MATERNAL INSTINCT

WHILE WE GIVE THE MOTHERS IN OUR LIVES THEIR WELL DESERVED THANKS AND RECOGNITION, THIS MOTHER’S DAY, MISS OHLALA EXPLORES THE IMPORTANCE OF MOTHERHOOD AND WHY IT IS NOT ALWAYS A GIVEN.

If women were really born with a maternal instinct, we would see birth rates stay the same through the years. Even the feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s that expanded educational and workforce opportunities for many women shouldn’t change which women decide to be parents. But childfree adulthood has been on the rise since then.

What we think of as maternal instinct comes from our culture rather than our nature. Children – and girls in particular – are taught from a very young age that one of the most important things they can do when they grow up is to become parents. A web search for “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys” quickly reveals that parenthood is girls’ domain.

Perpetuating the myth of maternal instinct harms all women, whether they have children or not. Women who choose to have children are told that it’s the most important thing they do. It is no accident that pressure on mothers to intensively nurture their children increased at the very time more women began working outside the home. As women’s labour force participation grew, their share of the work at home did not decline. Instead, women became subject to an ideology which holds that good mothering means labour-intensive mothering.

While mothers are pressured to intensively parent, women who opt out of parenthood are treated as social pariahs. We’re told that the most important job any woman can hold is motherhood, that childfree women are selfish, and even that they’re bad for society.

Nevertheless, some women do feel compelled for reasons they cannot always articulate to have children. And, in the absence of an easy explanation, it’s understandable to believe that natural instinct is the reason. But the more we look into it, the more we find that’s not the case.

This month, let’s recognise the women who have opted to take on the difficult work of good mothering by giving them credit for their choice and their efforts. Our gratitude will be appreciated much more than were we to discount motherhood as what happens naturally without their intentional effort.

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