My mother worked a lot when I was growing up. As a single parent of two small children, she often took on extra shifts as a nurse just to keep food on the table. Everyday when I got home from school, one of the first things I would do was call my mother at work. Never once was she unhappy to hear from me and the only time she did not come to the phone right away was when she was with a critical patient. When I had especially exciting news, I couldn’t wait to call to tell her because it felt like it didn’t really happen unless I shared the news with her. That relationship has lasted into my adulthood and she’s still the first person I call when something great (or terrible) happens in my life.
So it made total sense to me both as a mother and a daughter when, back in 2010, “researchers found in 2010 that young girls who talked to their mothers experienced a drop in the stress hormone cortisol.” According to the study, the girls’ brains released a burst of oxytocin upon hearing their mothers voice.
But why, exactly does this happen? Was it that we are used to our mother’s tone, does she always say just the thing we needed to hear or is it more about the scientific pitch and tone of her voice? Psychologist Leslie Seltzer from the University of Wisconsin (who was also involved in the study from 2010) wanted to know. So she had 64 girls, ages 7-12, take a difficult math test. The girls were divided into four groups: “One group spoke to their mothers on the phone, some talked in person, others chatted via instant message, and the final group didn’t communicate with their moms at all.” The girls who were able to speak to their mothers in person or on the phone experienced a decrease in cortisol levels and a spike in oxytocin levels. The text messages were less effective.
Seltzer thinks we are not only “fine-tuned to respond to our moms’ vocal intonations” but mothers have a the unique ability to detect anxiety in their child’s voice, so therefore can reassure them without them having to verbally say they’re scared or worried.
We’ve all heard the studies of how premature babies are soothed by their mother’s voice but it’s rarely stressed how effective a simple call to our mothers can be in lessening our own anxiety, or even how much we need to continue talking to our own kids as they grow older to help them in the same way.
I am seeing this with my own girls. Now teens, I realize how far an encouraging word, whether it’s directed to a chemistry test, a heartbreak or an illness can go. Often I find myself telling one of my girls that everything will be fine, that they shouldn’t worry, and walk them through their current situation. I am often shocked at how quickly it works. It’s not even that I am telling them the right answer or giving the perfect advice. On the contrary, the single biggest thing I do is simply listen and then try to help them realize what they already think or how they want to proceed.
It’s not always easy, actually sometimes it’s really hard and frustrating to stay cool in the midst of a teen breakdown, but I know how important it is for them to understand that they can completely work out their dilemmas through some self reflection, so while I listen, I don’t dictate. It’s something I’m learning as they grow older.
Study or no study, I know this is true because I fully realize how vital it is to still lean on my own mother at times.
How often do you speak to your mom? Do you still share exciting news with her as soon as it happens? Do you lean on her for parenting advice?