I wrote about cuteness a couple of posts ago, and this started me thinking about mothers, both human and animals and how the bonds that they form with their offspring.
Many animals do not look after their offspring, just casting their fertilised eggs into the seas like many fish or placing their eggs on a food plant as butterflies and moths mostly do. However, many animals do look after their eggs and young offspring, often for extended periods of time.
It is common for the mother of an animal to look after it rather than the father, but it is not uncommon for the father to look after the offspring, and more commonly both parents will look after their progeny.
For example, the egg laid by most species of Kiwi is incubated by the male member of a pair of birds. Also, in the Seahorse, the female deposits her eggs inside the male’s “brood pouch” and the young of the Seahorse develop there.
Once young animals are born, often the female parent will take care of them for some time after they are born, but this is not a definite rule. Sometimes the male parent is around and provides some support and protection, and even if the male parent is around, he may remain fairly distant, with the female doing most of the caring for the young animals.
A common sight is a mother hen closely followed by her chicks, with the aloof cockerel strutting around the farmyard. In a pride of lions, the nucleus of the pride consists of the females and offspring while the associated males remain close.
In humans, the so called “nuclear family” is common, at least in Western cultures. A nuclear family usually consists of a couple and their children living in a single house, and is a relatively recent phenomenon, with extended families being common in many cultures, including Western cultures, until fairly recently.
In such a nuclear family, the father goes out to earn money for the family every day, leaving the children in the care of the mother for the day. Such role separation and assignment could be seen as “natural” and “obvious”. This can be problematic when the couple are not male and female, when role assignment is trickier.
It is likely that there is an instinctive drive for a mother to care for her children and for the father to be assigned the role of provider for the family. Certainly this tendency for children to be cared for by the mother and for the father to fill another role can be seen in most societies, even those without the concept of the nuclear family.
In a family consisting of a couple of same sex parents, this role division is not well defined and indeed such couples may decide to share both provider and carer roles within the family group, which could speculatively lead to kids who are unclear about the distinction between the carer and provider roles.
Kids are resilient though, and being more willing to share the roles when they grow up and form their own, probably heterosexual, relationships and families may even be an advantage. That’s not to say that the father in a heterosexual couple whose parents are also a heterosexual couple are not capable of caring! The roles in Western societies are not so strictly defined that a father cannot be a carer for some of the time, and that a mother cannot be a provider.
Regardless of such quibbles, mothers tend to be more caring and nurturing than fathers in Western societies. Both boys and girls tend to go first to Mum when a knee is scraped or an elbow bashed, and they go to Dad for the resolution of disputes, such as when a sibling has stolen a favourite toy and won’t return it.
This is probably because the mother has more invested in the children than the father. She has carried the child for nine months, culminating in a painful delivery, while the father has watched on and the only pain that he has suffered was when his spouse squeezed his hand too hard during a contraction and left nail marks in it. Of course, I am drastically under valuing the support that the mother has received from her spouse.
Mother have a close bond with their children, and we can see it in modern society, where a couple is not always “till death do us part”. When a couple splits the children more often seem to go with the mother, although there are blended families where some of the kids are the father’s and some are the mother’s.
Mothers can be particularly close to their daughters, but they are even close to their sons. No other person has changed your nappy (diaper), clothed you, nursed you through minor ailments, and fed you from the moment of birth until you leave home. Step daughters and sons can sometimes have difficulty getting as close to step mothers, and this can cause issues.
Poor old Dad. He gets the affection, the love, but usually not to the same depth as the children love their mother. Actually, I think that the bonds that form between a man and his kids are just as deep as mother love, but they are manifested in different ways. Dad is the one that the kids look to for protection much of the time, Dads tend to be the ones who encourage the kids to stand on their own feet.
The difference is that Dads are in general more able to form relationships at a distance. He may mainly see his kids in the evenings and at weekend. Modern life has pretty much forced a hands off approach to parenting for Dads. When a split up comes it is frequently easier for a father to move away from his children, painful though it may be than for a mother to move away from them.
Breaking up a family is always difficult, but with nuclear families it is more difficult. In an extended family there are always granddads. grandmas, cousins and aunties and uncles to take up the slack. The modern child doesn’t have quite so much support. It’s a wonder that, in general, they still turn out OK.