Parenting like a primate

So…parenting like a primate. I am a parent. I am also a primate, as are you. A primate I mean, not necessarily a parent. Although I can be fairly certain in assuming that you have parents. You have, or had, a mother who birthed you, and probably raised you, with various degrees of help. You have a father who contributed 50% of your genetic share, and perhaps much of your parental care as well.

This may not sound special to you. You share it with every other human on the planet, and with other primates, and mammals in general. But it actually is kind of special when you look at life as a whole. And if you think about you, compared with every other creature that lives or has lived on earth, you can get to asking (and I certainly do) how much do we share with other primates, with other mammals, with birds, insects, fungi, bacteria? We’re used to thinking of humans as the dominant life form on earth, but that’s a fairly narrow view. Two of the three domains of life (Archea and Bacteria) are single-cellular, and reproduce through cloning, totally bypassing the idea of mother-and-father. And lots of animals (think insects) have parents, but not parents who hang around to offer a lot of support and nurturing.

I am not an expert in parenting. I have three children, and make it up as I go. I am not a scientific expert, although my degree is in biology. Most of my career has been as a high school  biology teacher, and so if I am “expert” in anything it is in understanding broad themes in biology and making them applicable to everyday life, to the things normal people care about. The purpose of this blog is to try to understand parenting, and mothering more specifically, from a biological perspective, mainly through the lens of evolution. How much do we have mothering “instincts,” and how much of our mothering skills are learned, transmitted from our own mothers, or mothers around us? Are you and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals (sorry), or are humans in their own distinct categories as parents? I’m relying on personal anecdotes, and using research where possible and applicable, and inevitably asking many more questions than I’m answering.


Picture from