If you saw a human being whose body was only three times the size of his/her head instead of the usual six times, who lacked the ability control his/her limbs and bodily functions, who was almost unable to communicate and who needed round the clock care, would you conclude that they were unfortunately seriously physically disabled, or would you lean in and say “What a cute baby!”
When the characteristics of a baby are listed like that, it makes it seem very unattractive, but, unless the baby is playing up in some way, most, but not all people, would find it appealing. There is something in our natures that is attracted to babies and young children.
It’s not just the young of our own species that we find attractive. A small bumbling puppy or kitten very often causes us to go “Awww!”. We often have an urge to cherish baby animals, and this urge appears to extend to other species to some extent. It is not infrequent that a mother of one species will care for the young of another species, even species that would normally be prey for the mother.
That’s quite astounding when you think about it – the mothering instinct has completely suppressed the predatory instinct. Of course, if food were scarce, possibly the mothering instinct would not be as strong as the predatory instinct.
Obviously the pleasure that people get from babies (and pets) outweighs all the negative aspects of looking after them. Babies can be demanding, annoying, frustrating and downright unpleasant to live with, if the truth be told. And they are expensive to look after!
Other people’s children will sometimes cause you to wonder why the parents didn’t practise birth control, and your own will frequently be an embarrassment to you, but overall society tolerates the anti-social behaviour of children to an amazing extent. Of course, parents tend not to take babies and small children to events where they would cause chaos and mayhem, such as a musical concert or a play.
We could term this attractiveness of young children to adults “cuteness”. “Cuteness” invokes the parental instincts that can in some circumstances overcome the instinct of self preservation. In having produced offspring, a parent has performed almost all that is necessary for the propagation of the species, and the only task left is for the parent to ensure that the child gets the best start in life that is possible.
The cuteness of children allows such human institutions as fostering. A child can be looked after by a non-relative, if the parent (and all the child’s relatives) are unable to bring up the child for any reason. Sometimes, maybe often, a fostered child comes with “problems”. They may have been mistreated, for example, and have become reserved or disruptive.
Foster parents are often special people, who take in unwanted children and do their best to sort out any problems and issues that they have, trying their hardest to break through any barriers that the child may have put up, earning the child’s trust if possible, and even their love.
That is important, because the parent/child bond is bidirectional. The parent loves the child, and the child loves the parent back. I suspect that the parent loves the child first and the child learns from this to love the parent back. When a child is born, it is barely aware of its surroundings and parents grow to love their child even before the child learns to and is capable of responding to the parents.
It’s a tragedy that so many parents either don’t know how to love their children, or their love fades quickly over time. I guess it is not surprising that in a few cases parents don’t know how to love their kids, and I also guess that this can be the result of the parents’ parents not showing their kids much love.
However, that is pure speculation. It’s reasonable, I’d say, but not definite, so far as I am aware. Certainly, children who come from environments where the mutual affection in a family is apparent will most likely prove to be loving parents themselves.
It is hard to watch when a child goes wrong, or is caused distress by something external. Older children of even loving parents sometimes go “off the rails”. They may indulge in drugs, or alcohol, or indiscriminate sex, or may develop mental or physical illnesses. They may simply develop world views that are opposed to those of their parents. They may even vote for the wrong political party!
This wayward behaviour is often worst for parents who have rigid world views, such as those who are religious or are philosophically rigid. It may indeed be this very rigidity of viewpoint that has pushed their kids away. Most parents encourage their children to develop their own personalities, but sometimes these personalities clash with those of the parents.
The innate tendency to find children and the young of pet animals cute serves as the glue to bind the parents to a very demanding entity in the child. The cuteness of a child is only partially visible to others though, and there may be conflict between parents and other adults in places like restaurants and planes and busses.
As children get older the cuteness factor tends to wear off. By the time that they leave the family home the bonds between parents and children have transitioned between child/parent and young adult/parent. Though the bonds are still there they are qualitatively different to the original bonds formed just after the birth.
Sometimes the cuteness idiom is probably taken too far, as in the Japanese quality of Kawaii. In Japan many older children and young adults dress and behave in ways which in younger children would be considered cute. In my opinion this is decidedly dubious, as the Kawaii quality is too easily linked with sexual attractiveness, and making oneself more attractive by acting younger than one’s age can possibly cause younger children seem sexually attractive.
In contrast, in Western cultures children will try to dress and act older than their age when they begin to feel that they need to be attractive to others. While this is not ideal, it does mean that sexual attractiveness is directed to older looking partners, and not, as in Japan, to younger looking ones.