A Woman’s Biological Need to Nurture—And How To Satisfy It When You’re Not a Mom

The biological need to nurture

Posted Mar 07, 2011

A Woman's Biological Need to Nurture-And How To Satisfy It When You're Not a Mom


By Dr. Ellen L. Walker

On a warm spring afternoon last April, I shared tea with my friend Susan and we talked about our lives, as women without children. We discussed how the need to nurture others is both hard-wired and encouraged in girls in our culture from an early age. I asked Susan if she's felt a loss because of not having a child of her own to love and nurture; she admitted that there are times when she yearns, momentarily, to have a child of her own for this very reason. Despite these occasions, she is committed to and satisfied with her decision to remain childfree, and she recognizes her desire to nurture as something that's natural and healthy. She understands the difference between the desire to nurture and the desire to parent...Two very different things that often get defined by one action:  motherhood.

So just how does a woman satisfy the biological need to nurture when she isn't a mom? It's interesting to examine the lives of celebrities who are childfree to see how they have fulfilled this need to nurture.

Childfree Role Models, Including Oprah Winfrey

Oprah-just hearing her name evokes a feeling of warmth for millions of women who have watched her television program through the years. She is undoubtedly a nurturer in so many ways. Oprah opened the Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa four years ago. This boarding school is specifically for girls who show leadership potential but lack family support. Her foundation has also provided funds for schools in the United States and even donated money to rebuild homes following Hurricane Katrina. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, Oprah spoke out for perhaps the first time about being childfree.  She told Barbara, "I have not one regret about not having children."  I could not have had this life and lived it with the level of intensity that is required to do this show the way that it's done."  She went on to talk about her emotional involvement in the lives of the girls who attend her school and of her personal relationships with them. Oprah recently launched a new television network, and she described this project as the birthing of a baby. No doubt, millions more will be touched by her programming and her giving in other ways will continue as well.  Who can predict where her energy will be directed when her daily show comes to an end!

Helen Mirren has also spoken out about her contentment with not being a mom-she claims that she's never had a maternal drive. Instead of nurturing children of her own, she's given both time and money to charitable organizations.  She traveled to northern Uganda with Oxfam to draw attention to the crisis there, and she gives to a variety of other organizations, many of which are child-focused. Plus, there's Jennifer Aniston, who gives generously to the Lili Claire Foundation and other organizations specifically focused on children.

And then there's Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. By the time of her death in 1997, it was operating 610 missions in 123 countries including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, orphanages, and schools.


The Need to Nurture is Healthy and Normal


So the lesson here is that it's normal and healthy to feel the need to nurture, and this need may even come out as a maternal urge. Examine and contemplate your need. You may decide that you really want to have a child, and you're prepared to make this happen. If, as is the case for my friend Susan, myself, and so many other childfree women, this urge is clearly related to the need to nurture rather than the need to mother, seek out healthy opportunities to do so. It may mean being a more caring and giving friend, getting involved in some community service, taking time to snuggle with your partner or your pet, or even doing something nurturing for yourself. You'll be glad you did, and so will those whose lives you've touched.