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Why Mothers Are Our Number-One Heroes

Mothers fulfill at least a dozen important psychological functions of heroism.

Key points

  • Research consistently shows that people list their mother as their favorite hero.
  • Mothers fulfill many important psychological functions involving mental and emotional well-being.
  • Mothers can mentor us through our nostalgic reminiscing even after they are gone.
Scott T. Allison
Source: Scott T. Allison

Each year we celebrate Mother’s Day and for good reason. Our mothers are our number one heroes, according to our surveys. Fathers occupy second place in our hero surveys, but they are a distant second.

Mothers are indeed the mother of all heroes.

How do mothers do it? Over the past decade, psychologists have been able to identify at least 12 functions of heroes and heroism:

  1. Heroes give us hope.
  2. Heroes energize us.
  3. Heroes develop us.
  4. Heroes heal us.
  5. Heroes impart wisdom.
  6. Heroes are role models for morality.
  7. Heroes offer safety and protection.
  8. Heroes give us positive emotions.
  9. Heroes give us meaning and purpose.
  10. Heroes provide social connection and reduce loneliness.
  11. Heroes help individuals achieve personal goals.
  12. Heroes help society achieve societal goals.

Our mothers play a role in fulfilling these 12 functions, either directly or indirectly. This list of hero functions tells us that mothers offer benefits that span many dimensions of human well-being.

First, Mothers confer basic survival benefits (e.g., safety and healing). They protect us when we’re young and vulnerable and are there for us when we get sick or injured. Second, consistent with recent research, mothers give us cognitive benefits, such as intelligence, creativity, and wisdom.

Third, mothers offer motivational benefits. They are our biggest cheerleaders and inspire us to become our best selves. Fourth, mothers provide emotional benefits. Although there are obvious exceptions, mothers are often warmer and more nurturant than fathers.

Fifth, mothers bestow moral and spiritual benefits. Mothers teach us empathy and compassion for others. As children, we watch our mothers’ selflessness and daily sacrifices and learn that we’re all called to perform these acts of kindness for others. Finally, our mothers offer existential benefits such as meaning and purpose. They show us that connection and love for family and friends are the foundation for living a healthy life.

In short, mothers help us survive, and they help us thrive. They help us through our worst times and prepare us for our best times. Fathers do these things, too, but mothers somehow have an edge.

One of the most important research findings about heroes is that they don’t have to be physically present to help us survive and thrive. Research shows that just remembering our heroes can do the job for us. Nostalgia for our mothers, whether they’re alive or gone, can produce these 12 benefits of heroism. We all benefit from the memory of our heroes, often in ways we’re unaware of.

Mother’s Day far exceeds Father’s Day regarding greeting card sales and gift expenditures, and for good reason. Mothers are our Number One Hero because they shape us in the best of ways. They are there for us when we need emotional support. Mothers love us and hug us. They comfort us when we most need it and role model love in countless ways.

Social norms are changing, and we now see more fathers taking on the role of nurturers than in previous generations. But the emerging science of heroism helps explain why we reserve a special place in our hearts for our heroic mothers.

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