Mothering Matters

Introduction  

To meet requests for a convenient paperback, it presents an expanded and thoroughly revised version of Mothering Denied: The sources of love, and how our culture harms infants, women, and society. That book was made available from April 2009 as an A4 size e-book, for free download from the bottom of this page. It is now superseded. 

Mothering Matters is a sequel to Early Child Care – Infants and nations at risk, which was also published by Freedom Publishing (as News Weekly) in 1997. It was recently named as one of the “Books of the Century” in a list compiled by a non-violence organisation, on a German website available here.

Mothering Matters is a much better book than Mothering Denied, and it is probably unique. It is not a book about how to raise children, as there are many of these, but it seeks to present for the general reader a modern understanding of what is going on in good, natural mothering, and why the mothering of infants in their earliest years is deeply different from fathering. From this it describes the conditions that best help a mother and baby achieve their potentials for good physical and emotional health throughout life, and how fathers can support and share in the joy of these experiences.  

Part One shows how there are now five different lines of evidence that converge to establish some basic facts of life about human infants and their mothering – infants here meaning  children aged up to about two-and-a half years. This evidence shows that there is one basic, natural, healthy, best-fit pattern of early mothering for our whole human species, and since it is laid down in the genome and biology of each mother and her infant, we cannot change it. This pattern includes breastfeeding, carrying, attachment, mutual rewards, enjoyment, and empathy – that is, a mother’s sensitivity to her baby’s feelings and her appropriate response. Playfulness and joy help to sustain healthy development if the environment is supportive and meets basic human needs. These lines of evidence derive from logical deductions about our line of maternal ancestors, and from recent evidence about breastfeeding, mother-infant attachment, brain-hormone activities during mothering, and major studies into the later effects of early non-maternal child care. 

Part two describes how healthy development can be disrupted by misconceived ideas, and it describes and critiques how two familiar ideas have sometimes had deeply unhealthy effects on the mother-infant relationship in Western cultures. One is ancient and religious, about the inherently sinful nature of human infants; the other developed as an outcome of the misconceived path taken by some branches of feminism in the twentieth century, through relying on the ideology of cultural determinism. Some details of how this ideology originated in a hoax are traced, and it describes the little-known fact that three of the major figures of modern equality feminism – Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, and Simone de Beauvoir – each recanted their earlier views and later admitted that they had been wrong. Yet, despite inherent contradictions, the early childcare “industry” and its advocates continue to largely determine government policy in many countries.

Part Three suggests how our society could better support healthy mothering and fathering, and it outlines ways that we, as a society, could better understand, design and organise the environments in which families raise children. The theme of the book is that a normal mother-infant relationship is a love affair that needs the right conditions to flourish. Infancy cannot be re-run later. 

Mothering Matters is designed to be reader-friendly, and it can be read at many levels. Thus it has a four-page Synopsis, followed by the Main Text with footnotes and references. Finally there is a full Summary, followed by some Notes offering details and evidence in selected areas. 

Abstract

Mothering Matters

The sources of love, and how our culture harms infants, women, and society

Although the word ‘mothering’ has become politically incorrect, the facts of life remain unchanged. Five different lines of evidence now converge to show that there is a natural, biologically-based, best-fit pattern of human mothering, and it includes breastfeeding, carrying, secure attachment, mutual rewards, enjoyment, and empathy—meaning a mother’s sensitivity to her baby’s feelings and an ability to respond accordingly. Mutual playfulness and joy help to sustain healthy development if the environment is supportive and meets basic human needs. These five lines of evidence coming from different directions and disciplines, each supporting the same conclusion, give it greater validity.

Part One: Five lines of evidence for natural, ‘best-fit’ mothering

Firstly, by considering the direct maternal pedigrees of each person alive today, we can deduce some important facts about human beings and human nature, and the characteristics that must have been essential for the survival of all our maternal ancestors, as they lived in tribes of hunter-gatherers, and each baby girl successfully passed her genes on to the next generation. Through this process we received our genetic inheritance, and we cannot change it.

Secondly, there is much evidence that only human breast milk perfectly matches the needs of human infants. This has far-reaching implications for healthy development, including helping to achieve full intellectual potential.

Thirdly, secure and unfailing bonds of attachment between a mother and her baby have been essential for the breastfeeding and survival of all mammals. Disruption of these attachment bonds—being life-threatening—normally causes acute distress, and if prolonged, it can be damaging. For most of the time that humans have lived on earth, the support of other females in the group, and preferably that of the father also, has been necessary for survival.

Fourthly, the hormones and brain activities involved in human mothering are now known to be much the same as in other mammals. The patterns of normal mothering behavior that are common to all mammals depend on the same parts of the basic mammalian ‘maternal brain,’ but they require the right conditions to function well.

Fifthly, there is increasing evidence that disrupting natural mothering behaviors and relationships can cause harm in a variety of ways, leading to disturbed development, especially in the capacities for healthy and empathic emotional relationships.

Part Two: When the environment does not match early needs

Disturbed development can arise when departures from natural patterns of mothering create environments that fail to match the biologically-based needs of mothers, babies, and very young children, in ways that disrupt important biological mechanisms that are based in the human genome. Such ‘eco-genetic mismatch’ can be especially harmful during pregnancy, childbirth, and early childhood. This mismatch often stems from teachings and practices that neglect human needs and arise from ignorance and misconceived ideas about the nature of the human infant. However well-meaning, these can lead to disturbed development and a variety of emotional and physical disorders.

Part Three: Conclusions and what can be done

To put into practice some steps towards more healthy families and to improve their physical and emotional mental health, it is important to distinguish the needs of children nearer school age from those of infants. An infant’s primary need is for nurturing and early mothering within a supportive environment that preferably includes a loving father and an extended family and/or social group.

To achieve this, we should seek to create societies that are in better harmony with the human biological ‘givens.’ We cannot change these ‘givens,’ and we would therefore do well to accept them. This involves supporting healthy mothering, breastfeeding, and attachment, with generous maternity leave. Models exist that offer many benefits—even for ‘the economy.’ To promote health and wellbeing in young children, their mothers, and society, we must work with Nature, not against her. Prevention is better than cure. A healthy mother-child relationship is a love affair that needs the right conditions to flourish.

Infancy cannot be re-run later.

© 2011 by Peter S. Cook. This Abstract may be reproduced in full, as above.

Abstract

The first edition Mothering Denied is available in PDF form for download. Please respect the copyright and rights of the author.

Mothering Denied

Mothering Matters – More Reviews

“Peter Cook is a doctor who has specialised in psychiatry and has been working in the field of child and family mental health for decades. In this book he has created something of great value. He summarises much research, making it accessible to those who wish to know more, as he draws on over half a century of thinking and learning about human infants and their mothers and fathers.”
Steve Biddulph
Psychologist, and author of Raising Babie
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“At the beginning of this new millennium, Peter Cook presents much evidence that there is a natural, ‘best fit’ pattern of human mothering. He also asks his readers to consider some ways in which significant departures from this pattern can harm infants, women, and society, and contribute to emotional, behavioural, and health problems.”

“An increase in conduct disorders and aggression in young people, and changes in societal behaviour, have been the shared experience of many professionals dealing with such problems.”

“A mother has a relationship with her child which no one else can share. At birth the total growth of the child’s body and brain has been the result of environment supplied by the mother. The rapid growth of the brain and body of the infant, and the acquisition of communication skills, are also largely the result of the intimate interactions of mother and child.”

“Fathers play an increasingly significant part in the infant’s life, with the expanding ability of the child to communicate and learn through new experiences, usually mediated through play with the father and other family members in a safe and supportive environment.”

“I urge everyone with a social conscience to heed Peter Cook’s sage words about early childhood. Failure to do so can only result in further damage to the young and the fabric of our society.”
Forrester Cockburn
Emeritus Professor of Child Health
University of Glasgow, Scotland

“What Peter Cook has to say in this most thoughtful volume is certainly not politically correct, and so may not prove widely popular. But that is not to say that he is mistaken or even misguided.”

“Unlike many, Peter Cook acknowledges, even heralds, evidence that underscores the fact that for many infants and women life does not provide what they want – and perhaps even what nature planned for them. Not all will agree with Peter Cook’s analysis, but that is not a reason to ignore it. Open minds will most certainly be enriched. As for closed minds …”
Professor Jay Belsky
Director, Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues
Birkbeck University of London

“The pervasive triumph of consumerism will be damaging us for generations to come. We now have a world where many new mothers and fathers see no choice but to work, even for a minimum wage, while their baby is cared for by someone else – anyone else.”

“The movement for women’s liberation, rightly aggrieved by unfair patriarchy, and seeking emancipation and equality with men, chose to deny the fundamental importance of mothering, equating it with fathering, parenting or ‘caregiving’.”

“When will the logic and evidence marshalled by Peter Cook in this book have its influence on the world of new babies? Not until all of us opt for a way of life beyond the envy and greed of consumerism, and revalue the many things that matter most for human wellbeing.”

“As I said in 1996 of his Early Child Care: Infants and Nations at Risk, “This small book should be dropped like leaflets all over the country to get past the ubiquitous network of the now-entrenched daycare propagandists, to reach the parents who have never heard the whole story.”
Elliott Barker, MD
Forensic psychiatrist, editor of Empathic Parenting
Founder, Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children