Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Hormone Replacement Therapy

The BBC reported last week that:

The working mother who cannot be at home to cuddle a distraught child can relax - her voice on the phone soothes as much as a hug, a study suggests.

Don't worry. I am not going to write another lengthy critique of studies that show things. Oh, really, you would like me to? Are you sure? You have time? Well, we'll see. I had thought to do a short post, experimentally, as it were. Just to say I can, you know?

I have spent some time lately checking out various blogs - I will one day create a guide for the uninitiated. I wrote a guide to swings in the parks and gardens of the east coast of Australia in 1980. It never really got read or noticed but it was useful to have the record at the time... Nevertheless, what I have seen is that most blogs are really quite short. Some are pictures or links to videos. Some involve linking lots of other people's things. That seems to be rather a good way of saving time and effort so I will have to try it at some stage. I like to think that the side bar area will accommodate quite a few links or recommendations, in time.

But I am eager not to compromise my own standards as a blogger, so for now I will continue with the story telling approach in the main. I am not as yet a "professional" blogger, I hasten to add. I am learning that such is an occupation now. Good luck to those enterprising and tenacious writers. You will notice that I am trying to monetise my musings with my little link to Amazon in the side panel. I apologise if you find this mercenary. It is a bit of a sell-out, especially since I want all of you and all of your contacts to buy my book from my publisher, thereby supporting the little, independent writer and publisher industry. I can say though that Amazon makes it very easy to link to their stuff and to make it look nice and presentable, which is also very enterprising.

Given I wanted to see how it feels to be brief and succinct, I had best focus on my topic now.

A mother's voice.

I guess it is good to know that science has proven that a mother's voice can be calming and reassuring and result in increased levels of the hormone oxytocin. I know about oxytocin from my child bearing experiences (sounds foreboding doesn't it?). Don't worry - I will never enlarge on those experiences here. Suffice to say, oxytocin is associated with bonding as it is released in lactation - just look it up if you are curious. Anyway, it supposedly gives rise to feelings of calm and contentment.

However, rather than putting 60 girls aged 7-12 under stress in order to test the theory, the study people could have had a quick look at my phone bills circa 1995 - 2009. I was single handedly keeping One-Tel afloat there for a while with my calls to my mother in Brisbane (from London). I was enjoying soaring oxytocin levels every week after those lengthy chats, whether I was stressed before or not. It was like shot in the arm: love, comfort, sympathy, unconditional acceptance, humour, wisdom, optimism, news, perspective, challenge.

My mother was something else though - she could provoke all of that as well as adrenalin, guffaws, joy, frustration, longing...

And I am not the only one. So yes, it is great to have the proof now that 60 little girls have felt a similar hormonal surge following contact with their mother, after a stressful situation. 

What was the stress? Giving an impromptu speech and solving maths problems. (Come on, have a heart. They were just little girls.)

I will not go to town over this; merely raise a couple of questions.

I wonder why they did not carry out the tests on any boys. Do boys not find impromptu speeches and maths problems tricky? Maybe it depends how much telly they watched at age 2. Or do boys not have oxytocin? Or respond to their mothers? What do we really know about men and women and how they respond to stress?

Does the child get the rush of oxytocin if the mother asks how many sums they got wrong, or what they said in the speech, what the panel seemed to think of them or how they did their hair for the event? Is there a corresponding surge in cortisol (stress hormone) when so interrogated by the mother? If oxytocin suppresses cortisol then they must not easily coexist. So which one is stronger in real life, where the mother has not been primed to let her child get stressed and then offer kind platitudes over the phone or a personal hug?

So the next big question is - where are the dads in all of this stress and bonding? Are they at work? On the golf course? Does a physically present dad's comfort give rise to any, more or less oxytocin that an absent mother on a phone? What about step-mothers, aunts, sisters, close female friends?

Does it work if the stressed child is shown a picture of its mother? Or a recording of her voice saying comforting things? 

Now this could revolutionise the way women work. Rushing home for dinner and homework and stories? No - just record your voice and have some stranger play it to them each evening! 

So, typically, I am looking for the learning for me in this piece of news.

Springgirl's to-do list:
1. Buy each of the off-Spring a phone. 
2. Get a job.
3. Find some friends to go out with after work.
4. Record myself saying soothing things.
5. Record myself saying non-soothing things on the grounds it may do nothing for them but would help my own levels of oxytocin to not have to harangue, pester and shout the same instructions every day - I could perhaps record myself saying them in gentle and soothing tones -
"Oh Sweetheart, dearest, will you brush your teeth, pack your bag, finish your breakfast, stop fighting/spitting/speaking with your mouth full/annoying people..."

(Just realised that 4. and 5. amount to Hormone Replacement Therapy for kids! No more cortisol inducing scolding episodes over the homework or the chores. Oxytocin on tap! if we can find the role the mother can play in suppressing adrenalin damage, insulin issues and even excessive testosterone (that can cause acne among other things), imagine!)

6. Give some thought to monetising the recorded mother's voice idea.
7. Stop blogging and get more sleep.
8. Spend more time remembering my mother and our chats.
9. Get more links into the blog.
10. Accept that slow-blogging, like slow-cooking, slow-dating(!), slow-golfing and best of all, slow-parenting, is here to stay.


  1. Perhaps fathers telling their sons over the phone to "Suck it up" induces adrenalin?

    Has Amazon just helped you turn this from a blog to a blag?

    Also the follwing seems timely:

  2. it's not just a blag, but a flag and a slag and a drag and a ... thanks for the link.

    it is funny that boys don't get a look in. if boys don't have a hormonal reaction to comfort, do they not need it? begs a lot of questions.