New Zealand Herald

19.09.2002

Garth George: Mother's love potent, but if fathers aren't there ...

By Garth George
New Zealand Herald

You have to laugh at the nonsense trotted out by academics almost daily in newspapers and magazines these days. Particularly is this true of psychologists and social scientists, some of whose apparently profound pronouncements are so hilarious they make you want to weep.

Take the latest one from social science researcher Abigail Fagan, of Queensland University, who proudly told us in tones of the utmost surprise in Tuesday's edition of this newspaper that mother's love, or lack of it, had been pinpointed by her research team as a pivotal factor influencing whether teenagers go off the rails.

"Its surprising," she gushed. "Mothers are a bigger influence than friends."

You know, sometimes you have to wonder what planet these people have been living on.

Because on planet Earth it has been recognised since time immemorial that a mother's love is one of the most powerful influences known to mankind.

And you have to wonder what sort of education these so-called social scientists have had, since the evidence of the power of a mother's love is not just circumstantial but has been subjected to scientific evaluation. For instance, back in the mid-1990s a researcher at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia proved that a loving mother, with her tender caresses, can cast a spell over her children that lasts for decades.

In the long-lasting protection conferred by a mother's love, Mohammadreza Hojat recognised the attachment theory of psychology which emphasises the importance of mother-child bonding.

Analysing psycho-social data collected from nearly 1000 medical students, Professor Hojat identified a clear link between "perceived satisfaction with the mother in childhood" and later psychological well-being.

A series of statistical tests revealed that having "a recollection of the mother as available and devoted predicted less loneliness, less depression, less anxiety and more resiliency in dealing with life events".

In contrast, those students who had "the lowest perceived satisfaction" with their mothers not only scored higher on the "anxiety scale" than students with better memories of their childhood ties to their mothers, but also "obtained the lowest scores on the self-esteem and peer-relationships measures".

But the silliest thing about Ms Fagan's "research" is that she sees fathers as irrelevant because many do not live with their children and have no involvement in their lives.

It seems not to have occurred to this academic airhead that no matter how strong the mother's love, it can only reach its maximum effect if it is combined with a father's physical, emotional and practical support. And that the absence of a father is likely to harm any child more than any paucity of mother love.

As my old friend Bruce Logan wrote a few years ago: "[The] growing belief that fathers are superfluous should be a major social concern for our society. First, fathers are vitally important to the task of child-rearing. Certainly, there are few children who do not say that she or he wanted to be raised by both a father and a mother. And children know whereof they speak. The importance of fathers to child-rearing is strongly supported by social science research.

"Secondly, it is extremely important to the larger society that men remain involved in family life. For men, married fatherhood is a civilising force of no mean proportions.

"Conversely, having a large number of men disconnected from the patterns and satisfactions of family life - and thus more prone to unhappiness, deviance and crime - has always, and properly, been one of society's worst fears. In too many of our nation's communities today, this fear has become a reality."

To which, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of us are forced to murmur "Amen".

We can talk about lack of mother love or the absence of fathers as the causes of childhood and adolescence problems until we run out of words but what we are really talking about is the breakdown of the natural two-parent family.

Bruce Logan again: "The intergenerational two-parent family or whanau from grandparents through to grandchildren is quite simply a superb cost-effective way to bring up children and to give adults happiness ...

"Despite high divorce rates and a good deal of sleeping around, most people understand this. Certainly women understand it, since one of their most common complaints about the men they know is that they will not make a commitment. You bet they won't, not if they can get sex, cooking and companionship on a trial basis, all the while keeping their eyes peeled for a better opportunity elsewhere.

"Marriage is in large measure a device for reining in the predatory sexuality of males. It works quite imperfectly, as is evident from the fact that men are more likely than women to have extramarital affairs and to abandon their spouses because a younger or more exciting possibility has presented herself.

"But it works better than anything else we have been able to invent."

So-called experts in the so-called social sciences who keep on looking for answers to the problems of child and adolescent abuse, crime, violence, pregnancy, illiteracy, suicide et al can keep on reinventing the wheel until their heads spin.

The answer is staring them in the face.

* garth_george@nzherald.co.nz

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