Wednesday Quotes
Mothers Love More
April 22, 2015

La Mere

“…mothers love more than fathers do.” Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics

I couldn’t decide whether this assertion made me angry. To be fair, from the context it is clear that Aristotle is speaking of love for infants.

I thought of my own experience. The days that each of my children were born stand out from all other days of my life. Finally to meet the person that we had been awaiting for months; to hold that precious treasure in my own hands; to see flesh of my flesh, the fruit of the love I share with my wife. How could Aristotle say such a thing about fathers?

Then I thought about it a little more. There is no image more precious to me than that of my wife holding our newborn child. They look into one another’s eyes. This is a sacred moment, unrepeatable and irreplaceable. This is the welcome that my child most awaits, most needs. This is the moment when my child first starts to see herself for who she is. In that gaze of her mother.

But why not in my eyes? I think the simple truth is this: in the child’s infancy, the mother is most able to see–to see the child for who she is. And greater insight means greater love. I do not immediately have such a deep connection with the child, nor such an intuitive sense of her personhood. We fathers often stand more at a distance; we also tend to objectivize. To be honest, I think sometimes we can be more in love with the idea of our child, than with the reality, which we have yet to come to know. To mothers, on the other hand, this baby is this baby; and it is nothing but beautiful.

Indeed, in this way they surely see things clearly–they see the child as the person she is, undistracted by accidentals. Therein, mothers excel. In this, as in so many things, I have much to learn from my wife.

I think this should not make me angry, but grateful. Most of all for our children’s sake.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

Image: La Mere (The Mother), by Elizabeth Nourse, 1888.

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  1. This is very good analysis, I think. I often see this tendency to love an ideal of my child in myself.

    On the other hand, it’s sometimes easier for me to see beyond a moment of awful misbehavior to deal in a calm way with a problem my son is having, perhaps for the same reason.

    I don’t think Aristotle is wrong. I do wonder what the right name is for a father’s ability (or maybe even his need) to let the future potential in his child cover the more contingent qualities he or she possesses at a given moment..

    1. You make an excellent point. There is no doubt in my mind that the difference between father and mother is natural, and is for the good of the child. The father has a distinct, yet complementary role to play–even from the very beginning. His role comes more into play as the child matures. His ability to ‘look outward and forward’ invites the child to look along with him, and to see himself or herself in a different light.
      What your last sentence especially points to is that father and mother complement each other in loving the child both for what he or she is now, and for what he or she can and should become. Thanks for your comment.

      1. Which is why children should have a mother and a father…

  2. Great post John I couldn’t agree more. Our dear spouses surely love their children to a depth a man cannot fully comprehend and in so doing love us more than we can fully understand either. What a great gift we have in our wives.

  3. Well said, Rick. What a gift.

  4. Well done. As the mother of 3, and a former midwife, and as you clarified (specifically “love for infants”), I agree both with you and with Aristotle. Thanks for the post.

  5. This brought tears to my eyes, and made me sad that I was always so stressed out with my newborns. I also wish that I had had more children. Beautiful thoughts, Dr. Cuddeback!