There are five essential things every child needs from their mom.
- Safety – As little people, we experience the world as dangerous. We feel alone. We don’t have love inside — we have overwhelming needs and feelings. This is painful. You can see this pain on the face of any infant who needs to be picked up or of the child who is terrified of something in her imagination. The child does not have safety inside but danger. Safety can only be found in the mother — or in whoever is providing the mothering.
Safety comes in the form of a person who is predictable, stable, and danger-free. This kind of mother creates a foundation for all the other tasks of mothering. Without this person, the child remains in a state of panic or anxiety, unable to love or learn. The mother’s consistent, caring, and soft and understanding attention gives the child a safe place to turn; she transforms the dangerous world into a place of safety.
- Nurture – Webster says that to nurture is to “feed or nourish.” A mother’s nurture is fuel for the soul. Good mothers pour care into the souls of their children much like sunlight and water pour nutrients into a plant. Our souls flourish when we are being nurtured and cared for. We grow, develop, and change according to the way we were designed.
Without nurture we wither. The “failure to thrive” syndrome and many other childhood problems are directly related to a lack of nurture. In some cases, institutionalized babies have even died from maternal deprivation and a lack of nurture. We were created with needs that go deeper even than our physical need for food. We need the immaterial and spiritual requirements of relationship in order to live.
- Basic Trust – Basic trust is the ability to invest oneself in a relationship. We must first experience many instances of trustworthiness before we can truly trust others. We aren’t born trusting; trust is learned. Trust enables us to reach out, to depend, to need, and to see others as the source of good things. We can depend on our caretaker – when we reach out, she will be there and she will respond to our needs.
When we trust someone, we invest something of ourselves and hope for a good return. If we invest our money, we want safety and dividends. With a good mother, we invest our hearts and our being and find a good return, which leads us to invest again and again in relationships. Trust nurtures our ability to need and to depend, which allows us to grow and develop relationally. We need to need, and we need to feel comfortable with dependency. A trustworthy mother develops those abilities in us. Healthy people let themselves need and depend on others without fear.
- Belonging and Invitation – We all have a need to belong to someone and to something bigger than ourselves. Belonging and love are at the root of our humanness. The foundation of our existence is relationship, and we cannot provide that for ourselves. The Bible tells us to be “rooted and established in love.” If we are rooted and grounded with God and others, we belong; we feel nurtured, secure, and free from the universal experience of isolation. And it is our mother’s responsibility to rescue us from alienation and isolation and to usher us into the world of relationship.
Mothers, through their love and care, make us feel wanted, which transfers into later feelings of worth and confidence in relationships. We have worked with countless people who feel “unlovable” or “unwanted,” when in reality lots of people love and adore them. It’s obvious that they have failed to receive good mothering.
The sense of feeling wanted and loved is not an intellectual exercise that we can do for ourselves. It comes through the experience of being invited into relationship with another person. You may know intellectually that you are loved, but if you never felt loved by your Phantom Mom, your feelings won’t match up with what you know intellectually. When we experience being consistently wanted early in life, we move easily into other relational settings later, never wondering if we belong or not.
- Someone to Love – Emotional development comes not only from the mother’s investment in the child but also from the child’s investment in the mother. A mother provides someone for the child to love – she is a good “object of love.” In order to develop emotionally, physically, intellectually, and socially, we need not only be loved but to love. Love fills us up, and colors our outlook on others and the world in which we live, so that we view life with hope and optimism. We have a basic need to love people, and that requires someone to love. If mother is safe, we love her. If she is not, we either are overwhelmed by isolation or we are filled with hatred.
These needs are universal and documented by research, clinical experience, people’s experiences, and the Bible. If mother or the surrogate mother provides safety, nurture, trustworthiness, belonging, and lovability, then the child is on his way to healthy development.