So at 19 months of age, it all begins. Maternal instinct. Actually, it began months ago. My baby is still a baby, wearing nappies, and yet she can’t help herself. She takes her dolly into the garden and lovingly feeds her grass and flowers. She then brings her inside, puts her in her high chair, and takes her bits of fruit. She checks her nappy for poo, and finds a wipe to wipe her bottom. All with great care. She puts dolly in the pram to take her for a walk, and occasionally puts her to her breast for a drink (!) Recently, I have discovered that Elka cradles her doll in her arms, rocks her and sings Hallelujah. I have not role-played any of these things with her and her doll. She has never seen other children play with dolls in this manner. And yet she models everything I do with her.
The last few days, we have spent with a friend’s daughter who is a few months younger than Elka. With children her own age, Elka is prone to a bit of a tussle when it comes to sharing, or flapping her arms viciously if the other child of similar age and stature comes into her personal space. With this younger, and much small child, however, Elka has taken the maternal role. We went for a walk this afternoon, the younger child in the pram, and Elka walked along responsibly beside us. At some point, Elka wanted to take the little girl out of her pram and carry her. I helped her of course and Elka realised that carrying her herself was not an option. So she instead leaned in for a big cuddle, before taking her hand to walk her down the road.
Once back at the house, Elka gave the little girl her water bottle, checked her for poos, then tried to lift her on to the potty!
So it appears that oestrogen kicks in early. As do gender roles. It’s amazing what children are picking up and mimicking. We have never deliberately dressed Elka in pink or done her hair in frilly bows. I have never put her doll in the pram or any of the other maternal tasks she demonstrates. We don’t have a television, so Elka’s idea of gender roles is not coming from the media. How then does she know?
I study psychology and there is an endless debate about nature versus nurture. The latest is that the two are very intertwined. In this respect, however, I am sure that nurture is taking a back seat, as Elka’s oestrogen kicks in, and she pretends to be a mum. Ironically, a very nurturing mum…and so the cycle continues.