Mommy Juice

By Patty Cogen
© 2002


I am washing dishes when I hear a crash. Next comes the sound of angry kicks and flying objects from the next room where my four year old daughter, Sun-Jia, is…was, I should say, building with blocks. (Note: Sun-Jia was adopted at three years of age.)

“What’s wrong?” I shout over the running water. When I peeked in five minutes ago, she looked busy, although her shoulders were beginning to droop and I heard at least one deep sigh.

Sun-Jia stomps into the kitchen and scowls at me. Then her face crumples, and she holds out her arms, “I need mommy juice.”

No, I’m not still nursing my three year old. But when I hug Sun-Jia or hold her hand and look in her eyes, she says, “You fill me up with mommy juice.” In psychological jargon, mommy juice, or daddy juice, is emotional fuel. (If you don’t mind, being a mom, I’ll continue referring to mommy juice.)

Looking at Sun-Jia’s tear stained face, I admit to myself that it was a mistake to ignore those sagging shoulders and heavy sighs, both signs she was running low on “mommy juice“. It’s easy to forget how quickly a three year old, playing in the next room, runs out of emotional fuel. Turning off the faucet, I prepare to pour on the juice and help Sun-Jia regain her emotional balance.

For the longest time, I thought “mommy juice” was just a cute family name for cuddle time. But recently I discovered that “mommy juice” really exists. The researchers responsible for this discovery insist on using fancy, names like oxytocin, vasopresin and “natural opioids”. But basically, those chemicals are just mommy juice.

Dr. Jaak Panskepp, who studies the neuroscience of human emotions, has documented how ordinary mother-child interactions involving touch releases these “natural opioids” . These tactile interactions induce a calm relaxed state in children. Equally important, the soothing effect of the interaction lasts. When mother and child separate, the “feel good” chemicals keep on working, dramatically reducing baby’s irritability, whining and aggression. mommy juice is the magic potion that helps children better handle separation.

Mommy juice helps a child maintain emotional balance and tolerate separation best when it is delivered at regular, not too widely spaced intervals, according to researcher, Dr. Tiffany Field. So I try to hug Sun-Jia or hold hands and look in her eyes as we talk on a regular basis. I have made a few research observations of my own, and discovered that Sun-Jia runs out of mommy juice every fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on what she’s doing. When she’s tired or frustrated or on her own, the fuel lasts a shorter time.

Of course this all slipped my mind this morning. I was so busy with getting last night’s dishes done, I ignored the warning signs of saggy posture and sighs. Speaking of warning signs, I think I hear a whining voice approaching…I gotta go. It’s time to fill Sun-Jia up with those fabulous “feel good” chemicals, a.k.a. mommy juice.

1. Panksepp, Jaak, (2001).The Long Term Psychobiological Consequences of Infant Emotions: Prescriptions for the 21st Century. Infant Mental Health Journal 22 (1-2) pp. 132-173

2. Tiffany Field, (1994). Effects of Mother’s Physical and Emotional Unavailability on Emotion Regulation , The Development of Emotion Regulation, Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development, ed. Nathan A. Fox. 59 (2-3) 208-227.