Evolution of Maternity

Maternal ambition and infant needs are evolutionarily inseparable. The status that a mother attains is directly correlated to the survival of her offspring. In Pleistocene families, this meant exclusive access to food and water, as well as protection from predators by close kin. Mothers that had no family or men to provide for them had much less of a chance in rearing their offspring to adulthood.
Much of what we know about attachment relationships comes from research in primatology. In the case of Flo, the chimpanzee mother studied in the Kasakela chimpanzee community in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, the high status she held among her competitors is apparent in her reproductive success and the inherited status of her children. In primates where male infanticide is present, high status females have a better chance of thwarting aggressive males than females with no support. Territoriality is a key factor in primate status correlation to successful maternity. Having a more or less permanent territory that one is familiar with is an inextricable safeguard to predation. High status females among primates are able to retain a territory where they live among supportive kin and have extensive knowledge of their surroundings, an important factor in avoiding predation.
From dusk till dawn is when infants are at their most vulnerable. Diurnal creatures like primates spend long hours of the night watching and waiting for predators. Status is like a protective shield against famine and predation among primates, so maternal ambition and infant survival are crucially linked to our evolutionary heritage.
Modern women face very conflicting goals in today’s fast-paced environment. The positive correlation between maternal ambition and infant needs was the case throughout evolutionary history. Today however, maternal ambition to earn high status is completely incompatible with the infants needs. The relationship between maternal ambition and infant needs in the modern world has effectively reversed itself. Women who desire high professional status must make a trade-off for less time spent raising their child. Money is the new form of currency in terms of fitness or survival value. Professional status and money are great, of course, but nothing can take the place of round-the-clock infant care.
Women today face the dilemma to go with their primal instincts to stay home and nurse their baby 24 hours a day until weaning, or passing on those duties to an alloparent. This is often a very difficult moral issue that can directly affect the attachment style that develops between a mother and her infant.

Hrdy, Sarah B. Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species. New York: Ballantine, 1999.
~ Josh Bently


~ by jdbently on October 4, 2009.

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