Let’s not let our Disney visions of family love spoil the painful wonder of the real thing.
‘The great tragedy of the human condition,’ a good friend said -long ago and after we had drunk too much red wine - ‘is that men love women, women love children and children love hamsters.’
I thought it was hilarious.
But that was largely because I didn't realise how true it was.
That was a long time ago - before we knew the terrible truth about some of the changes that take place between men and women after they have children together.
And it was way before I had even met my own children, let alone looked into their beautiful hazel green eyes and mostly failed to see swirling pools of tender Hallmark love.
We burden the already burdened and burdensome nuclear family with our sentimental and Disneyesque notions of love and caring.
To enter marriage and parenting with ideas of love and matrimony manufactured in Hollywood is to have a deeply disappointing and disturbing experience.
Marriage can be bruta
Marriage with children in a nuclear unit (without the immediate presence of aunts and uncles and cousins and grannies and a village
) is a sometimes brutal biological and economic contest - no quarter is given and everyone must take everything they require for survival and success from whoever they can take it.
This is as true for the relationship between a breeding pair of humans and their still dependent children as it is for any of the arrangements made by animals that engage in sexual reproduction and whose offspring require the involvement of both parents to maximise their chances of reaching adulthood.
What we call ‘love’, ‘passion’ and ‘nurturing’ are actually just chemical states switched on and off by our genes in response to certain stimuli.
We live completely subject to the ebbs and flows of the chemistry of our bodies and these chemical states exist purely because these are the states that led to the successful reproduction of our ancestors.
I suppose the point, though, is that love and passion and the nurturing of children feel nothing like this Darwinian description of the ruthless impulses of nature: ‘red in tooth and claw’.
They feel instead like matters best discussed by those jewels in the crown of human cultural achievements: art, music, philosophy and, perhaps, religion.
The ecstasy of adult sexual love as well as the bliss we feel when we nuzzle our face against our newborn’s delicate head might be Darwinian tricks to keep us at the treadmill of making, protecting and nurturing children.
Yet we live them with an intensity and passion that makes it difficult to believe that these impulses are not essentially above and beyond basic animal instincts.
We seem to need to believe that our love, passion and desire is out of nature, not subject to its dictates, part of another, higher, realm.
But if we build our lives, our families and our belief systems
around the idea that we are beyond nature, I suspect we are going to be deeply disappointed by its clear and sometimes brutal presence in the behaviours of the various participants in the modern nuclear family.Love is a process of evolution
I personally think it is important that we constantly remind ourselves that what is actually driving and shaping the relations between men and women and their relationship with the children is, at heart, an evolutionary process.
Love is like pain is like lust is like hunger – they are impulses that evolution has built into our bodies to achieve certain purposes – that ultimately get preserved through successful reproduction.
I don’t feel this takes anything away from the majesty and wonder of the endeavour.
For me it places myself, my family and, especially, my children firmly as part of the great family of life on earth.
I’d rather have that any day, than some sentimental drivel on the back of a greeting card.
Do we lose sight of what family love is?
Read more by Nic BorainDisclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.