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Another Reason Not to Be a Mom: They Get Blamed for Everything

Originally published on Care2 Causes

One more reason for women not to have kids: those who do get a raw deal. We’re familiar with moms getting discrimination at work and an oversized share of the tasks at home, and we all know the stereotype about mothers causing their children’s psychological problems.

Here’s a new one: moms could harm not just their children, but their grandchildren and great-grandchildren — even without meeting them.

What’s even richer is that one of the biggest contributors to good mothering is avoiding stress. So moms, know that everything you do could affect your child’s life forever, but make sure you don’t worry about it!

Two male (color me shocked) scientists are credited with founding the branch of epigenetic research responsible for these conclusions. Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf posit that nurture — one’s experiences and environment — can alter the expression of DNA permanently. Early childhood experiences have a stronger effect than later life does.

Methyl groups and acetyl groups are the key substances involved. “Methylation [adding methyl groups to DNA] switches genes off. Acetylation [adding acetyl groups to histones, which are the proteins wrapped around DNA] switches them on.” The DNA remains the same, but it is expressed differently because different genes are off and on as a result of life experiences, and it looks like those changes can be passed down.

Don’t worry about it if you didn’t understand that paragraph (especially mothers of young children: don’t worry! Just generally!). The point is that people can inherit the chemical results of their progenitors’ experiences. Discover Magazine dubbed it “postnatal inheritance.”

Most of the experiments demonstrating these effects involved subjecting mice to bullying or neglectful parenting. The Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute went a different route, injecting the hapless rodents with nicotine. The results showed that a smoker’s offspring could suffer diseased, asthmatic lungs even if they didn’t smoke themselves.

The good news is the evidence that methylation and acetylation can be reversed. When injected directly into rats’ brains, a drug that removes methyl groups undid the methylation that their “rotten mothers” had caused.

The Economist struck a moralistic tone after describing the nicotine study.

Epigenetics is a reminder that when making choices about what you eat and drink and put into your body, and what you do (go for that daily walk or hunker down on the couch with a bowl of something salty), you’re not only doing it for yourself, but for future generations and for the future of all of us.

Discover Magazine’s article about this area of study had similar subtext. In addition to the “rotten mothers” language quoted above, it stated that “miserable mothering” made children into “nervous wrecks,” and the damage could be seen in the second generation’s brains.

If you aren’t feeling bad enough, moms, how about being blamed for suicide? A study comparing the brains of people who committed suicide with others who died from different causes found lots of methylation in relevant parts of the suicide victims’ brains. Childhood abuse was particularly closely associated with excess methylation.

One study of paternal contributions to messed up gene expression managed to blame mothers even for dads’ shoddy genetic material. First the researchers locked male mice up with meaner mice who bullied them for days. Then they got each of the bullied mice together with a female mouse who became pregnant. The bullied father never met his kids, who came out pretty messed up emotionally.

Here’s the twist: when researchers artificially inseminated female mice with sperm from the bullied mice, so that neither mother nor babies ever met dad, the kids wound up fine. That’s why this is all mom’s fault: when she knew she had mated with a “loser,” as Discover put it, she neglected the resulting babies. I guess she figured they were doomed no matter what she did. But when she didn’t know that the sperm donor was such an undesirable, she nurtured her babies well and undid the damage dad’s genetic contribution caused. Or so goes the theory.

After hammering mothers, the science offers them two rays of light. The first is that orphans suffer more methylation than children never separated from their biological parents, so even if these studies have left you nervous, don’t give the kids away to a better mom. Just being with you is beneficial. The second is that one of the most effective things moms (and presumably dads) can do is touch their babies a lot.

Women, when deciding whether to have kids, consider how much you would be bothered by science-backed accusations that you single-handedly ruined their lives. Also, isn’t stressing bad enough without having to stress about it?

Photo Credit: Finsec

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rumor D #

    Seems as If you feel a little guilty of not being a mom. What is the purpose of digging up excuses for that? You Do Not Want to be a Mom SO BE IT.
    Maybe Moms should be digging up reasons of their failur to communicate with their children more often.
    I have daughters myself, I Do Not raise them with baby dolls, and kitchen wear, to hope someday they will be a “Great Mom”. With their stuffed animals they use their imagination and make up funny plays. With their Barbie dolls, they create a fashion show. None of that baby changin diaper nonsense. They need to make their own choices. No one else is living their lives. I encourage them to be strong and dust off the petty when it tries knocking them down.
    Wether you’re a mom or not, a woman still continues to with the high chances of being labeled “Something”….Peace

    September 17, 2013
    • Your daughters are lucky that their upbringing broadens their horizons instead of limiting them. Good for you!

      September 17, 2013
  2. Teri #

    I applaud your decision not to be a mom. I have two children, and am very happy being a mom. I see my kids friends whose parents obviously did not really want to have children or did it because their friends were or the mom was feeling her clock ticking. I think the worst thing people can do is have and raise children that they don’t really want. It really screws up the kids who then grow into messed up adults. Yay for you. So sorry that you get so much crap about it.

    September 17, 2013
    • Thanks! I agree that creating and raising children a person doesn’t want is not a kindness to anyone. I feel for those children.

      September 17, 2013

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