Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species
by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
(Random House, New York, 1999)
This is an eye-opening book that promotes realism by criticizing the traditional image of the perfect mother's "maternal instincts." For example, while other primates sometimes kill competitors' offspring, and lower animals often cull the weakest members of the litter, human mothers are unique in that when they kill they tend to choose their own healthy children as victims. A scholarly book that's massively documented but written for the general public, Mother Nature is a needed corrective to the cultural fantasy that mothers can do no wrong, a myth that's largely responsible for the pervasive denial and persistence of child abuse and neglect by the female parent (as argued by other authors such as Beverly A. Ogilvie in Mother-Daughter Incest). The important lesson here is: being a competent parent is a matter of study and practice, not instinct.