Is There a ‘Mom Gene’?


There are a lot of terms and topics that are guaranteed to incite debate among moms. “Attachment parenting.” “Co-sleeping.” “Breast is best.” “Helicopter parenting.” Now you can add another one to the list: “Mom gene.”

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That’s right, scientists are diving head first into the Mommy Wars by suggesting that some women might be biologically built to be better moms. Talk about adding fuel to the fire!

Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York have identified a specific gene in female mice linked to maternal, nurturing behavior such as feeding and caring for offspring, and suspect the same might apply in humans.

One mom over at CafeMom wrote that this news made her feel relieved, that it validated the fact that she never felt an innate desire to mother. “Some of us are born with the unrelenting need to mother and some of us just aren’t,” she writes.

Now, if you went out in search of a woman with a mom gene, I might be a good candidate — after all, I have five kids! I always wanted to be a mom and to have a big family, but it seems impossible to parse out how much of that desire was hard-wired and how much of it came from my life experiences, such as watching my mother raise a large family. We women are a little more complex than rats!

Check out my interview on “GMA” on the topic and read more below:


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To be honest, the whole idea of a mom gene makes me feel anxious, not relieved. It seems like another label with the potential to divide moms and fuel competition. It invites us to judge someone who might parent differently and think to ourselves, “Wow, I can’t believe she does that. I guess she doesn’t have the ‘mom gene!’”

It’s one thing to determine what qualities make for a good mother when it comes to rats. But how do you determine that in humans? If a mom doesn’t want to breastfeed or isn’t able to, is she missing the mom gene? What about a mom who, like me, loves her kids to pieces but doesn’t want to share a bed with them, ever? I don’t think that means I am a lesser mom, or that my “gene” isn’t as strong.

And what about a career woman who is also a mom? Just because someone doesn’t want to stay at home, it doesn’t mean she lacks a maternal instinct or is less loving and nurturing to her children.

I’m all for scientific advancements and a better understanding of what makes us who we are, but I hope this new research doesn’t make it even harder than it already is to be a mother today.

And in the spirit of equality, I’m hoping the study looking for the “dad gene” is coming up next.

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