The mother of all heroes: Why moms deserve to be celebrated, according to science!

“They may not be able to fly or leap tall buildings, but when talking heroics, moms fulfil what psychologists have identified as the four important functions of a hero”.   Scott T. Allison, University of Richmond 

More than 60 years ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed his famous hierarchy of human needs, spanning the most basic biological needs to the pinnacle of realizing one’s full potential. Mothers are masters at helping their children meet this full range of human needs: from providing physical nourishment and safety, love and affection, all the way up to supporting emotional and spiritual growth.

Survey respondents report their mothers as heroic in helping them progress through the various stages of Maslow’s model – even if they don’t call it that. A good mother feeds you, protects you, loves you, helps you connect with others and encourages you to become your best self. She’s fulfilling what psychologists including me have identified as the four important functions of a hero: provide defence and protection; embody intelligence and wisdom; model moral behaviour; and promote enhancement and inspiration.

Here’s how moms do it.

1.Mothers defend and protect

Amazing stories abound of mothers doing whatever it takes to save their children, whether lifting astronomical weights or sacrificing their own lives. It is commonplace to see headlines about mothers saving and protecting their children in the most harrowing of circumstances.

The protection function of heroes is seen in the comments of survey respondents about why their mothers are their heroes. Typical responses include, “My mother protected me from neighbourhood bullies” and “My mother kept me safe from predators.” In her review of the psychological mechanisms of motherhood, Rebecca M. Fischer, a student researcher here at the University of Richmond, found that mothers are “biologically driven to protect, care for and motivate their children to succeed.”

2.Mothers provide intelligence and wisdom

Scientists are beginning to uncover evidence suggesting that intelligence is inherited more from mothers than from fathers.  Beyond this genetic inheritance, mothers tend to be committed to passing on wisdom to their children. My own mother taught me that the most important things in life are intangible and cannot be bought – love, integrity, character and honesty.

And mothers often impart intentional life lessons to their children. Former first lady Michelle Obama observed: “Life is practice and I tell my girls this every day. You are practising who you are going to be. … Do you want to be dependable? Then you have to be dependable. If you want people to trust you then you have to be trustworthy.”

3.Mothers are moral models

A mother always try to provide an example of high standards of human conduct.  Legendary tales of heroism almost always include mentors who possess enduring wisdom and are willing to share it. Mothers serve as mentors to their sons and daughters when they need guidance while growing up.

As children, many people watch their mothers’ selflessness and daily sacrifices, and learn that we’re all called to perform these acts of kindness for others. Heroes are beacons of hope who demonstrate how to behave virtuously. Sounds like a lot of moms.

4.Mothers enhance and inspire

The respondents to my colleagues’ and my hero surveys never fail to mention how their mothers made them better people. Typical responses include, “My mother inspired me to become my best self” and “My mother motivated me to develop my fullest potential.”

Mothers come out on top in our poll of heroes because of the free offering of love that they provide. Good moms are there for you when you need emotional support. They hug you. They comfort you when you cry and let you sit on their laps. They kiss you on your cheeks before school and at bedtime at night.

Article -The Conversation

Scott T. Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond.

09 May 2019

Photo Credit: Photo by Taiana Martinez (Tai’s Captures)