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.

4 thoughts on “Selfish and Selfless Mothering: From Biology to Love

  1. This is a beautifully written post! I agree with you completely- so much is instinct and biology. Like the last piece of cake or last M&M is always left for my son. And yes, I also get snappy and irritable at times, (esp when my son makes a mess during bathtime- overturns his little bucket and water spills into the hallway!) But children are so much more forgiving- I may snap at him then for making a mess, but 2 minutes later he is smiling at me. Oh, it’s definitely worth it!!

    1. Thank you, Meenakshi, and I agree that it’s all worth it! Certainly they must know the power that their smiles hold over us?

  2. Lovely, as always. Lately I find my fuse growing shorter and shorter, and I know that this is coming from Pants and I spending a little/way too much one on one time together. I am so excited for her to go to school and have experiences away from me (and for me to have experiences away from her) and excited for us to be happy to see one another at the end of the day! I owe her that. PS…Flowergirl, Pants, and I are kindred sisters in the never wanting to get out of the tub. :-)

    1. It’s strange when they get experiences of their own. They sing songs you’ve never heard before, have been to places you’ve never been, talk about strangers as friends. It’s necessary but still a difficult process (more for mamas than kids, I think!). Sunboy’s Marine Biology camp was a huge example of this for us!
      That’s so funny about you Tub Sisters – is there an Olympic competition for tub longevity, I wonder? :)

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