About Mums, and a little about Dads too.

Mother hen with chicks02
Mother hen with chicks02 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Danaus Plexippus, Monarch Butterly, picture ta...
Danaus Plexippus, Monarch Butterly, picture taken in NewYork, October 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


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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.

English: Four Lionesses take down a bull cape ...
English: Four Lionesses take down a bull cape buffalo in the central Serengeti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Guarani nuclear family of Mato Grosso do Sul, ...
Guarani nuclear family of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

English: This is the photograph of an extended...
English: This is the photograph of an extended family belonging to the Pais-Prabhu, a Mangalorean Catholic clan hailing from Falnir in Mangalore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sickness

Flu
Flu (Photo credit: IK’s World Trip)

Today I am going to reflect on sickness. As an aside, my aim was to write something every Friday and post it here, but lately the deadlines have been slipping past and I didn’t complete the previous post until Tuesday. This Friday I was still suffering from the bug that I caught, and motivation and energy levels were low, so I didn’t start this until Sunday. The effects hang on, but if I don’t start now, I may not get a post done at all! So here goes.

Last Monday I was feeling like I was coming down with something but struggled into work anyway. A couple of hours into the day it was obvious to me that I was rapidly getting worse so I headed home and put my feet up. I fully expected to be over the worst by Wednesday but on Wednesday morning it was obvious that I wasn’t recovered enough to return to work, so I visited the doctor who confirmed a flu-type illness.

Visit of the Doctor
Visit of the Doctor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The doctor didn’t prescribe anything apart from rest, which suited me. I must write a post about over prescribing of medicines by doctors as I see it sometime. So the rest of the week was taken up by lying around, drinking copious tea, coughing and aching. I believe that one of the symptoms of the sickness I am still suffering from is to make everything ache. Of course, the constant coughing results in aching of the chest muscles, but my arms and legs and head also ached. Not nice.

Add on on shivering fits and sweats and it all makes for a fun week. Did I mention a sore throat?

English: Hamlin's Wizard Oil, the greatest fam...
English: Hamlin’s Wizard Oil, the greatest family remedy for rheumatism, neuralgia, toothache, headache, diphtheria, sore throat, lame back, sprains, bruises, corns, cramps, colic, diarrhœa and all pain and inflammation. Sold by all druggists. Advertising for turn-of-the-century miracle cure, chromolithograph by Hughes Lithographers, Chicago. Undated, estimated to be from around 1890. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think that I am suffering the attack of a flu virus, but obviously not a strain that was targeted by the flu jab that I had. Since it was presumably a virus there is no treatment possible, apart from alleviating the symptoms.

Speaking anthropomorphically, it is in the virus’ interest to not reduce the functional level of the organism that it attacks to the level where it quickly dies and so cannot pass on the infection, so viruses tend to merely make you sick. So infected organisms remain more or less functional. They still eat, drink, and interrelate with others of their type, which allows the virus to spread by coughs and sneezes which fill the air with the virus which can then be inhaled by well individuals.

virus
virus (Photo credit: twenty_questions)

It is good strategy for the virus to irritate the nose and the the chest, increasing the possibility of the virus being passed on. I say “strategy”, though of course it is pure evolution in action – viruses which don’t cause you to cough and sneeze don’t get spread around so easily and so tend to die out. Of course there are other ways to spread a virus or other disease, STDs and diseases transferred by physical contact spring to mind.

When you think about it, sneezes and coughs are a pretty damn efficient way of spreading a virus. A cough or sneezes creates a mist of tiny virus-laden particles that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces where they settle. It follows that viruses at least of this type would spread most efficiently in enclosed spaces such as homes and workplaces. A farmer could sneeze in the fields and not affect anyone, but a sneeze in a packed classroom could result in several pupils being missing in the next day or two, not to mention the teacher.

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: "...
A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: “This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the silly things about employment laws is that a person who takes leave from work because of sickness can be asked to provide a medical certificate, even if the employer doesn’t believe that the worker is faking the sickness. Usually there is a day or two’s grace to allow the sick person to obtain a certificate from the doctor. This usually means that the sick person has to go out into the community, sit in a waiting room which is probably a miasma of viruses, and talk to a doctor who is then subjected to the airborne virus! It’s possible that evolution will favour viruses which reach maximum infectiveness in 2 – 3 days!

The reason for the laws is to prevent people from claiming to be sick when they aren’t (known colloquially as “taking a sickie”). While this is obviously a problem it does mean that people may struggle into work when sick in order to avoid the expense of a doctor’s visit, and they may spread the virus around the workplace, resulting in more absences and more costs to the employer.

duvet day
duvet day (Photo credit: Βethan)

Viruses are amazing things, on the borders of death and life. They are simply little packets of genetic code for self-replication which utilise the organism’s own machinery against it. Of course all living organisms are packets of genetic code for self-replication, but viruses are the smallest possible, with the possible exception of things like prions. (Which, I’ve just read, don’t contain any genetic code).

The immune system of the body is triggered by viruses (which results in all the coughing and sneezing) and so the body is not defenceless. However viruses mutate quite quickly, so we have many ‘strains’ of common viruses. The common cold is, I believe, a particularly mutable virus which is probably why research into it has not gone far in combating it. The flu virus that attacked me is likely to have been a mutation of a strain of the flu virus that was targeted by the flu jab that I had.

And so the war goes on.

Comparison of mechanisms of drug resistance am...
Comparison of mechanisms of drug resistance among viruses (Photo credit: AJC1)