Okay, I know Joan Crawford isn’t up for Mother of the Century, and I’m down with that.
Last week Liz asked me to share my thoughts about the recent study that claimed to link autism to maternal obesity, and I don’t even have to go very far in depth with the study to have an opinion. There are a lot of people out there who have taken the study apart, pointed out that what was found was a weak correlative link rather than any sort of causal mechanics, and questioned every possible aspect of the study.
I’m not going to deal with the specifics of this particular study. Do a Google search, find an article or three.
What I’m going to discuss here today is not one single study that may or may not hold a clue to one potential health question… or may be a steaming pile of cassowary refuse.
What I want to talk about today is the assumption that when something is ‘wrong’ with a child, it’s the mother’s fault.
Don’t try to tell me this isn’t the case. Henry VIII used it in his second divorce, claiming – among other things – that Anne Boleyn ‘practiced not to have a son.’ After all, at that time it was assumed that since the baby comes out of the mother, she’s in complete control of things like the placement of its genitalia.
Turns out, that wasn’t so much the case.
More recently, one of my own brothers gleefully (it really is the only word for it) informed me that I’m left-handed because of a birth defect, so it’s all Mom’s fault. Funny, I have two perfectly normal hands, and I don’t consider myself in any way damaged because I’m a southpaw. And of course most mothers don’t go into the delivery room thinking to themselves ‘hmmm… I bet if I really try, I could give this kid a birth defect! I’m gonna go for it!’ But he’d heard some blurb somewhere about a theory that left-handedness isn’t just a thing that happens sometimes like blue eyes (which I also have) or red hair or a natural gift for a particular sport, but an actual problem that occurs when there’s severe trauma in the birth canal.
Then again, like so many, he’s always looking for a way to blame Mom for whatever ills there are in the world… he’s just really into blaming one specific mom.
As for autism, well, some of us are old enough to remember Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘refrigerator mother’ theory that autism occurs because the mother withholds affection from her baby.
Yeah, not so much, it turns out. The mothers of children on the autism spectrum vary widely in their parenting styles, emotional natures, and available parenting time. In fact, they vary just as much in those things as the mothers of children born with blue eyes or red hair or a dominant left hand. Oh, and so do their fathers. You know, those other parents who contribute half the genetic material and are sometimes also present in the home? Those guys whose genetic contribution – against all assumed logic of centuries – determines the gender of the child?
It’s just possible that – as unlikely as it seems to many researching the question – the determination of whether a child turns out to have some degree of autism might lie with the male of the species. It may well not, but I’d be interested to see just one study focus on what daddy brings to that particular table. You know, to see whether there’s any possibility.
Mommy blame? We’re soaking in it. I love the Law&Order franchise on television, but I’m constantly amazed at how often they manage to find incest and a guilty mother at the bottom of case after case after case. But I’m also watching with a critical hat on. How many others simply watch and don’t ever sit down to think about the messages being fed them? And advertisements for tutoring programs for kids always seem to feature the distraught mother who cannot make her child learn better… never the father. Never a teacher, male or female.
It takes two people (and sometimes more) to make a baby. Each one brings some genetic and/or environmental factor to the making of that child. Every child comes into contact with a lot of different people along the road of life, each of whom may well contribute something for good or for ill.
Let’s stop assuming the mother is responsible for everything from the complete genetic profile of the child to its eventual prison record or lack thereof. Let’s stop assuming that the average mother more or less chooses – by agency or by ignorance – to make her children ‘abnormal’ in some way.
Because maybe – just maybe – if we remove the assumption of guilt, we can look more clearly at what’s going on and what really comes into play that creates the variations in life.
And maybe we can just let most of those variations simply exist without trying to erase entire populations.