Changing Face of Motherhood: Insights from three generations of mothers
Throughout our evolution motherhood has been positioned within supportive social frameworks — allowing mothers to develop the essential primary bonds with their infants and children, but also allowing them to be additionally productive members of the groups in which they lived. By the late Stone Age, when most of the evolutionary forces that have shaped our ways of living and even the manner in which the circuits of our brains are ‘wired’ had occurred, the role of women, including mothers, as gatherers of food was crucial to survival. The sharing of at least some of the childcare responsibilities was what allowed this adaptive arrangement to flourish.
So, what, if anything, has changed over the 30,000 years of so since the Upper Palaeolithic days of our hunter-gatherer Stone Age communities? Can mothers in the 21st century, with all the advanced technology and communication systems and the modern conveniences that we now take for granted, now dispense with alloparents (or their equivalent) and happily raise their children single-handedly (or with just one male partner) within the much diminished ‘nuclear’ family size? Or do mothers have the same ‘primeval’ needs for support in their role as the primary guarantors of the future of the human species that they have always had?