Hidden Mother's Day Gifts: Neuroscience and Relationships

Posted on Mon, May 09, 2011 @ 09:07 AM

family relationships

 Image by Kenneth B. Moore

The black, sparkly nail polish I'm wearing today is just far enough out of character that it prompted one of my friends to ask, "Are you going Goth on us?" Considering that for some weeks now I have been able to feel the breath of my 50th birthday blasting its warmth upon my neck (assuming it isn't actually a hot flash), I suppose I shouldn't be surprised if my finger fashion screams "midlife crisis" to everyone I meet. But no, it's just that my almost-8-year-old daughter lovingly painted my nails for Mother's Day: one of many memorable gifts showered on me by my family. I am honor-bound to proudly wear it until there are enough chips to justify its official removal. From an 8-year-old's perspective, that requires a lot of chips, but I really don't mind. It's almost rejuvenating to glance down and see the manicure of a teenage girl tapping away at the keys as I type.

Perhaps what my friends tell me is true: this child who was born just as I turned 42 is destined to keep me young. But that familiar cliche is only partly right. According to neuroscience research, my other two daughters—the now college graduate and the soon-to-be high-school freshman—have made similar contributions to my youth and vitality.

In fact, mothers everywhere (as well as fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who shares in the challenging pleasure of nurturing children) receive tremendous, if not always obvious, gifts all year long as a result of the interactions they have with their young charges.

While mothers may have an advantage through the additional contributions of pregnancy hormones (see The Mother Load: The Neuroscience of Motherhood), they are by no means the only ones reaping rewards.

Neuroscience tells us that human minds are interdependent; that interpersonal relationships literally affect the shape of the brain. In his 2010 book The Forgotten Kin: Aunts and Uncles, Robert M. Milardo, a professor of Family Relations at the University of Maine, focuses in particular on the positive effects children and their parents' siblings have on one another, and the vital role each can play in the other's life.

Milardo's book is just as important for parents to read as it is for aunts and uncles: especially those who have drifted apart from brothers and sisters in adulthood. Of course, The Forgotten Kin may motivate parents to revisit and restore positive sibling relationships for the benefit of their children, but if they succeed, their children will not be the only ones who benefit.

Tags: family relationships, social neuroscience, family psychology, neuroscience of relationships