not thinking about the million and one things you have to do? Is this activity scheduled to accommodate your schedule or is it really for the g –he child?"

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may96:AU-mothers

CONTACT: Goddard, 844-3224 (hgoddard@spidle2.humsci.auburn.edu); Lechner, 844-3053 (lechnjv@mallard.duc.auburn.edu); Solheim, 844-3222 (csolheim@humsci.auburn.edu)