Do you have the maternal instinct?
Is the ability to know how to parent buried deep within every one of us?
I’ve been thinking a lot about maternal instinct lately.

Eight weeks ago, my cat gave birth to 3 kittens. Before Motherhood (BM), Dizzy Dunlop was an insane cat. She tore the house apart and went on wild jaunts around the neighbourhood. She was never a ‘lap’ cat: sitting still wasn’t in her psychological or physical make-up.
Flash forward to Post Motherhood (PM) and I have a transformed pet.

Dizzy gave birth in one of our cupboards and we discovered her and her brood one Saturday morning. There she was, purring and placidly feeding her babies. It took her 24 hours to come out of the cupboard to grab a sip of water. It took her several days to venture out of the room.

She still hasn’t gone on a wild jaunt. She seems obsessed with her kittens’ well-being. She’s ‘talks’ incessantly to them. If she can’t see them, she goes looking for them. If someone touches them, she’s there, checking that you’re not harming them. She knows what they need and when they need it.

What babies need

An article on Earth Babies defines ‘maternal instinct’ as an innate ability to tell ‘what our baby needs and how to best respond…’
The word ‘instinct’ implies that it’s something that is built into us. But it seems to be a dying art. We’ve become so used to accessing the help of the myriad sources and experts out there in print and on the internet that we don’t trust ourselves to be able to identify our own babies’ needs.

I’ve met many mothers who claim not to have had any maternal instinct at the start of their mothering journey. ‘I had no idea what to do when he cried,’ they’ll confess sadly. Or ‘I felt nothing for my child when I first saw his face.’

We also seem to have conflated ‘maternal instinct’ with the day-to-day chore of being a mother. How many of us actually enjoy singing ‘Old MacDonald’ 50 times in a row, or posting plastic shapes into holes with our toddlers, or changing the 12th nappy of the night?

The stories of those women who believed they lacked maternal instinct might be valid, but not because their instinct was absent.

Motherhood can just be a slog sometimes, and some of us need time to get used to it and acquire some of the skills that seem to come easily to others. 

The outcome of a study conducted in 2008 and reported in the New York Times suggested that ‘a mother’s impulse to love and protect her child appears to be hard-wired into her brain.’ The study tested the brain patterns of 13 mothers who watched their babies and those of other mothers on video. Brain activity was highest when the mothers saw their own child happy or in distress. The article also says that there can be external problems or illnesses which have an adverse effect on the mother-child bond.

Given half a chance, the maternal instinct is there to be accessed. And if you’re in doubt, just ask Dizzy Dunlop.

Did parenting skills and emotions come instinctively to you?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
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