On Mother’s Day, we honor mothers, motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. Attachment Theory, a theory of child development, recognizes the importance of the relationship between a child and her primary caregiver. John Bowlby, affectionately referred to as the father of Attachment Theory, developed this theory by studying evolutionary biology and ethology, in addition to psychology. In fact, it was Lorenz’s imprinting study with geese that showed that attachment behavior is innate and important for survival.
This caregiving system exists in all mammals and other species, including birds. Mothers protect their children and attend to their needs. We treasure the unparalleled love between mother and child and are drawn to pictures and stories that depict mothers caring for their young, no matter what species.
There’s the story of the mother chicken who risks her own life and runs out to the open field to cover her babies with her wing to protect them from the hawk above. There’s also the story about a cow who lost her baby in delivery and was found the next day, having walked a good distance and across many fields, being groomed and comforted by her own mother.
We revere this mother-child bond and yet most of us don’t think about how animal agriculture is based on exploiting this precious relationship. Cows and their day old babies are torn away from each other so humans can consume milk intended for calves. Animal activist Gary Yourofsky says that he has heard no sound of pain from a nonhuman animal that compares to the sound of anguish from a cow grieving the loss of her baby.
We use the term “mother hen” to refer to someone who is overprotective and yet mother hens never get to see their children; nor do turkeys who are equally attentive to her children. Piglets call to their mothers after they are taken away at 3 weeks of age. A piglet naturally weans at roughly 3 months old.
If left to our true nature, we would never treat another animal in this harmful way. Research by Kate Stewart and Matthew Cole, in a paper called The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood, shows how children innately empathize with and protect all animals and how we, as a society, teach children to forget this compassion and fashion a different morality for animals society has deemed “food.”
Why are we intercepting the caregiving system within us all? What would life be like if we nurtured our innate capacity to be kind and merciful to all living beings? Let’s find out. In honor of Mother’s Day, may we all cultivate within ourselves and our children our inherent spirit of kindness for mothers and their offspring of all species and may our daily choices reflect our intrinsic compassion.