Book Review – Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters

John received a copy of the book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters by Erica Komisar (April, 2017) when he met recently with Randy Stinson. For those not acquainted with religious academia, Randy is the provost at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.  He is also the past president of CBMW (Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which was established in part by thinkers like Piper and Grudem.)

41pYfI2YELL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgRandy told John he has been passing out this book like candy, even though it is not from a Christian perspective, and considers it important. We think highly of Randy and so if he recommends a book, especially about motherhood, I wanted to read it.

While reading, I found myself reaching for a pen to underline great portions while nodding my head. Upon completion, I watched some interviews with the author, and searched for other articles (here’s one by Metaxes,  here’s another) but in a shortened space she never fully develops her argument quite like the book. Telling a mother in the 21st century that she should stay home to care for children isn’t exactly a popular message.  It’s nearly impossible to convince a talented woman to stay home for diapers in a 20-second sound bite.
The premise is that when mothers are absent (even working part time) there are recognizable, undeniable detriments to the child, both physical and emotional.  She bases her findings on over 20 years of clinical work as well as the latest neurobiological and psychological research on attachment, caregiving and brain development.
Komisar is a psychoanalyst, licensed social worker, parent guidance expert in private practice in NYC, admitted feminist, and dances delicately around the touchy subject of mothers working all the while citing mounds of research. The book is peppered with documented studies; the following is a generalized quote from past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Frequent positive interaction between a mother and her baby in the first three years of life is critically important of the child’s social and cognitive development.”
She urges, then develops throughout the book, “Spending more time with your child during this critical period of development means she will have a greater chance of being emotionally secure and resilient to stress as well as being better able to regulate her emotions throughout life, read others’ social cues, achieve a higher emotional intelligence and connect with others intimately.”
Why is birth to age three the magical window?  Komisar doesn’t explicitly explain.  From my own experience as a mother, it seems that three is a magical number: the child is able to dress and feed themselves, talk in complete sentences, potty trained, beginning to drop the nap (if they haven’t stopped napping already!) Education pioneer Maria Montessori began working with children when they were three.  In some ways, children are easier to be around once they are three, they can play for brief periods without 100% supervision.  Briefly I searched for a single chart to explain the development ages and stages and didn’t find one.  However, I found this site that had several charts for ages and stages.  It looks solid and helpful.
After being in ministry for 18+ years, I was well aware of the importance of a woman staying home.  However, Komisar brings the emotional piece to the forefront of her argument, “…without your physical presence – if you are not with your child – you cannot be emotionally present.” And gives countless examples from her counseling practice of women who were emotionally absent, the effects for their children, as well as ideas of how to be emotionally present.  I was challenged to be more emotionally present with my children — and I am with them all day!
My favorite chapter was the second from last, and admittedly, almost didn’t read it.  By that point, I felt like I understood her argument and am glad I persevered to the end.  I might have placed Chapter 9 “Why Don’t We Value Mothering?” as one of the preeminent chapters. It’s understandable why she waiting to the end to explain.  The previous chapters are weighted in scientific research and interviews.  She explains in this chapter that her intended audience is middle to upper class women — those in high performing, high powered jobs.
My underlining in chapter nine is by far the most frequent.  Maybe her thoughts are best summarized, “…the lines about what we want and what we need have become blurred.  Instead of valuing and prioritizing the relationships with our children, many women race back to work or away from their babies.”
This is the chapter where she defends her stance as a feminist and explains, “If being a feminist means you can do whatever you want without considering the consequence to your children of your absence, that you can act without empathy for your child regarding the pain of the separation from you, then I guess I am not a feminist… women can’t do everything. Men can’t do everything. We all make choices, and there is always a path not taken.  Having those choices means not that we should but that we can if we want.”  This would be a good chapters for fathers to read as well — because often couples make decisions together about finances and standard of living that “requires” mother to work.
I loved the closing argument for Chapter 9 – and think it applies to being a mother of all aged children:
If you want to work because you love your work and love making money, but you need to care for your child, maybe the compromise is to work, but work fewer hours or to work at a job that doesn’t demand you to be available when you’re not in the office.  If, however, your solution is to focus on your needs alone because society tells you that your continued and consistent presence isn’t necessary for your children to grow up to be healthy, loving, responsible adults, then you aren’t making a fully unformed choice.
And her closing for the book:
My wish is that you understand there is no greater gift you can give your child than being as present emotionally and physically in the first three years as possible.
That investment will produce a higher yield than any other investment you will ever make now, and as your children grow up.  The rewards may not increase your bank account, but I assure you that you will not regret the decisions you make when you see your children happy, healthy thriving and loving.
Komisar is perhaps missing the most important aspect of motherhood: spiritual.  The greatest benefit for staying home has been my sanctification.  I have struggled over the years being satisfied as a stay-at-home mom.  I’ve a degree in engineering and was groomed by feminists to change the world.   Certainly it would have been easier to send my children for others to care for their needs so that I could pursue my dreams, unfettered by needy little ones that suck me dry emotionally and physically.  By caring for my children, I am forced to put off selfishness and put on love and devotion.  It is hard work to enter into the emotional fray of children and train them, to model Christ-like love, perserverance and grace.  This pouring out of myself causes dependance on Christ in ways that I would never identify with him otherwise.  Sanctification in motherhood is continuing to teach me to find my identity in Christ alone.  My value is not found in what the world values but it is found in the forgiveness of a perfect man who died in my place so that I can be in right standing before a Holy God.
This is a great book to pass along to women who are struggling with whether or not to go back to work — or even put their kids in childcare a few days a week.  This might become my standard baby shower gift…

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