Maternal instinct

I've been doing a little reading about the gift economy, a concept of an economy based on generosity rather than exchange. Some of what I've been reading argues that the gift economy is grounded in the mother-child relationship, the instinctual generosity of mothers toward their children.

That's gotten me thinking about the whole idea of maternal instinct. I definitely don't buy it. My relationship with Maybelle hasn't been instinctual, or particularly intuitive. After eight weeks, I feel like I'm beginning to get to know her, but it has definitely been a process of learning rather than instinct. I feel comfortable picking her up, snuggling her, changing her diapers, putting clothes on her, moving her into various different positions when she's fussy--but these were all learned skills, none of which were in place when she first came home. For a long time my friends who'd had babies were better with her than I was. It's only in the last week or so that I've felt that I have skills with her that rival theirs.

It helps that she's getting to know me, too. She smacks her lips sometimes when I talk to her.


Anonymous said...

Actually, there's a whole lot of debate concerning that, and most people are talking about how humans don't have instinct. And we kinda don't, but at the same time, what is intuitive is what we find attractive in a mate, that kind of thing, and we know to feed our child and how, the child knows how to eat, when to sleep.

And, try to think about this objectively. The Mother is the Giver to most families. Mommy is the one that makes your lunch, for example. And, a much more extreme one-- human women will die for their kids.
Not to be stereotypical or to make generalizations, as those have faded over the past fifty years, but that's what that comes from.
I think.

Also, the point at which it's gift, nothing would have any worth, so I don't see how that would be an -economy- as much as a form of functioning. Almost communism, only it's individual.

Taylor said...

This is WAY old, but have you read Marcel Mauss' The Gift? It's all about gift economy. I don't know if it exactly fits the zine gift economy, but it's some old Anthropological theory that may offer some insights.

P.S. Margaret Mead (Sex and Temperament and later Men and Women)said that the maternal instinct was bunk in 1953, but no one has listened...

Janeen said...

I agree! I agree! You lose track with so little sleep available for the early years, but the learning curve with a new baby was like none I had experienced. I needed information, explanation. I had to read and re-read things, to be shown things repeatedly-- and it was high stakes. Some of my hunches were downright wrong (um, and resulted in the baby getting thrush.)
On the other hand, I suspect that evolution might have encouraged a bit of maternal distance at the start.

Christine McKaskle said...

I think what is meant by "instinct" and "generosity" is that we don't run screaming from the room when confronted with an upset, hungry, poopy or otherwise momentarily-not-winsome child. Instead, we do the highly counter-intuitive thing of moving TOWARD the source of all that noise and smell to see if we can be of help. And it can't all be socialization b/c the dog will do it, too, and is quite "generous" by letting babies keep their fingers at times that no adult would be allowed to keep their fingers, like when poking doggy in the eye.

Alison said...

Ha! Yes, I think this is true--the counter-intuitive moving toward the not-winsome. And I love the idea that dogs, too, have this generous instinct. That's certainly true at our house. Perhaps dogs are real source of the gift economy.