Selfish and Selfless Mothering: From Biology to Love
So much of mothering is instinct, of course. How could it not be so? The drive to parent is based in biology. Biologically speaking, parenting is selfish self-propagation. It’s protecting the sacrifices made during pregnancy. It’s the innate drive to preserve one’s genes. It’s hormones and pheromones and emotions and hopes and dreams rolled up into strong bonding. The ineffable cuteness of babies doesn’t hurt.
This internal, biological drive provides stamina for long, sleepless nights with a newborn, gives physical strength to carry a toddler in one arm for hours and sparks the cleverness to outwit a debating child. Part of parenting comes from within, with our bodies playing a role in preparing us for parenthood’s challenges.
But we are all human and the miraculous energy that springs from an invisible fount is not limitless. Children nag. They have an agenda that does not always relate to the requirements of reality. Children demand great patience and consistency over many years in order to be socialized and prepared for their eventual independence. Parenthood isn’t always enjoyable and can be downright exhausting.
Some days, I just don’t have it. I lack the energy and determination to be the water that gently, persistently smooths the edges and shapes these two stones.
I’ve listened to Sunboy’s detailed stories about cars for years now. Car stories every day. Some days I just don’t want to hear them. I feel like I will scream if I hear anything more about cars.
Likewise, I know that each bath with Flowergirl will end with her dropping her weight to make herself feel as heavy as possible in hopes that she can stay in her beloved bathtub forever. Every night, an exhausting struggle ensues as I extract a wet toddler from the bath and get her ready for bed. As I look at her, happily splashing, I wonder where I will get the energy for the next half hour of my life.
From where does the mothering come when it’s not snuggles and laughter and lovingly tender glances into our children’s eyes to marvel over the miracle that brought them to us?
At these times, I shift my focus from the internal, away from selfish biology and how parenting benefits me. I remind myself of the importance of the mother-child relationship (and, of course, the father-child relationship if you’re a dad) and how secure attachment to a stable caregiver and unconditional love are critical factors in healthy emotional development and the growth of children into well-adjusted adults. I tell myself that parents provide a child’s first intimate relationships in life and how unresolved issues with parents will mirror in their future relationships as adults.
It’s in these times that mothering doesn’t arise so much from the internal as it does from the external, from the wisdom of the ages and from the intellectual processing of academic research on child development. It derives from the collective maternal spirit whispering in my ear about how a mother raises healthy, happy children. I decided my needs were secondary to theirs the moment of their first breath. Before their first breath. My children owe me nothing. I owe them the world.
My goal clear, mothering in times of exhaustion comes from a will to be selfless and ignore one’s own needs for the sake of the children.
In other words, mothering arises from pure love.