How do you feel about apple pie? Is it a concept that evokes a positive feeling for you? Even if you prefer pumpkin or blueberry? Although your attitude toward apple pie may be relevant as we approach the holidays, is it a topic worthy of discussion in a publication devoted to pediatrics?
Certainly not, but what about motherhood? How do you feel about motherhood? As someone who is devoting his or her professional energies to the health of children, you must have formed some opinions about motherhood. Although your patients are children, it is their parents – and more often their mothers – with whom you communicate, particularly in the first several years of life.
You may never have been asked that question in exactly that way before, but I suspect you have thought about it both professionally and personally. You may have considered the answer as you were deciding if, when, and how you were going to return to work after maternity leave. Or you may have been forced to consider the question in formulating an opinion in a case of contested child custody.
An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal ( by James Taranto, Oct. 27, 2017) suggests that how you answer my question about the biological necessity of motherhood will determine your position on one of our nation’s political divides. The article focuses on Erica Komisar, who has written a book in which she lays out evidence from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and epigenetics supporting her view that a mother is biologically equipped to provide for the emotional development of her child ( New York: TarcherPerigee, 2017).
I haven’t read Ms. Komisar’s book, nor am I aware of the studies she cites, but reading the article prompted me to think a bit more deeply regarding how I feel about motherhood. I guess I always have felt that there is something special that a mother can provide her children, particularly during the first 3 years of life. I don’t know whether there is a neurobiological basis for this special something, but if it is missing, the child’s emotional development can suffer. Are there situations where another person(s) can provide a substitute for this special maternal sauce? Of course, but it doesn’t always work as well as the real thing. And not every mother has an adequate amount of that certain maternal something.
As pediatricians, we are faced with two challenges. The first is to help families cope with situations in which that special maternal ingredient is absent or in short supply. Our second challenge is to help mothers who believe there is something special they can offer their children but feel guilty because, for whatever reason, they can’t be there to provide it.
I am interested to hear how you feel about motherhood ... and apple pie.
Dr. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics, including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.”
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