What is a Mother’s (Maternal) Bond?

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…




About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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17 Responses to What is a Mother’s (Maternal) Bond?

  1. Bob, these are great questions and they need to be debated.

    Language is powerful, it can be used as a hammer or like the stroking of a velvet glove. It can form a cage around our thoughts or set them free. By enforcing or changing the language we use, we can change perceptions, and through those perceptions, we can change society. What we need to beware of is enforcing our perceptions on others and having others’ perceptions imposed on us.

    I truly believe that all parents “bond” with their children as much as they are capable of doing. That may be more or less than you and I experience but all “bonding” is valid. We should not judge others.

    Yes, I feel there’s a spectrum for both parents and it depends on many factors – cultural, environmental, psychological wellbeing. The health of the bond depends on those factors, too.

    What many who laud the sterotypical family formation as the only “true” model don’t realise is that we who experience single and absent parenting have to explore this bonding concept every day. We put aside our own feelings and strive to make sure our bond with our children is as strong and healthy as we can make it, regardless of the personal cost. Again, all parents do they best they are capable of. If some distance themselves, or focus on themselves rather than their children – there are reasons, even if the other parent and the children don’t understand.

    Perhaps we need to re-read Kahlil Gibran:

    …And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
    And he said:
    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
    You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

  2. SAHDandproud says:

    Totally agree, I’ve been accused in the past of not being able to understand what a mother’s bond to her child is. Fairy nuff, but a lot of the language of parenting needs reimagining and revisiting to include both parents and not alienate on or the other.

  3. Excellent questions and about time somebody raised them. I am guilty of telling my husband that he can’t feel the same way as me, and I’m sure that hurt him. I didn’t mean to, but I just don’t understand how he could. The reason for this is that I think (if this makes sense) that a mothers’ bond may be more physically tied to emotions that a fathers? Two years down the line and I vividly remember and can still feel every movement inside me, every hiccup, every elbow, every kick. That memory means that I have a physical tie between my son and my heart. Leaving him to go to work, physically hurts.

    However, that does not mean that every woman has that bond, for some I suspect that the emotional tie was severed when the physical one was.

    I’m assuming that the promise you made to your children was based on emotions, maybe that makes it more powerful than a mother’s? Either way, women can’t know how men feel and vice-versa. It shouldn’t negate or nullify anyone’s bond with their child at all.

    (I am aware that by posting this, mothers who have adopted may want to gouge my eyes out)

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you!

      All you say makes sense – and I am sure the bonding experience for those who have adopted should be the subject of another post altogether…

      …I might request one via Twitter!

      Bob x

  4. P says:

    I believe we can never comprehend or completely understand outside of our own experience.

    Our own experience will have been affected by what has come before as well as the experience itself.

    Everyone is unique and I believe every experience, even those shared, are different.

  5. P says:

    Oops and oh, yes parent bonding – the only way to go I think.

  6. S.P. says:

    Oooo! I love this post, Bob.
    1) Yes.
    2) Yes.
    3) Yes.

    A bond is something once made cannot be broken (unless someone has invented time travel & can go back & undo).
    We can break a ‘tie’, but the original ‘bond’ will always remain intact.

    ‘Parental bond’ is an excellent term, for a modern society.

    The thing is, we’re all unique when it comes to parenting. There are no rules, we do parenting in our own individual way, from near or from afar. It is our individual responsibilty to our children.
    If our children (or any other relevant persons), think we did it wrong, we can suffer the consequences of our actions and so can our children.
    If we break the tie & walk away from those parental responsibilities, the parental bond may become weaker, damaged or even a thing of the distant past (history), but never broken.

    P.S. What you said in 1)? That was beautiful, Bob. Your girls are very lucky to have such a sensitive daddy 🙂

    • onlydads says:

      Lovely reply – thank you so much!

      (my girls are 11 and 14 now – i’m not so sure they think they are lucky!!

      Bob x

  7. Lisa says:

    I completely agree with everything you have said in your post, parental bonding is definitely the phrase that we should use. I, personally found it difficult to bond with my son when he was born but my partner was completely overwhelmed with emotion. It doesn’t mean that I love my son any less or that my ‘mother’s bond’ should over-shadow any relationship my son has with his father.
    Good post 🙂 x

    • onlydads says:

      It has taken me days to reply to this. In truth, your reply made me really upset!

      I questioned this question of “bond” because it is so ill-defined and abstract. Many mums look and expect this bond to be there as soon as their children are born.

      I mentioned using the term parental bond instead – with further thought i think we could do away with the bond word altogether and just talk of “love”

      Love…that can take time to express itself fully – and come in many different shades.

      Bob x

      • Lisa says:

        I prefer the term ‘love’, definitely a good call. I unconditionally adore my son, he is absolutely the centre of my world but I think you are right that many mums expect that ‘bond’ to be there instantly. It’s still quite taboo though, to talk so frankly about not bonding instantly with your baby and to say so out loud often provokes the response “oh, bless you, did you have post-natal depression?” and the answer is “no”. It just took a little while to settle into parenthood. It certainly doesn’t make me a bad parent.
        Thanks for replying Bob, keep blogging! x

  8. Diane prince says:

    Hi bob, just like to say that I also agree. It should be parental bonding.

    I’ll be completely honest with my story, i havnt told anyone before. I was 30 when I got pregnant with my eldest. ( hubby and I were separated from others when we met.) I was very excited, had a wonderful pregnancy and obviously felt every movement and kick, that feeling I would share with hubby if I could. But other than that I can’t say I had a massive bond. I can’t believe I’ve said that as it does make me feel bad. However when I gave birth and she was placed in my arms I knew love was unconditional from that moment on. This was also the same for my husband.

    The exact same thing happened in my second pregnancy. Love grows over the years for both parents. I have never been particularly maternal, I hadn’t had contact with any babies until eldest was born. And sometimes I have little patience with other kids as I can’t stand cheek and bad manners! But that’s a diffrent post!

    Breast feeding well, another story, I cried, as it hurt immensely, I did not find it natural. I did three days with both because I wanted to do the same for them.

    Most of the men I know have the same bond with their children as their partners have. I would never say to my husband ‘a mothers bond’ as I know he would feel inadequate and I would never want that.

    The thing I will say, is there must be a link somewhere as when either child wants something they come to me!! Softie eh?

    Don’t even know now if I’ve answered the question haha, but you’ve had my truth xx

    • Lisa says:

      You should never apologise for a feeling (or lack of feeling) – well done for saying it out loud, it doesn’t make you any less of an amazing parent, you still brought life into the world, nurture that life and love that life unconditionally. That is awesome, don’t ever forget it!! x

  9. onlydads says:

    Diane – what a brave reply. Thank you.

    I am sure many women will be able to relate and empathise with you on all you say 🙂

    Bob x

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