Scientific proof that mums have superpowers

Who’s your favourite superhero?

Is it Superman with his x-ray vision and incredible strength? Maybe it’s Spiderman who can spin webs and knows when danger is present when his spidey-senses begin tingling. Or perhaps it’s Wonder Woman who combines super strength with combat skills and magic weaponry?

Sure, these are all worthy heroes, but they’re fictional characters.

Did you know there’s a group of superheroes who really do exist? They’re often overlooked, because they’re disguised as ordinary women — sometimes dishevelled, tired-looking women.

Multi-tasking magicians

Yet these women are a special breed. Their superpowers lay dormant until the moment of conception, when they begin the magic of multi-tasking. For the next 9 months these women carry on with their normal lives, while simultaneously growing another human.

Once this small human is born, these women become ‘mothers’ and the multi-tasking magic kicks into a higher gear. For the next 18 years (and often beyond), these women multi-task on a daily basis in order to raise these little humans into adult humans. They clean up mess, prepare food, help with homework, support and encourage, teach them right from wrong, sort out arguments, clean up scraped knees, provide a shoulder to cry on, cheer for them at a multitude of sporting events, and drive them around (take a deep breath here) — often while working or running a business. On some days, they even do all of these tasks while juggling multiple children!

Mothers (or mums, as they’re sometimes called) are amazing

On top of their superpowers that enable them to juggle better than a clown in a circus, they have a never-ending amount of love towards their children. This love isn’t even tempered when their little darlings decorate the walls with crayon, or give themselves a haircut with the ‘good scissors’. That’s a lot of love, huh?

But now science has proved what we’ve known all along — that mums do indeed have superpowers! Because as well as the endless love and the multi-tasking genius they possess, they can also feel their child’s pain! Say what?

The study

Yes, that’s right. A recent study conducted by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States, investigated the level of empathy processing between mothers and their adolescent children, through brain imaging.

In the study, subjects were asked to imagine themselves in a distressing situation. They were then asked to imagine their mother or child in the same situation. While they were imagining these scenarios, an MRI machine scanned their brain.

The results

Scans were then examined and researchers found that regardless of the quality of their relationship, mothers were neurologically wired to empathise with their children; that is, they experienced high ‘self-child overlap’. What this means, is that a particular area of their brain reacted the same, regardless of whether the imagined stress was happening to them or their child.

However, the teenagers didn’t have quite the same response. The results showed that they had significantly less ‘self-mother overlap’, and that this overlap depended upon the relationship with their mother. Those who had deep bonds with their mothers experienced greater distress when they imagined their mothers in pain, than those teenagers who weren’t close to their mother.

What can we learn?

Other than what we already knew (that mums are amazing), confirmed by science, there’s another message to take away from this study — teenagers who had a close bond with their mothers, were more empathetic to their mother’s distress.

So, amid all the busyness and multi-tasking, how can you develop a strong bond with your child? Here are 9 tips.

  • Show them physical affection every day
  • Play with your child and have fun
  • Make time for one-on-one time
  • Embrace emotions — all of them
  • Listen and empathise
  • Enjoy being in the moment with your child
  • Take time to talk — about all things, not just ‘important stuff’
  • Turn off technology when you’re connecting
  • Give your child your full attention when interacting with them.

Of course, the way you do the above will change as your child grows. The conversations you’ll have with a 3-year old are definitely different to the ones you’ll have with a 10-year old. And your 14-year old certainly won’t want you waiting at the school gate with a kiss and a hug, like he did when he was 6 (trust me…).

Our final word of advice: enjoy these special moments while your children are little, take a bow, and celebrate your superpowers.

Psychology TodayMindbodygreenMy DomaineOxford Academic
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Nerissa Bentley

Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based health writer and blogger. As a mum of 2 (a teenager and a pre-teen), she understands the challenges involved in raising children, balancing work, and making time for yourself. Through her writing, she aims to inspire and empower families to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. Nerissa is also working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her reading, drinking coffee, lifting weights, or enjoying the odd sneaky red wine.

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