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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Oct 5, 2012
09:30 AM

New Study Finds 'Mom Gene' It Claims Enables Good Parenting Skills

Genetic discovery in mice may explain why some parents may or may not have a strong urge to raise kids. How does this affect parenting?

New Study Finds 'Mom Gene' It Claims Enables Good Parenting Skills

Do you feel as if you were born to raise children? Is there something in your nature – even your genetic makeup – that tells you to care for your kids?

Researchers may have pinpointed a gene that enables mothers to do motherly things, like care for and protect their children, according to a study. If blocked or absent, however, the ability to effectively parent is lost.

The discovery has led to discussion about what makes a good parent – and what it means for those who may not possess such a gene yet still successfully raise children.

About the 'mom gene' study

The new study from the Rockefeller University in New York took a group of mother mice, injected a molecule that stopped a particular estrogen receptor in the brain and monitored the effects.

"Once the gene was silenced, not only did the moms not nurse or lick their baby pups, but they wouldn't even move the baby mice back into the cage or fight off a strange intruder," Ana Ribeiro, author of the study, said in a TODAYMoms article.

Without this part of their genetic code, the mice lost their skills to be "good" mothers.

Though it is noted that mice are, of course, not humans, Ribeiro told TODAYMoms that the alpha estrogen receptor is also found in human females – and its presence or ability to function could have an impact on maternal behavior.

What do parents think?

Westland mother of three Corrine Smyth believes that this parenting "trait" is something she has recognized before. From her experience, there are those who naturally become "invested" parents and those who have to put in a bit more effort.

"There are some people that … excel at (parenting)," Smyth said, "and I'm sure they would possess character traits such as compassion, selflessness, devotion and dedication, just to name a few."

But those who don't posses this trait are not incapable of being good parents, she assures. "You can certainly learn how to be a better parent, but maybe it just doesn't come as naturally to you as it does others – and you have to make more of a choice to be that type of 'invested' parent."

The discovery of the "mom gene" may be a breakthrough, but some sociologists think the adoption of this mode of thought may not necessarily have a positive effect, according to TODAYMoms. They say studies like this may stigmatize mothers who don't feel as if they were born to raise kids.

For some parents like Christy Humphrey, raising a child is not something they see as part of their genetics – but that obviously doesn't make them less qualified.

"If you surround yourself with good people and are willing to learn from your mistakes, your children will love you no matter what," she says. "I may not have been born to be a good mom, but I learned to be a great one!"

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