Why do women have motherly instincts

"Childfree" : If people prefer to stay childless

Slim, fashionably dressed pregnant women now confidently show their belly in a tight-fitting T-shirt. But there are also the other T-shirts, worked on the waist and worn over the flat stomach. It reads “Childless by choice” or “Childfree means free to be me”. Like the movement that goes with it, they come from the USA, but they can now also be ordered in Germany.

Couples who consciously decide against having children call themselves “child-free”, not childless. Women and men who have a partner with whom they could start a family, with whom there would be nothing against it in terms of health or economy. The American Laura Scott interviewed 171 of them for her book "Two is enough". As expected, all of the people they talk to say how much they love their independence, that they enjoy not having to bear responsibility for the upbringing and well-being of their offspring, that they like being together and that they feel like family. And of course that their job and career are important to them.

With this, the consciously childless throw things into the balance that actually count for all young adults - and which today lead many well-educated women to only become mothers in their mid to late 30s. Or even with a heavy heart to forego it altogether. The consequences are well known: the birth rate is 1.4 children per woman, but it would have to be a little more than two to keep the population stable. According to the 2008 microcensus, only 12 percent of women over 60 and 21 percent of 40 to 44 year old women are not mothers. Very few of them will be.

With the women of the “Childless” movement, one thing is different: for them, not so much falls into the other pan when the reasons for having their own offspring are collected. Because they are less afraid that they might be missing something without a child. Seventy-four percent of the women Scott interviewed for their book say it bluntly: What we lack is maternal instinct.

This is also what some of the childless women say, whom British sociologist Kristin Park interviewed extensively about their lives and their views in 2005 for a study. They would never have liked to hang out with babies, some say, and as girls they never played with dolls either. The men interviewed by Park, on the other hand, think less about whether the “father instinct” might be less pronounced in them than in their peers who have become family fathers. You have decided to live a "child-free" life mainly for economic and professional reasons, but also in favor of togetherness.

These are well-known arguments. The fact that women almost aggressively invoke a “lack of maternal instinct” to justify why they deliberately do not want children is new. Even Simone de Beauvoir, feminist figurehead and philosophical “mother” of childlessness, hurried to assure her readers: “I have no reservations about motherhood”. In her autobiography, she emphasizes that as a young girl, in love with cousin Jacques, she imagined starting a large family. Not a lack of love for children, other goals in life would have kept them from doing so. Later, when safe contraception became possible, it became easier to implement such a decision. It was by no means easier for women and men.

Does instinct give us a biological guideline for this? It would not be particularly reliable. After all, there are people who later regret their decision - for or against children. Before sexuality could be separated from procreation as effectively as it is today, inclinations and desires with regard to offspring only played a minor role. "Without anyone having volunteered, we have become guinea pigs in a huge social experiment that shows what women who can control their reproduction really want," writes the American sociobiologist and primate researcher Sarah Blaffer Hrdy in her evolutionary biology Longseller "Mother Nature". If there is such a thing as a “maternal instinct”, then in humans, as in other mammals, it develops gradually, in very small steps, during pregnancy and after birth. Hormonal messenger substances, physical closeness and the social environment play an equal role. Recognizing the ability to play as a parent early on based on a tendency to play with dolls might be practical - it does not seem practical.

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