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Why Do Moms Serve as Tracking Devices?

No matter the size of a family, its location or the ages of the children, the inquiry about lost items is usually made to us – the mothers.

“Mom I can’t find my other shoe.”

“Where is my Batman?”

“ I don’t know where my book is – I have to read it for the test.”

Sound Familiar?

While not intended, the inquiries can often sound like accusations.  We usually ignore that because we believe that when our children are searching for lost items they are at the very least, dysregulated and at most, desperate.

“Who hid the Remote?”

“Mom-My Make-up is gone!”

Regardless of how a family member asks, most Moms and of course Grandmothers move into action. Yes, we know about enabling dependent behavior. We have read, some of us have even lectured, about helicopter and snow-plough Moms. That doesn’t stop us. We rationalize that there is some incidental learning from the line of questioning we will pursue; but that said – We mostly can’t help ourselves from going into action.

A GPS tracking device is a navigation device normally carried by a moving vehicle, person or animal that uses a global position system to track movements and determine location.

Before we go for location, our line of questioning starts with time tracking:

Question  “When was the last time you had it?”

“ A minute ago – I just had it.”

“ I don’t know-but I know I had it?”

No Results –  We move to location tracking

Where were you playing with Batman?”

“I don’t know -Where is he?” ( crying)

“ Do any of you remember where you were when you used the remote to shut the TVoff?”

“ Maybe Dad moved it.” (no help)

Sometimes questions of this type yield results.  Usually they don’t, which we rationalize with the perspective that when time and stress are involved, eye witness testimony and memory lack credibility.

As Moms, we persist. Why? We persist because of three maternal traits – Attunement, Attention and Anxiety.  Moms have exquisite attunement to the needs of their children ( no matter what age). As such, we have often consciously or unconsciously attended to details of their lives in a way that other people don’t notice or want to notice.

A Mom knows where her little guy plays with his Batman on the pillows at the end of the couch. She knows where batman hides.

 A Mom knows that her teens move in and out of the kitchen when they are watching the TV and the chances of the remote being in there are far greater than anywhere near the TV.

 A Mom knows her daughter well enough to know that she loves to put on make-up while talking on the phone. There is a good chance her 15 year old doesn’t even know where she was when enthralled in talking and eye shadow.  They will most likely find the make-up on or under her bed-the center of her phone universe.

The other thing that drives Moms to actually be good – even great—at finding things is persistence driven by anxiety.

Yes –  As Moms we make the mistake of acting on our anxiety to reduce the anxiety of our offspring.  Being wired to protect them from harm is a crucial trait. It is worth considering, however, when and if we should try to control ourselves and let them move from their anxiety about lost items to their own action plans for finding them. It makes some sense to offer guidance in finding batman; but the remote or the make-up?

I know, if you are a Mom you are a gifted tracker and it is difficult not to lower your child’s anxiety and save the day by finding Batman or salvaging the remote from a pizza box crushed in the garbage. The problem is that they need to save their day. In the end they need to find Batman when we are not around.

Remember as Moms – whether they are little or grown and far from home – we will always be tracking our children with our love.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Listen in as Dr. John Duffy joins me on Psych Up Live to discuss “Teens and College Kids Sheltered-in-Place with Parents: Challenges and Connections” on Psych Up Live

Why Do Moms Serve as Tracking Devices?

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP

Suzanne B. Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist. She is Adjunct Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Doctoral Program of Long Island University and on the faculty of the Post-Doctoral Programs of the Derner Institute of Adelphi University. Suzanne Phillips, PsyD and Dianne Kane are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Learn more about their work at . Visit Suzanne's Facebook Page HERE.

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APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2020). Why Do Moms Serve as Tracking Devices?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 May 2020
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