Allomaternal Care

Today’s post comes from the archive. I love this post because it discusses a topic so important to me. Allomaternal care saved my life when I was a child. If it hadn’t been for the loving care of many substitute mothers, my life would certainly have gone in a far more dark and troubling direction. Thanks for highlighting this important subject, Felice! -Lani

Allomaternal Care–Another plug for Relief Society

By Felice Austin

Raise your hand if you like stability?

Seems like a given, right? According to many studies, being a good mom has more to do with stability of resources than with the amount of resources. Studies in all animals showed that youngsters in a stable environment with plenty of food got the most nurturing from their mothers. Those who had scarce but consistent amounts of food received almost as much nurturing. But those in an unpredictable environment–sometimes they had a lot, some times it was scarce– not only did they receive the least amount of nurturing, but were also subject to abuse or aggression from their mothers.

When I think of stability of resources in humans, I think of money and food, but there is so much more.

“According to the primatologist Sarah Hrdy, human evolved as cooperative breeders in setting where mothers have always relied on allomaternal care from others. So whatever a mother does and others do to help her, inside or outside the home, to ensure the predictability and availability of resources–financial, emotional, and social–may ultimately secure her children’s future well-being.” (Brizendine, p. 110)

An allomother, or substitute mother, can also help break the cycle of inattentive nurturing. Louann Brizendine says, “Families tend to inherit their mothers’ maternal behavior, good or bad, then pass it on to their daughters and granddaughters.” It is not passed on genetically, but through what is called epigenetic imprinting. But women who were born to an inattentive mother but then raised or influenced by a nurturing allomother tend not to behave like their genetic mother.

The saying “it takes a village” is not just a cliche. When I review all of the women who have come to help me or my daughter at just the right times, it adds up to more than a village.

Me v pregnant with two of my oldest friends, Beth and Mindy.

Though the Relief Society may not always function ideally and not everyone there will be your best friend, I would like to invite you to just remember and be amazed at what a great organization we belong to, and what we can do for each other, and women outside the church.

I would love to hear your stories. How has allomothering been important in your life?

1 thought on “Allomaternal Care”

  1. I have been incredibly grateful for my three older sisters (between 15 and 11 years older than me). They were and still are wonderful stand-ins for my mother. My parents were divorced when I was young, and I grew up with my dad. And my mom is dead now, so it’s especially nice to have sisters who fill the roles of mother for giving parenting advice, letting my vent about motherhood, and being sort of “grandma” to my kids. They are such a blessing.

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