What Maternal Instinct?

A repost, so I don’t completely kill myself trying to do all the things this week.

I was over at a friend’s house last night. I held her two-month-old baby for a bit because, you know, it’s polite to express some interest and it had been a while since I’d held a baby. One gets to thinking of them as fragile if one goes too long without touching them. Well, I do.

The baby was well-behaved, past the wrinkly stage, mostly healthy. Everything that is supposed to make babies so adorable was there. Tiny, wee fingernails? Check. Dimpled fingers and wrists and knees? Check. Instant grasp of proferred finger? Check. Deep dent in the upper lip? Check. Overlarge, luminous eyes? Check. Impromptu, trusting nap? Check.

Impulse to talk baby talk? Nope. Desire to have one of my own? Huh uh.

I was perfectly comfortable holding her. There was no fussing or crying. I recognized when she got hungry and gave her back to her mother. No relief. No regrets.

I know people who are kid-phobic. I know people who think children are the most annoying things in the world. I’m not one of those people. Kids are fine and all–for other people.

I just don’t find them interesting, aside from their being examples of human development in action. They stay dull at least until they’re verbal. I did enjoy teaching the two-year-old how to say “preposition.” They don’t get really interesting until they start to separate their identities from their parents’. Then they’re human.

Until then? Yawn. I’m glad they make my friends happy, but I have other things I’d rather do.

What Maternal Instinct?
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40 thoughts on “What Maternal Instinct?

  1. 3

    They don’t get really interesting until they start to separate their identities from their parents’. Then they’re human.

    There’s a lot to be said for the stage where they’re good company for a day in the French Quarter, comparing the booze in different bars.

    As for maternal instincts, I have an excuse.

  2. 4

    My maternal instinct used to kick in a lot, even after I realized that I wouldn’t be a good parent, I can’t stand being around unruly children, and I don’t want to give up the freedoms I enjoy being child-free. (I suppose I’m a little selfish that way.) The instinct has lessened as I’ve gotten older, but when I was in my 20s, whenever there was an infant around, I’d want to hold hir. Just for ten minutes or until ze started getting heavy. Then the instinct would fade, and I would hand the child back to the parent. Now just a peek to say, “ok, yeah, that’s a cute baby” is enough.

  3. 5

    My maternal instincts are exceptionally strong…. for animals. I have significantly more patience with a puppy or kitten that I need to bottle feed every 2 hours than I do with human babies. My coworkers try to actively distract me when someone brings in a bitty baby critter. 😛 Just because I can’t resist them, and try to steal them….

  4. 7

    I think it is very important to not have kids if you don’t want to. Trust your feelings on this one, folks. Kids are a HUGE hassle, and as was said upthread they do impinge on your freedom.. And don’t, for FSM’s sake, thing that that will end at 18. Not these days.

    To me, I would not trade all that freedom and hasslelessness for my kids and their kids. But it is really important to refrain if you don’t think you’ll feel that way about it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even if you like kids but don’t want your own that is good too. I do feel that every single member of a society has a obligation to teach any child they come into contact with. I don’t mean lectures. I mean simple things, things that have to do with what is going on. Passing on what you know is important, even if it just to show kid the flowers you are growing and tell them the names or tell them not to run up and hug every puppy they see, or yell at them for doing something deadly-stupid.

    But not wanting to have kids of your own is fine. Human being vary. Embrace that.

  5. 8

    I think everybody should work around kids enough so that before they would even think about having kids they would have some understanding of what it’s like actually dealing with a child day to day. Some people think it out on paper or read about it, but nothing lets you know what you’re getting into like actually doing it.

    I have worked with and done volunteer work with young children for quite a while but I’d never ever wanted to have kids of my own, even before I was around them more often. First off, I have no interest in being an authority figure and I hate making big decisions for other people that they would have to live with. When I’m basically a baby-sitter all of the big decisions that kids are going to be pissed at their parents for well into adulthood aren’t mine to make – I just make sure that babies get changed, kids don’t hit each other or throw things that they shouldn’t and that everybody is reasonably entertained.

  6. 9

    FWIW, my wife — who very much wanted to have kids, and now wants to have more of them than I probably do, heh — was also very phobic about holding babies before we had our own. And actually, even for a little while after our first…

    Not that this has much to do with the post, I was just saying that the experience of feeling like babies are tremendously fragile when you are under-exposed to them seems to be common both to people who want to have kids as well as those who don’t. It’s also more pronounced in some people than others: Even though I was around babies probably even less than my wife (before we had our own, of course), and did feel like they were tremendously fragile (hah!), I was at least confident to hold a relative’s baby. My wife wouldn’t even do that, even when she was like 7 months pregnant! heh…

  7. 10

    Read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature. She argues persuasively that the maternal “instinct” is no such thing, but is actually very much a social construct.

  8. 11

    Thank you for this:

    “I just don’t find them interesting, aside from their being examples of human development in action. They stay dull at least until they’re verbal.”

    I agree 100%. I have a hard time babysitting my grandkids (1 and 3) because I feel the exact same way. I really do not enjoy spending time with little kids (especially babies). Their paternal grandmother cannot get enough of them and I don’t get it.

    I’d add that some of the time they stay dull even after they are verbal.

  9. F

    I certainly have some maternal instincts, but I mostly agree with the post. I am a bit more inclined to think that children are from hell, though, which has been true since I was a wee bairn. I also don’t think children are fine for all other people in the same vein that I don’t think a lot a people are with it enough to even have a non-human animal companion.

  10. 14

    @PZ: I’ll buy that it’s MOSTLY a construct of contemporary human culture for contemporary humans, but there’s no way it’s universally a function of human culture. At the very least, it (or perhaps paternal instinct?) would have had to be a function of non-human culture (itself ontologically contested) for our evolutionary ancestors to not have simply murdered (or abandoned) the squealing, entirely-dependent offspring that resulted from the awesomeness that is sex, and immediately died off. More likely there’s a strong (VERY, VERY strong) biological predisposition to some sort parental/nurturing behavior (not necessarily primarily found in or exclusive to females – however one wants to define ‘female’ – though I find it more likely simply because only maternity is definite, barring recent technological interventions) that has been culturally constructed as what we now call ‘maternal instinct’. Obviously not everyone has it, but as e.g. anorexia nervosa demonstrates, it’s entirely possible to socialize people away from even the most fundamental survival ‘instincts’.

    Wow, I never thought I’d be on the side of arguing for essentialism in anything, but the exclusively-cultural construction of a necessary survival impulse is absurd on its face, like saying that hunger is a social construct (again, our understandings of hunger and how we act on it are the results of cultural lenses, but hunger is a genetically-dictated and biologically-mediated feeling).

  11. 15

    Read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature. She argues persuasively that the maternal “instinct” is no such thing, but is actually very much a social construct.

    I absolutely believe her.
    There’s no such fucking thing.
    There’s basic human instinct to nurse and protect helpless babies and such, if there weren’t probably none of the critters would survive their first year.*
    There might not be much good eating on a 6 week old, but the rest you get afterwards!
    I love children (generically speaking. And I think they are mostly too young to actually be assholes). I always wanted to have some. Being a parent is a wonderfull and great experience for me, I am privileged to play a very important role in the lives of two wonderfull people.
    That’s me, my decission, my life.
    It’s a decission that needs to be made carefully and I would never ever suggest that anybody who doesn’t want children to have some because of “nature”.
    Oh, and having had the maximum amount of babies I wanted, I still enjoy watching them, even holding them, and then handing them back and thinking about the sleep I will get that night. There’s no “squeee, maybe one more?”

    Maternal instinc also doesn’t exist when mothers claim to “know” that there’s something up with their children.
    There is caregiver experience, meaning that I can interprete their verbal and nonverbal communication much better than anybody else. My eldest has a facial expression that most people interprete as “frightened and about to cry”. I know it’s the facial equivalent of the little hourglass on your computer screen that tells you that work is in progress and that all resources are being used right now so don’t bother me.

    * I imagine that, had a loud boom happened, Stephanie would have instinctively shielded the baby in her arms, as would have done any other person in that room or in this discussion. I have a hard time imagining that anybody would have dropped her.

  12. 17

    Giliell wins her bet. I was babysitting once as a teenager, carrying the baby, not wearing socks. The kitchen floor was slippery. I landed flat on my back and banged my head on the floor because there was no way I was letting go of the baby with even one hand to break my fall.

  13. 20

    I love kids in the post-diaper, 3- to about 10-year-old stage. Where everything is just so damned interesting to them, and you get to share their wonder.

    I remember doing a “first day of kindergarten” story for the newspaper I worked for back in the Stone Age, and there was this adorable 5-year-old who just couldn’t wait to show his mother the “turkey” drawing he made on a paper plate using his hand as a stencil. Damn, he was soooooo excited.

    Just this evening, I was taking my evening walk on a path that parallels a stream. Outbound, I noticed two girls (maybe 7 or 8) playing around the stream. When I came back around on the return trip, they had a container that had something inside it. A salamander! They were really happy they caught one. I’m guessing mom will be slightly less enthused, but I was not about to spoil their fun.

    It’s only when they become jaded — that tween/teen age — that they lose interest for me.

  14. F

    I don’t immediately notice anything John said (simply the fact he said it?) which isn’t consistent with Giliell points out. “Maternal Instinct” as a phrase bandied about most often carries the social construct baggage, but there is the “Duh, protect and feed (and nurture/teach – which may be a reaction to baby learning behavior) your offspring” drive, whether that should be called an instinct or biological process or what have you.

    I could be wrong because I’m not psychic, but I am capable of parsing and understanding things incorrectly.

  15. 25

    @Giliell #16 I am not arguing you should talk baby talk but I am mostly asking out of curiosity by baby talk do you mean “using a higher pitch and baby-like pronunciation of words” or do you mean “using a higher pitch while otherwise speaking normally”. I have seen baby talk used to define both and my experience is that speaking in a higher pitch toward babies aids in helping the baby to bond and feel more trust toward you.

    Personally I when I spoke to my own children for play purposes, I would sometimes use silly nonsensical phrases (not nonsense words like goo or whatever) and heavy repetition (they seemed to love knowing what would come next). When I spoke to them in a non play manner I was pretty adult in my phrasing. I am not going to argue though that the communication skills of my children are significantly higher than their peers because of something Jarreg and I did because I am sure biology had a role. I really have no clue what caused both my children to be such strong communicators. If it was us, then I am sure it is because they saw Jarreg and I speak a ton to each other. We are not a silent family. It is entirely possible that they are both just genetically predisposed to strong communication skills though.

    Now on topic. I have no clue whether the maternal instinct built in somewhat or entirely culturally imposed but mine kicked in overdrive after my first miscarriage. From that point on I watched every baby show and read every baby magazine. Even after having two kids and a tubal ligation, I have to remind myself that two really is plenty and pregnancy wasn’t as fun as I remember it to be.

    Even still I get no huge thrill out of just holding random babies. I prefer those I can interact with.

  16. 26

    By baby talk I mean this “googoo-adda-adda” nonsense many adults use when adressing babies in an imitation of the sounds they make.
    Or using “babywords” for certain things (in German, some people go “adda” instead for a walk with their kids).
    And I utterly despise that.
    Well, yes, I use a different tone and words when talking to babies, like speaking softly, with a smile, using simple words and repeating myself often.
    I sing a lot and recite nursery rhymes.
    Sure, my kids got a lucky draw in the genetic lottery with good numbers to choose from in the beginning, but they also got lots of input.
    When our youngest’s 2 year old check up was due, we also took a look at the “checklists”. She should have been able to say 50 words in hopefully 2 word sentences. We did a quick count and came to the conclusion that she could tell the difference between 60-70 animals.
    I know that sounds a lot like bragging, but the point is: not all parents care to show their kids those animals, whether in a zoo, book or TV.

    Now back to the maternal instinct, I hate the word and concept.
    Because it usually doesn’t mean “basic biological instinct in humans to nurse and protect babies”.
    It presupposes things about women as a group, it privileges mothers over father and it proclaims different ways of “knowing” not accessible to other people. Which means that therefore mothers must be with their children because of the horrors imagine the little ones being with somebody who doesn’t have this magical connection!
    In short: patriarchal, misogynistic bullshit.

  17. 27

    @John Horstman:

    That isn’t essentialism, John. As just about any evolutionary psychologist will argue, complex sets of behaviors like “caring for children” have a lot of variability not because they have no adaptive basis, but rather because they result from the interaction of many cognitive biases that have been adaptive. “Maternal instinct” is clearly a mistaken concept because it’s too macro, too variable and too socially mediated — but that doesn’t imply that low-level traits with statistical sex differences don’t interact developmentally to produce different distributions between men and women in the nurturing of children at various ages.

    One problem we face in thinking intuitively about women’s and men’s attitudes toward child rearing precisely that women tend to do more and see other women doing more. So, even if it turns up in a survey that men tend to have equal or more positive attitudes toward the nurturing of children, this in no way disproves the hypothesis that women tend to be more predisposed to it. The uncontrolled data would likely simply reflect the phenomenon that doing something (or thinking about it or chatting about it) for very long hours makes you like it less.

  18. Pen

    Read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature. She argues persuasively that the maternal “instinct” is no such thing, but is actually very much a social construct.

    This book was amazing! I totally recommend it. From personal experience, I had nothing I would call a maternal instinct until I had a child and no particular vocation for parenthood, but my husband did, so voila. At her birth the world changed shape, specifically it turned into a shape where the only thing that mattered was that child. Any other poor sucker trying to get my attention was way out of luck for some years. During that time, I could understand how incredibly special babies are. Years passed, the ‘baby’ grew up and became more independent and the world gradually returned to its regular shape. Now I’m back to thinking: babies, myea, whatever. I’ve known parents of both sexes admit the same thing, and others who, no matter what their expectations and desires,took a long time to develop strong feelings for their particular offspring.

  19. 29

    In my experience (since I can’t speak for anyone elses :-)) maternal instinct is the backlash reflex against terror that you will be responsible for that child coming to harm!

    In basic terms – maternal instinct = the parental instincts of the mother. Differentiated from paternal by the fact that males and females typically have different amounts of specific hormones. So paternal instinct is definately different.

    No amount of social pressure gave my dad anywhere NEAR the parental concern he should have exhibited. And not even close to the instinctive behaviours of my mother (wow, spelling gone all to heck here…)

    My own children elicit different instinctive reactions from me than other children do. I can handle cleaning up bodily processes from them in a businesslike way, but I have gagged when doing the same for my numerous nieces and nephews. Handling spit-up and poo-splosions is Not a social construct!!

    I’m a mom of two, both are alive and healthy, performing well developmentally, and excelling in a few areas. That makes me an expert mom, as far as I’m concerned 🙂 There is enormous pressure on parents to be ‘the right kind’ of parents, and when I finish my next cup of coffee, I’ll even consider raising the bar around here. Without reading ‘mother nature’ (damn you all, now I probably will) i’m going to table my agreement re: maternal instinct as

    social construct. Some people don’t have a strong parental instinct, some do. Child-rearing and family dynamics tend to work out more smoothly when both parents have similar parental instincts, so it’s totally something to talk about when you partner up with another, because one parent stressing over the other’s parental indifference is hell on the relationship.

    Er, that’s about $.25 cents worth…rather than the two I’d intended…..sorry 😉

  20. AMM

    As the father of two boys who I am still in love with, I’ll agree with those who say: if you don’t want kids, for Dog’s sake don’t have any! It’s harder than anything anybody who hasn’t had them can imagine.

    I’d vote for maternal and paternal “instinct” being largely a product of social expectations, with some inborn component, though it would be interesting to see what aspects have an inborn component. For instance, the “aw cute!” response probably has some inborn basis (which probably isn’t sex-based), since it seems to apply to pretty much anything that is around the size of a baby, has big eyes, and looks at you — kittens, paintings of big-eyed waifs, koala bears, teddy bears, etc.

    On the other hand, my fatherly reaction to any baby crying — the feeling that I just _have_ to do something — didn’t kick in until my first child was born. I kind of doubt this was biological.

  21. 31

    @ 26. Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    I have a background in linguistics, particularly in translation and comparative languages, and two bilingual children, who will hopefully want to learn more languages of their own volition in time. I myself am a tri-lingual and have interacted with small children learning their first language in both Danish, German and English – and my own who have been and are working on Danish and English at the same time.

    While your point of view on baby talk is shared by many, there is actually lots of scientific studies that the language adults use with children who are learning their first language(s) is highly structured and uniform in a given language and that the changes we make to our sentenses support language acquisition. This includes the higher pitch which has been shown to work better for the way little kids hear. Even the sounds you mention that are not actual words, are language specific and do help children to learn the motor skills they need to form words in their particular language. So, while it may seem like non-sense it is not, it is training. You could liken it to an athlete doing strength training or cardio training, which is not directly practicing that person’s sport of choice, but will help the athlete perform better in that sport. One piece of supporting evidence is that the order in which words are learned is dependent on both their usefulness and on how difficult they are to articulate for the child.

    So, I had read all that in college and thought it was neat, experienced it a little when I went to Germany for a semester and the neighbors had a little girl. But it probably wasn’t until I had my own kids that I have experienced just how much this is true. It is probably easier to see when I can compare my two kids trying their hands at their languages. It was clear to me even when they were still babling that there was English babling and Danish babling. And it is still clear that they are playing with the sounds, trying them out in both language systems and so on.

    Bilingual kids have a first phase of using words where they only have one word for each object/concept instead of two words, one from each language. As their vocabularies grow in both languages they have words in both languages, but in the beginning they learn one word for each thing. What happens is that if a word is difficult to say in one of the languages, the kid will keep using the easy word in both languages, even after they have separated the languages and are speaking one or the other at a time. For my oldest the english word “boots” was much easier than the danish word for boots, and so she used the english word even in her Danish for quite a while.

    So, all this just to say that simply training the sounds of a language has it’s place, every kid does it and there is evidence that doing it with an adult is beneficial for language development, just like interaction around other things the little kid needs to learn is beneficial.

    Anyway, your kids are your kids, you do what you like, obviously they will learn to talk whether you personally bable or not, as you say, the important thing is that they experience all the things words can do and how to use them. Raising kids with input from two different sets of well qualified and well meaning families (and health care professionals and child development professionals, etc.) if my husband and I have learned anything, it is that most of what we do when raising kids is so embedded in our culture that there cannot possibly be one true way to raise children the best, and you need to make choices based on your children and their best interests, and based on you and what you bring to the table that they can benefit from.

  22. 32

    Neither Mrs. Miasma or I wanted children when we got married in 2003. Said repeatedly that we’d NEVER have children. Got abortions when we got pregnant before and after marriage.

    But then, as our love got stronger and stronger, we got to a point where we both changed our minds, and pretty much at the same time.

    Now we have a 14 month old girl named Lyra, and my wife and I have never been more in love than with her. And, when it’s yours, made from absolute love and was intended and purposeful, and made as an expression of the love you share with another human being in this world, there’s nothing more interesting to watch. I mean, her sitting there fidgeting with a book, or watching her face of awe as she watches a hubble shot of a galaxy cluster, or when she’s trying to figure out how to balance on her feet, and then how to move on her feet, and then how to take a step, and then how to walk…

    Maybe it’s because I’ve never been more in love, but she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And 2.5 years ago I would’ve said that’s all stupid and I’ll never have children. But isn’t it great that we have the freedom to make our own families exactly what’s right for us, whatever that is. I just wish we made “no kids” easier for people to have, and that (as a culture) recognized that people in love make that choice everyday, and that is not a bad thing, and should be able to make permanant biological changes if they so choose (I couldn’t find a dr that would do it for me cause we didn’t have a minimum of 2 kids – so I wonder if I can find one for me now, since we only want the one kiddo).

  23. 33

    On maternal instinct, biology and evolution isn’t something I really know a lot about, but I have studied developmental psychology and sociology, plus I’ve worked with kids.

    From my own experience, if someone told me that ‘women are just more nurturing towards children than men are likely to be’ I don’t think I’d agree. Women have normally gotten stuck with that job and men have been *taught* that it’s women’s work, but I see plenty of men who seem to do really well with babies and young kids and I know plenty of women who seem to lack a lot of patience for children, though part of this might be that if you’re stuck with your kids most of the time with no other adult around, they’re probably more frustrating to you than they would be to a male partner who sees the kids after he comes home from work.

    There’s probably some biological drive to care for children, but I think a great deal is learned.

    I mean, despite not having kids I am rarely stressed out around kids but if I hear a baby cry, I don’t panic but I feel a strong instinct to do something to fix the problem, and I tend to respond very fast to any sign of child distress. I actually tend to get a bit anxious in public when someone else seems to be ignoring a child or not reacting as quickly or as calmly as I would. I kind of freak out when I see people do things that I know aren’t a good idea – once I saw a man fill a bottle with soda and give it to a baby who had to be under 8 months and I really had a hard time not reacting visibly to that.

  24. 34

    There most certainly are maternal instincts, also paternal, also adult with respect to infants, the language example above is very good. The most important instincts are those which deal with the most difficult times, not the easy times. Which “instincts” get expressed are extremely context dependent. What is adaptive in one context can be maladaptive in another context and the behaviors that occur spontaneously are different.

    What is the Moro reflex for?


    For those who don’t know what it is, when a newborn infant experiences free fall, even for a few inches, the infant splays out its hands and legs. I presume this reflex derives from when our ancestors lived in trees, and to fall to the forest floor was not a good thing. I suspect there is a matching adult reflex to reach out and try and grab a falling infant exhibiting a Moro reflex.

    What are traditionally called “maternal instincts” are sometimes misnamed. The desire to nurture and care for infants is often called “maternal instinct”, but I think there is an even more important “maternal instinct”, the compulsion to do the opposite of nurture and care for infants. I discuss this in my blog on acute psychosis (warning extremely disturbing material, trigger warning).


    Lactation is extremely energy intensive. What is a nursing mammalian mother to do if she does not have the metabolic resources to sustain lactation until her infant is weaned? In “the wild”, if a mother did not have enough milk of sufficient nutritive quality to sustain her infant, the infant died.

    The only “maternal instincts” there can be, are those that allowed human ancestors to be successful mothers. To be a successful mother requires getting pregnant at the right time, having the metabolic resources to sustain the pregnancy, successfully deliver a living infant, successfully nurse that infant until that infant is weaned, successfully raise that infant until it is able to take care of itself and for that child to eventually become a parent. If that chain of development cannot be sustained, then the infant dies and the only chance at successful reproduction is to start the process over.

    If the chain is going to be broken, it is advantageous to break the chain as quickly as possible and start over. Early pregnancy has very little metabolic cost.

    I consider an instinct to not become a mother if the conditions are not sufficiently optimal to be the most compelling maternal instinct. Like all instincts and traits, evolution has minimized the sum of non-reproduction from too much of the trait (from waiting too long), and from too little (from getting pregnant when conditions were insufficient to sustain and wean an infant).

  25. 35

    Kids are kinda fun to watch, as they start to turn into little people. But really, those first 18 years? They’re “people-in-training”.

  26. 36

    I can only cite my own experience. Other people’s kids? Cuddle a moment and pass them back, preferable before some major wardrobe destruction. My own? Absolutely the most adorable, smartest, cutest, most well-behaved, cuddliest, most fascinating in the entire universe. Every first event in their lives rocked the world. Of course by the third it was getting old hat, but that may have been sleep deprivation, or an abusive marriage, or …

    As to becoming human, I’m still working on it for me, and trust the kids are for themselves as well, along with the grandchildren. Want another? Only the kind to hold a few minutes and hand back, or visit in the company of their parents who hopefully have the same behavioral standards and expectations I do/did. Any maternal instinct wore itself out after helping raise the first grandchild.

  27. 37

    Stephanie, there is some data that indicates that what are called maternal behaviors are instinctive and not generated culturally.

    If you look at Harlow’s Motherless Monkeys.


    Monkeys who became pregnant with no social experience were terrible (and often abusive) first time mothers, but they got better with each subsequent pregnancy. The degree of improvement depended on the duration of time they spent with the infant in the prior pregnancy.

    It only took brief periods of contact over a couple of days for the next pregnancy to be followed by adequate mothering. This data falsifies the hypothesis that the mothering was learned because there was no exposure to mothers exhibiting competent mothering.

    Mothering behaviors are extremely important. No mammalian species without mothering behaviors exists. I suspect that contact with an infant in the postpartum period entrains neurodevelopment that generates the neuroanatomy to instantiate nurturing-type mothering behaviors. Maternal bonding is inhibited when nitric oxide synthase is inhibited (in ewes).

    I think what this also demonstrates is that there are two types of instinctive mothering behaviors, the abusive type (also observed in virgin mice), and the nurturing type. There has to be a “switch” to trigger nurturing type behaviors. I am pretty sure that inhibition of that transition is what stress in the postpartum period does. Stress is a low NO state, so low NO could inhibit the transition (as observed in ewes).

    I think that how a woman feels about children before she becomes a mother is not always a reliable indicator as to how she would feel after giving birth. But if she feels depressed or abusive in the postpartum period, she needs help ASAP.

  28. 38


    Anyway, your kids are your kids, you do what you like, obviously they will learn to talk whether you personally bable or not, as you say, the important thing is that they experience all the things words can do and how to use them.

    So they themselves bable anyway. So, why on earth should I do it and give my kid false data?
    Why should I teach them that it’s a “woof-woof” instead of a dog?
    Why should I make life harder for them by giving them a fake word that probably other people don’t understand and leave them puzzled when people talk about “dogs”?
    Yes, if they have difficulties pronouncing a word they’ll try something more simple, have an invented word for it.
    That’s not going to change if adults then stop using the correct word (or never did in the first place).
    My second child created the unforgettable “elebear”. She could say “bear” and then wanted to say elephant but couldn’t wrap her tongue around the fricative. So she’d start out with “ele-“, try it and finally, with a kind of angry frustration, burst out “bear”. That lasted for a few weeks and then she proudly told us “elephant”.
    She encountered an obstacle, worked on it and succeeded!
    BTW, Germans have notorious difficulties when it comes telling rabbits from hares. My personal hypothesis is that this might lie in the difficulty of the word “Kaninchen”, so adults use “Hase” when talking to kids.
    Ask kindergarten teachers how much they struggle with 3, 4, 5 yo who go “dada”, eat “nomnom” instead of food, have a “meow” at home and so on. And I can only imagine how the child must feel who’s getting laughed at by the other kids for using language they thought to be normal and standard.


    Kids are kinda fun to watch, as they start to turn into little people. But really, those first 18 years? They’re “people-in-training”.

    Please stop that.
    They are not any less people than you or me. Yes, they’re not like neurotypical adults, but so are not neurotypical adults.
    And it’s that “children aren’t really people” attitude that allows people like the Pearls and Dobson to promote their child abuse, because society still thinks it permissible to do things to children which we wouldn’t support when done to adults.
    I can tell you, there’s not much difference between the state of mind of my kids and my grandma, yet if I wrote a book “how to train up your senile grandma” there’d be a public outburst.

    I think that how a woman feels about children before she becomes a mother is not always a reliable indicator as to how she would feel after giving birth. But if she feels depressed or abusive in the postpartum period, she needs help ASAP.

    What actually makes a difference is knowing about postpartum depression and “baby blues”.
    Women who know that hormones will plunge you into severe unhappieness some days after birth can deal with it much better than women who don’t and who experience a severe discrepancy between how they should feel, i.e. happier than ever before, and their actual state of mind.
    They often engage in a vicious circle there and then, thinking that they’re bad mothers, becoming more unhappy, becoming unhappy with their children, getting more depressed, experience more tension and so on.
    Actually, women know pretty little about children and childraising. We don’t know how to “give birth” any more than we know how to sneeze. We don’t even know how to breastfeed correctly so we won’t get mastitis and stuff.

  29. 39


    I think I understand your reasoning, you want to achieve a result, i.e. proper pronunciation and the right word choices, so that you child achieves the ability to communicate well. You see a direct route that your kids can take and see babling or substituting words as a detour that will just take up time and effort and not lead to your desired result or might lead them in the wrong direction. Am I right in my understanding?

    What I’m trying to communicate to you is that there are actually other outcomes of taking that detour that are beneficial, and that while it may seem like the long way to the destination, it will end up at the same destination and with a deeper skill set. I would argue that if language was the only thing the child was developing, then babling back to it and supporting the building of the motorskills used to make sounds and the building of connections between the brain processing the language and the ears and vocal cords would be the only course of action that would be rationally supported. It has been shown that these activities are beneficial to the child in scientific studies, and so, there is no reason I can come up with not to do it.

    However, language is never the only thing a child is working on learning. There is learning to eat, and dress, and so much more going on, and none of us can possibly teach our children everything that would be worth learning. So we choose, and we focus on areas that we think are valuable and that we are able to teach, and we assume that if we give them a good basic view of the world and the skills to learn then they will be able to grow into their own personality and find out what interests them. As a language person I see value in acquiring a deep skill set in language and later being able to use that ability, as I did for example when I learned German. I see language as a system for viewing the world which has allowed me to expand my horizons and I want to offer that to my children. Other people might focus on whatever their interest are, math, music, classic cars, whatever. Each area of interest or skill set offers the posibility to learn a little or a lot, and it will basically equate to the same: giving your children an example of how to delve into an interest or a skill set and enrich your life through the subject and the people who are also involved.

    I want to address your point about children who are using language that is inappropriate to their age. Unless a child has been brought up in an outright neglectful situation, then that is not happening because the child has been spoken to in baby words or sounds. There may be parents who are so in love with having a baby that they actually interfere with the child becoming independent, but this has nothing to do with baby talk, this will manifest in every aspect of the childs life, probably social skills over all, skills like getting dressed, potty training etc. I have certainly heard teachers complaining about kids who cannot take care of themselves at age level, around here in the US (I live in the midwest), the complaints are often that they have not gone to any kind of group day care or preschool and don’t know how to function in a group, take turns, and so on.

    Children know how to push our buttons. If a kid knows that speaking like a baby will make the adult react, the kid will use it. How many kids have reverted to behaviours they are much too old for when they get a little brother or sister? How many kids will pretend to be smaller and more needy to get something they want? And talking like a baby is just one of the ways a kid can do that. It has nothing to do with babling or baby talk, it’s a social strategy that the kid uses, sometimes with success, and sometimes not, if the adults know how to handle it.

    The last thing I would like to say is, that when I read your posts I get a strong sense that you value rational behavior and thought, that you are a “no non-sense” kind of person. I appreciate that, because in some ways I am like that too. What I don’t appreciate is, that you seem to dismiss what I say as irrational and it seems like a judgement rather than an exchange of information and opinions.

    My original intent in responding to you was to offer you some information, because I think you are making a judgement about how kids learn language and how adults can or should help them do that with out knowing all the facts. I see no reason why every person should know things about language acquisition, or should value it like I do, but I do think that one should be vary of offering judgement without considering how much one knows or doesn’t know about a subject. I have met people in my life who think like you, and who are quite rude in their assertion that baby talk is useless and wrong. It is neither.

    You may choose not to use baby talk or sounds and I don’t think it will be terrible for your child. Just like I choose to serve reasonably healthy food for my kids but don’t have strong opinions about it in any particular way, while others are adamant about making sure their children have nothing but organic, super healthy meals. I don’t think I have any right to judge them or they me, and I don’t claim that I couldn’t do better, I just happen to make a choice not to and to value other things I can do for my kids. And as long as my kids are not overweight or otherwise hampered in their development by my choice in foods, then I think judgement is not required and is actually rude. I am open to information, not to judgements. Hence my words, that you can baby talk or not, that is not per se a problem, but I don’t think you have a right to judge it when others do, after all, the science says it is beneficial, not as you assert detrimental to the child’s language development.

    I hope I understood your point and was able to make you see my point of view.


  30. 40


    What I don’t appreciate is, that you seem to dismiss what I say as irrational and it seems like a judgement rather than an exchange of information and opinions.

    You know what I don’t appreciate? That you arrogantly act like you’re the only person here who speaks multiple languages, and who has a background in linguistics and language acquisition.
    You are making pretty bold claims, namely that:

    What I’m trying to communicate to you is that there are actually other outcomes of taking that detour that are beneficial, and that while it may seem like the long way to the destination, it will end up at the same destination and with a deeper skill set.

    Sadly, the literature I have at hand doesn’t mention that, so if you wnat to substantiate your claim, you need to come up with more than “it’s been proven”.
    Espcially since you’re talking about nuances in a horribly difficult subject to research given the broad variation in language development.
    How does that deeper skill-set manifest?

    I see no reason why every person should know things about language acquisition, or should value it like I do, but I do think that one should be vary of offering judgement without considering how much one knows or doesn’t know about a subject.


    I have met people in my life who think like you, and who are quite rude in their assertion that baby talk is useless and wrong. It is neither.

    I said it’s useless
    Tell me, by what mechanism does the child magically end up with deeper language skills if I teach them that it’s a woof-woof and a meow-meow and a mooh-mooh instead of telling them that it’s a dog and it goes woof-woof?

    You know, all your “oh, sure, you know best what to do for your child, it’s reasonable, sure, and sure they’ll learn” stuff would actually go down better if you weren’t so terribly smug.
    You call me rude?
    I tell you, you might word it more politely, but you’re not less rude.
    Try talking down to people less, you might find them less rude.

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