Maternal instinct as divine truth
Progressives construct a narrative that denies women a powerful God-given reality
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Is maternal instinct just a myth? That’s what Chelsea Conaboy posits in a recent New York Times essay. She begins with a provocative question: “Where did the idea that motherhood is hard-wired for women come from?”
The answer is simple: “Our bodies tell the story,” writes Christopher West, president of Theology of the Body Institute, in a recent book. In that book, also entitled Theology of the Body, he argues that except in cases of a medical condition, the female body reveals a design and aptitude for motherhood. There are rare exceptions, but given that 86% of women reproduce, it’s clear that motherhood is something most choose.
Conaboy, however, argues that even when women choose motherhood, that maternal instinct is a social construct devised “by men selling an image of what a mother should be.” She claims that the importance that so many place on mother-child bonding is junk science.
Ironically, it’s the anti-science narrative of progressives, in their effort to de-gender the culture, that is helping to erase the exceptional nature of motherhood. This push to eliminate the reality of “maternal instinct” adds to that narrative.
When the obstetrics community refuses to utter “woman,” they utterly devalue mothers. As surrogacy enables adults to bring babies into the world motherless on purpose, we mock God’s design for life and His divine vision for family, which grounds the whole of society. When we tell children that stay-at-home motherhood is not a worthy endeavor, we denigrate what is one of the noblest callings.
Conaboy invokes Eve and Mary, the mother of Jesus, as archetypes of historical motherhood. Of Mary, she writes that “her identity [is] entirely eclipsed by the glory of her maternal love."
Many mothers today do lament the loss of their “identity” in motherhood, but this is an unbiblical, misplaced rendering for the Christian. Christians’ primary identity should be rooted in Christ, evolving in Him over time, regardless of any outside circumstances. We never “lose ourselves.” Rather, we develop further into our God-designed roles, changing and shifting with time. Conaboy doesn’t see it that way.
“Mary’s story, combined with Eve’s—unattainable goodness, perpetual servitude,” she writes, “Created a moral model for motherhood that has proved, for many, stifling and unforgiving."
Feminist ideology would have you believe that service and virtue are oppressive. To raise and shape children, however, is of the highest order. While Conaboy says that maternal instinct is a “relatively modern” idea, eighteenth century women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft would disagree.
In her book The Rights of Women, Erika Bachiochi writes that Wollstonecraft believed in women working outside the home, but “she simply regarded domestic life as the most important sphere in society.”
Conversely, Conaboy opines the rise of the “sacredness” of the home, where “mothers moral imperative and responsibility within the home were inflated … as her role in society shrank.”
Evidently, many women agree. Fifty-six percent of mothers with young children say they would prefer to stay home. Like the perceived wage gap, childcare aesthetics in the home are skewed tremendously by personal choices and preferences. It’s not always the case that women choose this, but it may be more often than the media suggests. Why do so many women want to stay home with their children? Some might say maternal instinct.
We can support women in pursuing diverse callings without demeaning the divine work of mothering. In her work as a licensed social worker and psychoanalyst, author Erica Komisar calls motherhood a “non-transferable bond.”
Unsurprisingly, Komisar has received ample criticism for her work, but it’s reliant on data that show how essential mothers are in the emotional development of young children. Instinctive or not, mothers matter deeply in this way. Scientific studies over the decades have confirmed the importance of early mother-child bond, identifying important chemical changes in both mom and baby as a child grows. Fathers, too, can show chemical brain changes, but they aren’t as significant as those within a mother.
Most women do have some kind of maternal instinct—and know it—and that’s because God made us this way. Because children need mothers, those who will sacrifice their own desires to cultivate the flourishing of their offspring. If this isn’t our job as parents, what is really the point?
If “maternal instinct” is socially constructed by men, how do women immediately know what it feels like when it hits them? Perhaps it can’t be quantified or scientifically defined, but the fierce, protective, urgent love I felt for my children the moment I knew they were growing within me most certainly didn’t come from an oppressive patriarchy.
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