Maternal instinct: a mother's innate instinct to protect and care for her offspring. Why is there no term "Paternal Instinct"? Does the concept exist? Is it learned and not innate?
I have a friend who is in his early fifties. He desperately wants a child. He is looking into all the different ways to have (get?) one. I think it is cool. I wonder why I don’t think it is especially "cool" when a woman friend does it. It seems normal to me whereas a guy, well, that is something extra. It sort of bothers me that I have a different standard. While ruminating, I think of what a woman friend said to me just this past week…that wanting to have a child, the yearning for a baby, is completely different from actually having a child. At the time I laughed and thought "how true". But now, on second thought, isn’t that how most experiences are? Don’t we have an idealized picture of a life partner? marriage? "happily ever after"? Is the fantasy of motherhood really any different than the fantasy mate or the fantasy life that we create for ourselves? I don’t think so. I have concluded that like everything, it is all about our expectations.
The difference, I imagine, is that with marriage and relationships there is a trial period; you can live together and get an idea of what your life together will be like. With a baby there is none of that. You go from the dream state of pregnancy (assuming it is an easy pregnancy), fantasizing, decorating the baby's room, and choosing names to BAM! crying, exhaustion, and constantly trying to figure out what he wants and why he isn’t happy since you’ve just fed/changed/burped him. You dreamed about this perfect child who eats and sleeps on schedule, goes six hours without waking and because of your maternal instinct you just know what he wants. You answer his need -of -the -moment and back to sleep he goes. Ahh…..not so much. If you’ve been reading my posts, or any other real moms' posts, you know, at least intellectually, that it doesn’t usually work that way. Of course there are moms with dream babies…I just don’t know them. I hear about them usually in baby books but I have yet to meet a real mom with a dream baby. Is it possible that the dream baby is a figment of baby book gurus designed to make the rest of us feel incompetent, guilty and even more overwhelmed and out of control? Or is it simply an unreal expectation?
When my girls were teeny, they cried almost daily from 4-6 in the afternoon. Most of us experience those hours as difficult at best. It still remains the hardest time of day. They're tired and crabby and demanding and now that they're older they can "gang up" on me. What makes it somewhat easier is that I know it is not just in my house. I hear whining children up and down the street (one of the true "pleasures" of living in a warm climate is open windows and the sounds from all the other houses on the street). I am able to stress out a little bit less. Somehow, knowing I am not alone makes it easier to cope. My natural instinct is to cry, scream, yell out of frustration and run and hide under the covers. I would like to think that it is my maternal instinct that allows me to plod on, but more likely, the knowledge that I don't have a choice is what spurs me on….or the knowledge that in another hour they will finally be in bed sleeping and then I can go back to thinking how beautiful, gorgeous, brilliant and amazing they are.
I would love to have another baby; the warm smell, the nursing the cuddling and bonding…. That is maternal. Then reality sets in…the crying, bouncing, pacing, rocking; endless hours of no sleep and maternal instinct runs to the hills. I adore my girls; seriously I am madly in love. I treasure every second, as hard as it is, even the most trying of moments but now that I know what to expect I'm not sure I want to do it again.
I wish someone would write a real life story without rose colored glasses. That finding a mate, if at all, is not easy; that there are disappointments, frustrations and heartbreaks along the way. That even when (if?!) you find him it isn’t easy, that it still requires lots of work and attention. That having children is challenging and the most difficult thing most of us ever do, and juggling spouse, kids, home and job is a full time job in itself. But, even with all the challenges and obstacles we can live happily ever after.