Maternal Mental Health Month Day 20

Maternal instinct…

What is it?  Is it a myth?  A societal notion that suited it’s purpose? Or a real characteristic that some women have?  Why do some women seem born with it and others not an ounce in their being?

If broken down maternal instinct, by definition (compliments of Merriam Webster) means…

maternal:  of, relating to, belonging to, or characteristic of a mother

instinct:   a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity

So together it would mean a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity for characteristics of a mother.  

Some believe that maternal instinct is what makes a woman want to be a  mom.  She is a nurturer by nature and has always gravitated towards being a caretaker.  Others believe maternal instinct refers to the bond a mother forms with her child once he/she is born. That maternal instinct kicks in when a mother sees her child and feels compelled to protect and nurture him/her.

These beliefs can cultivate a feeling of failure for moms.  What if they never believed they had maternal instinct and now they are going to have a baby?  What if they didn’t feel that instant bond and draw to their baby? What if some days they don’t want to nurture but want a break?  What if they always felt maternal and now, after having a baby, they are questioning their abilities and natural instincts?  Like many labels or terms used throughout life, maternal instincts can have a deeper impact on a struggling mother.  The implication is that good mothers simply know how to be mothers and if you don’t, you are not a good mother.  This is so wrong.

And how then do we explain the love that many fathers feel for their children?  The desire and drive to protect and nurture is blind to gender or sexual orientation.  Maternal instinct sometimes seems more like a societal term that was used to reinforce the notion of women as the caretakers and explain why men went to work rather than staying home for the most part.

There is no doubt that studies and research show that women, even if left alone in a jungle, can birth a baby and instinctively know how to care for it.  There is no doubt that there are women out there who, from the time they are very young, dream of being a mom. But there is also evidence that women who never dreamed of being mothers, still take quite well to the job, enjoy it and raise wonderful families.

So I ask that you trust your instincts as a mother but do not feel bound by this notion.  Do not judge yourself based on the expectation that you should just know how to be a mother.  Do not let your measure of being a good mother be based on your instinctual ability to know all the answers.   Be patient with your child and yourself.  Learn together and when you do have an instinct about your child.  Trust yourself.

About Carpe Diem Counseling LLC

I am a licensed clinical social worker whose practice specializes in working with women (and their families) during the pregnancy and postpartum time period. Please contact me if you believe you or someone in your life is experiencing a Perinatal or Postpartum mental health issue. I also work with any adults experiencing a life change and struggling with the challenges and adjustments they are encountering. Addressing our struggles in life happens one day at a time. There is no wrong time to get help.
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