Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 September 2022
In Western culture, both the lay public and mental health professionals tend to believe that mothers evolved to love all of their children instinctually and unconditionally. In contrast, any mother who feels ambivalence or hostility towards her child is typically seen as unnatural, and a mother who maltreats her child is seen as behaving pathologically. This chapter draws on evolutionary research to challenge this widespread view of motherhood. In particular, it describes how raising children has required mothers to negotiate a series of complex, precarious and layered trade-offs, and it argues that maternal negativity and child maltreatment can arise from this. The goal of this chapter is to foster a more evolutionarily valid, nuanced and compassionate understanding of motherhood. Such an understanding has the potential to contribute to clinical work with faltering mothers as well as to programmes focused on preventing maternal maltreatment of children.