news item – mom gene linked to key parenting skills

Okay ladies, this is a good one so I’m just going to dive right in.

Mom Gene Linked to Key Parenting Skills

What does it take to be a great mom? Of course there’s love, devotion, nurturing, and maybe the right gene.

In a study released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York say they’ve found a single gene that could be responsible for motivating mothers to protect, feed and raise their young.

Say it with me now– WHAT.

To be fair, I should not put words in your mouths. Maybe you are not as flabbergasted as I am by the implication of this study. So tell me– what do you think about the concept that the whole of your parenting life could be consolidated down to a single gene?

There are a million issues to parse out here and I have dishes to do, so I won’t even attempt to touch on all of them, but there are two I really want to highlight here:

1) What defines a “good mother”? What is “maternal”? Are these things defined by something in particular (baking cookies together? sitting and cheering during both soccer games and soccer practices? not letting your daughter go to prom without a chaperone?), or by the absence of something else (violence, abuse, neglect, ignorance of basic safety)? How about the fact that “good mothers” vary across cultures and through history, and no modern, Western, American scientists could possibly isolate a single gene that accounts for the vast and varied spectrum of culturally appropriate parenting behaviors worldwide?

2) How much of our behavior, drive, love, intentionality and spirit can we really reduce down to genetics, and what does that say about us?

“Our studies certainly show that the type of receptor, or the total lack thereof, alters the ability to be a ‘good’ mother,” Ribeiro said.

If I am a woman who desperately wants a child, and then I have one and fumble clumsily through parenthood, do I possibly lack this gene? If I am an organized Type A woman who has little difficulty meal planning and getting laundry done, do I possess the “Domestic Wizardry” gene? If I am infertile and need the assistance of intrusive, expensive and painful medical treatments to get pregnant, does that mean I possess an “infertility gene” and was not meant to have children because my body was not biologically designed for it?

I could go on and on here about the “good mothers” I have known, including my own. I could highlight their strengths and weaknesses and paint a picture of how starkly different they are from one another, even if I used just the women from my extended family as examples. I think my life is richer from having such different and loving women in it– and I really don’t think anyone could possibly line them up, tally their so-called “maternal qualities,” and come up with a ranking system.

I think this one has the potential for a great discussion, so please let us know what you think in the comments (and if you make a post in your blog on this topic, link us up and we’ll add it to our Weekly Summary).


How much stock do you put in biology’s role in your parenting abilities?

What do you think makes a “great mother”?

How do you feel about the implications this study could have on IFers and adoptive parents?


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  1. This is interesting….and I think kind of a bunch of crap. Now, as someone in the medical field I support research and there may be something to this, but not in my case. People have always said I was motherly. All of my friends came to me for “motherly” help during and after college. Even before then I was the one taking care of everyone. I’ve been told I’m a “natural.” But I had to go through IVF to get my kid…does that mean I’m not motherly, or a natural? And what does this mean for couples who struggle with male factor IF?

    I think we all have the ability to be excellent mothers, or the ability to be shitty moms. It’s all in how we choose to proceed. I’m sure there will be times where I’m a shitty mom, but I will strive to be the excellent mother I know I can be!

    Science is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it doesn’t actually apply….

  2. I think this study has really interesting applications… for other animals. I don’t think knowing what makes us good mothers or good at mothering (I’d rather not be good at licking my kid, thanks) does people a bit of good. However, in the realm of animals, it would be really nice to know if there were a way to turn on good mothering if you have an animal that’s an awful mother but has genetics you really want to pass along (say some endangered animal). It would also be interesting to know how it gets turned off in animals. Relevance for people? I don’t ever see it. We’ll never agree on what makes a good mother although we may agree on what makes a bad mother (neglect for example, although I feel like most neglect comes from some other mental illness rather than “just being a bad mother”). I’d say that like Sarah says, mothering is about our choices and that’s what makes us people. I’d also say we spend a lot of time obsessing about mice and rats and their social behaviors.

  3. I am just going to keep it simple. I clearly have the gene I am rad.

    Seriously what a bunch of bull shit. File with the you must not have been destined to have children crap.

    Righto on that note I am going out for lunch and its such a lovely day I am having a beer. Good thing I have that mum gene 🙂

  4. I think this is right up there with the bs I saw on Steve Harvey’s show this morning (not by choice, I was waiting) about how ‘men cheat out of procreative instinct’ and ‘men desire women with an hourglass figure because they’re fertile, they have those hormones that gave them that figure so they’re fertile.’

    Mice are one thing. I’ve heard of this thing called ‘choice,’ and I’m pretty sure that we have that included in our higher brain functions. Genes don’t make people assholes. They choose to be assholes.

    Or if it is accurate, I guess we know which of my daughter’s moms has it and which doesn’t.

  5. Oh fun. This type of “science” is painful and harmful because it reinforces what so many believe already: if you can’t have children, clearly your genes are unsuitable to pass along. Nature’s way of telling you something. It’s not a far leap for the public to decide that lacking this gene MUST be why infertility exists.

  6. I’m late to comment on this post, but I read this article as tying being a “good mom” to being a mom who is responsive to her offspring’s needs. I am sure that, in humans, mothering behavior is much more complex than it is in mice. Humans have morals and conscience and can choose to behave in ways that might or might not come to them instinctively or naturally; mice can’t.

    One thing I will say: if there *is* a single “good mom” gene, it is almost certainly a totally separate gene from the multiples genes that influence fertility. Which means that there is zero correlation between one’s ability to conceive and one’s ability to mother.


  1. […] whether or not there is such a thing as a “mom gene” – and when the study in question talks about being a “good Mom,” raised […]

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