This post arises after some gentle twitter exchanges with my friend Natasha when the expression “mother’s bond” was used. That phrase jumped out at me, and for a few moments I was stopped in my tracks!
I think the background to this post lies with me studying theology. It doesn’t teach you much, but you are taught to question language. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who said “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” What jumped out at me with “mother’s bond” was the way this term has seeped into our language, and tends to be accepted as something approaching a religious truth. It’s held to be sacred, you can’t see it, can’t really define it, and the very word “bond” suggests it is unbreakable. All this (for me at least) sets alarm bells ringing!
I have three questions:
1.) Do fathers have a similar bond? If so, why do we not have a name for it. I appreciate that us men are not best equipped to talk about emotions, but dads I have spoken to can all recall that moment when you first hold your baby and you experience (I have never been able to find the right words – so forgive me) something akin to an existential earthquake! I use the phrase “A deep and spontaneous out pouring of love”. When my two girls were born I held them to me and looked into their eyes and spoke. Real words. “I love you and I will care for you”. Was I not uttering my own version of a “bond”? And every time I have laughed with them, and cried with pride or hurt at what they have been going through…have these moments not reinforced that bond? I raise this as a question!
2.) “Mother’s Bond”. It all seems a bit black and white. You either have it or you don’t. Really? Is this right? I can’t begin to tell you how many dads we engage with at OnlyDads find this expression unhelpful. “she never bonded with those children” – how many of us have heard that expression used over and over – and often said with a hint of judgement! If there is such a thing as a maternal bond, should it not be talked about with some kind of spectrum in mind. I raise this as a question too.
3.) I’m just not sure this expression is helpful. Given the overriding aim of parenting is to raise happy and independent children so they can leave home and lead their own lives, it seems that at one level at least this “bond” needs to be broken; or at least loosened to the point there is sufficient slack to allow our children to experience freedom from us. The very word “bond” seems to me to be not the right one.
Can I stress that I know there is a special relationship between a mum and their baby. Of course there is! The act of having a baby grow inside you, the act of labour, that deep sense of nurturing that must come with breast-feeding. This post does not question the importance of any of these.
What I am questioning, in this post-feminist age, is whether we should be talking more about parental bonding. Perhaps if we did, there would be less pressure on mums to always be seen as the primary carer, and by definition, give dads a greater sense of emotional involvement in the lives of their babies.
As I say, I raise this as a question…