- Family and Parenting
Maternal Instinct - The Best Parenting Guide
Turn to Nature
Listen to Your Heart
There is no such thing as too much love, but there is such a thing as too much information. Everywhere you look, you have scores of guide books on parenting: how to handle your baby, or your toddler, or your tween and teen. As soon as a woman discovers the "+" on a pregnancy test, she finds herself swamped with the how-to's to don't do's about every stage of being a mother, guides authored by experts and therapists and doctors. Of course, they are interesting and can be useful from time to time, but I have come to the conclusion, through trials and errors of my own, that the best guide I found was right inside me all along. I have looked back at the 22 years I have been mom and realized that the best successes I had were the ones I trusted my instinct for. I know some folks out there may not agree with me, but I am sharing my experience of having raised two wonderful children guided mostly by the nurturing, protective, forgiving thing called maternal instinct.
The Infant Stage
Long before the written word was created, women gave birth and trusted instinct to nurture their young. In many ways, we are no different than other animals in the biological and emotional connection we form very early on with our young ones. When a woman gives birth, the baby she has carried in her womb for nine months has already become a part of her life, and the connection is established before she holds that infant in her arms.
The immediate instinct to nurse, to nourish, to protect is born, without any external training process. Even if a mother has never read a book about nursing or feeding, it comes to her naturally, as it did to our ancestors. Just as it does to the newborn, who has not learned to latch on through any instruction, but does so instinctively.
When Maternal Instinct is Delayed
While there are many women who suffer from postpartum depression, sometimes for a very extended period of time, it still does not negate the basic maternal instinct. If anything, many of those feelings could be related to other sources of stress - relationships, divorce, professional anxieties and expectations - in addition to hormonal disturbances. Their feelings are often clouded by those factors and lead to charged emotions and resentment towards the offspring. There could be instances of neglect in their own childhood, or even abuse that interfere with the mothering instinct.
Preparing For the New Role
Like most other women of my time, I attended pre-natal classes, read dozens of books on the first year as a new mother, during my first pregnancy. I thought I knew everything by the end of those nine months! I was ready, equipped, fully aware of what to expect, or so I believed. All the theory had indeed contributed a good deal to my knowledge base, and I will never undermine what I learned, but I will say this - for every little factual information I had acquired in those sessions and instruction manuals, there were three I had to figure out myself. And they came to me by instinct.
My baby girl was born normally, but she turned out to be a baby who had extremely short sleep spans for almost 7 years of her life. The first week passed, then a month slipped by as I struggled to keep myself sane through severe sleep deprivation, barely able to sustain the endless hours of feeding, changing diapers, bathing her, rocking her, cuddling her, lying beside her - whatever worked to pacify her and get what little sleep I could. A zombie, I was going out of my mind. I consulted the midwife who was assigned to check on me on a weekly basis, I pleaded with the pediatrician for help and guidance, I talked with friends and other new moms. I was given instructions, advice, sympathy and everything I could expect from others, but none of the techniques worked. In the end, I resigned myself to acceptance that this was going to be her way and I had to find a way to cope. Instead of looking outside, I began looking in.
Argue with a Newborn? Heavens, No!
It wasn't about ego; it certainly was about sleep. I was not going to battle my baby over sleep. It was okay if it was her call. I would sleep beside her all night, if that is what she wanted. So I did.
The Maternal Touch is Common to Many Species
The Power of Emotion and Touch
The innate desire to touch and cuddle with the newborn has much more power than we realize. I remember being told by some women of the previous generation that too much of it was going to make my child overly dependent on me and prevent her from making the separation she needed to help her to grow into a healthy child. I am so glad I did not follow that advice! I hugged and I cuddled as much as I could, as much as she wanted. While she did hang on to my skirts for nearly 5 years, when she eventually let go, she became so confident in herself that it has stood the test of time, and at 22 she is a fiercely independent and strong young woman, capable of taking on any challenge she faces.
Never Underestimate The Simplest Things
Children abandoned in early infancy and childhood suffer from long-term deficiencies and become highly prone to a variety of disturbed behavior patterns and developmental disorders. While love is a universal emotion and part of the human instinct, it needs an atmosphere of love to thrive, to blossom, to give and to receive. And the most basic need of a newborn and children in early childhood is that of physical contact and closeness. The more we express our instinct to hold and to love as parents, the more we transfer that ability to our offspring. Its absence has repercussions throughout life, for our children and for us.
Darwin Believed in the Power of Maternal Instinct
Published in Psychology Today, Darwin's thoughts were explained.
"In Darwin's first book about humans, The Descent of Man, and Selection In Relation to Sex from 1871, Darwin argued for "the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive." His reasoning was disarmingly intuitive: in our hominid predecessors, communities of more sympathetic individuals were more successful in raising healthier offspring to the age of viability and reproduction -- thesine qua non of evolution."
- We didn't love our babies: What happens if maternal instinct just doesn't kick in? Three women break
Motherhood certainly didn't provoke the sudden flood of love for Elsa Cook, pictured, when her second son was born.
- Maternal instinct to save the society from ruin | Le Mauricien
Teen Behavior: How do you handle it?
I have zero tolerance for inappropriate conduct. My rules are absolute.
The Adolescent Years
The babies and toddlers eventually grow into teenagers. The sweet, innocent faces turn into something unrecognizable at times. Every parent - both mother and father - will attest to that. Regardless of the socio-economic background, culture and country of origin, parents the world over frequently have stories of acts of civil disobedience shook the very foundation of their homes when the children came of age. From minor flare-ups to major discord, rebellion and defiance, adolescence brings many challenges to a family. I know that I faced them, and I know that you have also faced them. There were times I was clueless on how to deal with a situation and turned to others or books for advice; there were also times I was too ashamed of the vehemence of my own resentment and anger at my teen daughter for the pain she inflicted through remarks and comments on my "lack of understanding" and for trying to control her life. While all of those days are now gone, as my daughter herself predicted, in those love-hate moments followed by tears and consolation, I would one day know that she would emerge just fine. She did. And the only thing of worth I really think I did was to love her through it all. Love was possible even in the most trying of situations, although anger would often mask it and make it seem like a blur in the relationship.
The Door Was Never Completely Closed
The one thing that never failed was the make-up after the fights, the apologies for numerous lapses, flying of tempers, and even after the worst of conflicts, there was always a window left slightly open, a door left ajar, just enough for one of us to push it open wider and let the other one in. Love. At times, after a seemingly prolonged period of silence, either she would come up behind me and put her arms around me, or I would knock on her door, asking to be let in for a little talk.
Discipline and Love Can Co-exist
As new parents, we are often tempted to follow the "rules" we have read in books about parenting techniques that work. Sometimes, we find out that they don't work and we are forced to discover our own. It is also true that we find the method that worked to discipline one child does not work on the sibling.
While we have to teach and instruct our kids for their own good, clearly the best way is by example. How we conduct ourselves, eventually, so will the children. I know that is a hackneyed phrase, yet how many of us have uttered curse words, for example, and when those very words spill out of their mouths, we recoil? Particularly if they are hurled at us! We retaliate as if our own integrity is being violated, our morality is being threatened or questioned.
Know that your children are fallible, just like you. It doesn't mean you have to accept that behavior, but you have to search yourself to find ways to deal with it - responsibly, realistically and truthfully. The answer will be right within you. Maybe your neighbor, Sheila, makes her children wash their mouths out with soap, or maybe your friend, Lisa, grounds them for a week. Good for them, if those methods worked for them to prevent future curse attacks, but it is your child whose personality you have to consider when assigning consequences. Over-punishing can have far-reaching negative consequences; using a combination of firmness and love can often be far more effective in long-term success.
Ultimately, parenting is about love and love is the fundamental of maternal instinct. From that sprouts the nurturing, caring, protecting and everything else we do as parents. It is not perfect; it undergoes cycles of highs and lows, edges and curves. It is carved of the substance that we create it from. The result is often a reflection of us, whether we intended it to be or not.