There is No Motherly Instinct

Definition of Instinct by Merriam-Webster

1 : a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity <had an instinct for the right word> 2a : a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason b : behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level.

One of my first college classes was Psychology 101.  I needed the course as a core requirement.  In hindsight, I probably should have continued on and maybe … just maybe I wouldn’t be the basket case that I am today. Pftt! Bull sH!t.  I’d still be a hot mess.  Notice I said “hot” maybe that is part of my grandiose disorder whereby I think I’m all that and a bag of chips.  But the lady doth protest too much, me thinks.  I think the opposite … I believe I am a lost cause and I FEAR I have passed that trait along.  Funny side bar rabbit hole … in Shakespeare’s time, protest meant to make a solemn affirmation (not denial).  Here the use is the modern classic denial.  Hello, I am J-dub and I have oh so many problems.

Back to instinct, in particular that of the motherly persuasion … my professor in PSYCH 101, the affable AD Mackensie, put forth the notion that motherly instinct does NOT exist!  What the what ?!?!?  That is blasphemy!  The class believed motherly instinct was the CORE of civilization.  Our classroom debate became animated!  As students tossed out examples, to each one he countered.  No he shut us down!

His point was simple.  If motherly instinct was in fact true, there’d be no child abuse.  All mothers would be instinctively perfect. “You see” he told the class “the conscious level and more complex thinking actually makes what we call motherly instincts are really learned behaviors.  Running from a predator is an instinct.  Raising a child has too many conscious actions to be called instinctive.”

Hmmmm???  Pause for effect …

To me, forever obsessively thinking, I could see his point and I was momentarily silenced.  His power position over me, had de nada to do with my quick acceptance of his suggestion though this change of all that I held true would become a theme with me and the various professors that I liked.  Easily persuaded much?  Why yes, yes J-Dub was easily persuaded.  Mind you, I had not yet become a mother which allowed me to be open to the idea.   I thought “could it be?”  To me, no motherly instinct seemed quite logical.

Which brings me to today.  My motherly instinct is kicking into overdrive.  I am physically sick with worry.  I dreamt about Lulu last night after a day back and forth with fraught texts messages.  One quick phone call but mainly, “I’d rather not talk but can you stay with me by text”.  This even as she was in the company of other people.  At least I do not think she was alone.  Always hard to tell.  Last night I even texted her the Beach Boys Kokomo and Bing Crosby’s Swinging on a Star by which I used to sing her to sleep.

I woke up with Cyndi Lauper’s time after time playing on a loop in my brain.  I realize the song is about lovers but could the song also be about relationships in general?  This part in particular:

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time

Sadly,  I can’t catch her EVERY time.  “I fall behind.  The second-hand unwinds.” I can’t control circumstances.  My choices are only my own.  She has her OWN choices to make while I helplessly watch.  I am prepared for the worst!  Hoping beyond hope that the worst never comes to fruition.  And then, in a flash of brilliance (there goes my self-diagnosed grandiose disorder again!) I have come to the formidable conclusion that there is no worst case scenario. There is but scenario.  And thankfully we have the POWER to choose how we deal.

If you have read this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.  Feedback is the gift I most crave.  I miss the spirited dialog of being a student.  For all those teachers out there, know you are worth more than gold.  A precious, precious commodity with the privilege to mold and shape those of us willing to learn.  And for that I give my most sincere thanks!!!!

As always, more to come.

34 thoughts on “There is No Motherly Instinct

  1. I love your thoughts and perspective on this subject. As mothers, we are destined to always worry about our children. We can only hope that we have instilled in them enough reason for them to walk the right path. However, as they get older, they have to make their own choices, good and bad. It is hard to sit by watching them make decisions that aren’t so good, but sometimes “live and learn” is an approach that will help them see their own light. I figure that from the day my first one was born, I was destined to worry and remain a watch dog about my children. Like you said, time after time….we are always loving our children, no matter what. XO

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oooh…thought provoking. I loved Psych 101…Stats however…seriously, why does math always have to crash the party and ruin everything? I believe there is a mother’s instinct to love. How we do that of course differs. We all have different ways of expressing it. Just ask my husband lol (He’s never dressed up in French maids costume for me…but I digress).
    Then, of course there are all the times where we go against our instincts due to past experiences. I’m confused about the predator example. Is it instinct? Or are we taught who our predators are…and how to evade them. The Opossum doesn’t run, preferring to play dead. Which is probably my best chance, because I’m horribly out of shape and don’t really stand a chance in any sort of race for survival 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I think about it, the prof’s predator example isn’t that good. Predatotory behavior may be learned. The nature vs nurture debate may never be solved. I speculate that there are no absolutes and the truth is somewhere in between. Ultimately we choose how we want to live and be. I’m struggling and trying to make better motherly choices. And I’m more opossum myself 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So glad Eric featured you and I came over to read. What a great post! The watching helplessly while they make their own decisions… I so hear you. And we hope that they make the right one, hoping they would listen, knowing that sometimes they will not (just because…) and keeping our fingers crossed that things still turn out right…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad I found you! (so nice of StomperDad to feature us!) Anyway. I hear you on ‘mothering’. I don’t know how old your Lulu is, but mine (whom I call The Child for privacy’s sake — hers, not mine!) is soon to be 26, and I’m always sick with worry. Maybe I’ll try texting her some of your song lyrics. Worth a shot! (especially like the quotes from ‘Time After Time’). Hang in there! xoxoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lulu is a pseudonym. She’s only 19. I used actual names at the very beginning and then I read a book by Jenny Lawson and I changed to pseudonyms. Which reminds me I should probably go in and update all of those former posts.

      The hubs says we text too much and that I should pick up the phone to talk then we wouldn’t have all this drama. Part of me thinks he’s right. But part of me is just stubborn. So I text her lullabies and have many sleepless nights. She is in school, only a 2 hour drive from me but she might as well live on another continent. I’m hanging in there, by a thread most days. Our oldest is about to turn 29 and with him it was so easy. Sure I worried about stuff but not nearly the same degree. I’d hate to think I’m sexist and it’s a boy girl thing … it’s really not gender specific. He’s just a different kid. He’s tough and she’s fragile. Oh well, this too shall pass.

      I’m glad I found you too. Have a wonderful evening!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t know about instincts, but I believe every great parent will always worry about their children. As you know, one of my daughters will be married four years in just a few days and we still worry about her! My other daughter is dealing with graduating from college and finding a real job… pure panic! But yeah, we still all her down from anxious moments.
    Any great parent is always going to stand behind their child(ren). You are not alone there; nor will our children be! Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks tdize!! I’m not worried about the older one. He is very easily adaptable. But Lulu has a sensitive side that’s breakable. It’s hard to stand behind from miles away when she won’t talk. So and wait and hope I’m ready when/if the time comes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah the children 🙂 what a great gift and yet one of the biggest worry, stress induced gift(for me the biggest thing I worried about) I use to say to parents who, like us, worry, see the outcomes etc, when their kids where teens, that your teen is grown and know everything, and if you don’t believe me just ask them. We are the parents, the dinosaurs, it’s not our fault we have the archaic views, or better yet, not our faults we are stupid or misinformed, we are from a different time, different technology, you know the spiel. Heck, my son said they actually taught them that in school.

    I finally, and this was when my son got to his early 20’s, realized that, he has free will to do whatever he wants, make all the mistakes he wants, fall down all he wants. It has nothing to do with me or the way I raised him. My childhood was shit(for lack of a better word lol) Yet, all the choices I made were mine, I could blame my parents but the reality is, I did what I wanted to do, choice after choice it was mine, therefor the responsibility, blame, whatever was mine. I had to learn to apply that same outlook for my son.

    I love him more than the world, I will, and would do anything for him. BUT whatever the outcome is, it is his outcome. The rest is just stealing my joy. And if I’m all worked up worrying about what might be, when he needs me, I’m so worked up I can’t be effective.
    Remember, if they get into a situation, Mom, you will be the first person they call 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read a sign once that said “worry does nothing for tomorrow’s woes but it takes away today’s peace”. I’m trying not to worry and thankfully many of my anti anxiety tricks are working. Thanks for reading and I appreciate your feedback.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Awe! Thanks! My oldest is 28 and I never worried about him in the way I do with his little sister. They are so different. I know she is stronger than I give her credit for and she’ll be okay. At least I hope and pray she’ll be okay.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Praying she will be ok too. You know, you will be the first one she calls if she needs something. I don’t just mean toilet paper 🙂 but if she feels anything isn’t right, you will be the first call she makes.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m confident that you are open to what I share….my brain is too tired to speak to theories, but I can say that I love the song, “Time After Time”…it’s one of my all time favourites (as is Cyndi Lauper)….I, too, get song loops in my head…as for the many endings you write for your daughter, my heart goes out to you….I know how hard it is to worry about my own future on a day like today (a culmination of several recent ones…one good day, three rough, the feeling-better-days followed by more grey days…the sense that this seems to be a pattern that isn’t going away any time soon). However, I know that my thoughts can make all the difference….and, I just need to quit fighting so hard…I need to acknowledge that things suck right now and that will give me room to let the strain fall away…denying it, trying to speed it up, and trying to smile it away is taking more effort than its worth….at this point, I have to sit with it a while, then sleep…self compassion and not pressuring myself should help a great deal…also, I, too, miss the stimulation inherent in educational pursuits….we have much in common…I’m grateful for our connection….your post is just awesome, as are you…thanks for sharing and allowing me to share 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lots of love Truly! Your feedback is a gift! I’m learning self compassion yet fall back into easy familiar patterns of grin and bear it. The guilt is what’s overwhelming. Would’ve could’ve should’ve. Today is pins and needles waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve distracted myself quite a bit though and that has helped. No urgent fraught texts. So far so good and hope I don’t jinx it.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Ooh, I like this… very thought provoking. I would say that yes, absolutely, motherly instinct exists. To the professor’s posit of child abuse, I say he’s wrong. To me, he is combining the concept of instinct – the Freudian Id with the Freudian Super ego. To me, child abuse is NOT instinctive, it is a learned behavior or reaction. I could, I guess, contend that abuse could be part of Fight or Flight, but again – where would a fear/fight response of love come from? Someone gave it to the Mother or Father. Isn’t that what you see as you study abuse? It’s a “gift” handed from generation to generation, as is addiction. Similarly, you cannot take out mental illness. There are children who’ve been harmed by parents who seriously need help because they are sick. Further, I would also say that not every Mom is meant to be a Mom, and that has nothing to do with instinct.

    Staying with psych, I have to go to my personal favorite now, Jung, who stepped on Freud’s shoulders to posit collective consciousness. If I were to combine instinct with consciousness, I’d say that is where the motherly instinct stems. I’d climb on my soapbox to now say that it is being poisoned by social media’s perfect BS, as you stare at mom’s who flawlessly parent flawless children (in front of iPads for safety, but I digress in tangents of helicopter parenting)… There are things Mom’s KNOW, there are things I do that I do because I know it’s best to do. I try my best to avoid every and any parenting magazine, because I think it’s bupkus – op-ed misogyny! I am not a good or bad mother by the standards of any article or FB post. When I see my children acting in kindness, generosity, and love, I know that my instincts as a mother are what nurture and cultivate that. Like you, I know exactly when my kids need something. “I’m fine, Mom, I’m fine” Yeah right, buckaroo. And yeah, we do have to accept that our kids have choices as do we. We cannot “make” them happy as so much you read would suggest. We give and nurture tools and love. Our instincts are what make you and me who we are – not just as moms, as people. To say motherly instinct is its own entity may be misleading, because You are a Mom, I am a Mom, and I am me, and you are you. You can’t separate the two, even though in many ways they’re two identities. Or are they? 🙂

    I hope everything with your daughter is okay, though. I have driven my mom nuts (still do, and I’m 34) and I am NOT looking forward to the teenage and beyond years. I am lucky to have little people with little problems right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. I’ve come full circle in my opinion and I’m back to hell ya there’s motherly instinct or maybe just my instinct because you’re right, it’s damn near impossible to separate the two.

      And I couldn’t agree more about social media poisoning … but my soap box takes it a step further. Social media poisons every fucking thing! It’s faux reality when I’d prefer to just keep it REAL. Yet like a wreck, I can’t look away.

      Lulu will be fine or she won’t. I’ve written a million different endings to her story. Lately I’m having a hard time distinguishing between my instinct and my crazy. My own issues leave me full of self doubt. But no more pity party today. I’ve got a life to live. Thanks for the read and the gift of your feedback. Makes my day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh woman, I feel you on EVERY word you just said. I could not resonate with it more if I tried. You and I seem to be two peas in a very, very badass motherly pod. You’re right, though, the sun in shining, and I want to go play 🙂 Your issues are the issues of every mom. I think, questioning everything, is our very nature. It makes us what we are. Get your butt out there and live, the possibilities are infinite, but you know that no matter what, you will have her back, and you can’t be knocked down. You’re still here – all that makes you you is all that will keep you you. Instincts or whatever other psychological terms you want to use, you are you 🙂 and you are beautiful!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. As humans we are born with many instincts. As we get older we either neglect or ignore to follow up on these natural forces that either guide or warn us of a certain behavior. An instinct is a bond that is formed throughout the process of life.

    Liked by 1 person

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