Repost: The Maternal Instinct

I wrote this three years ago, on Mothers Day, and I remembered it this morning. So I am reposting it. Happy Mothers Day to all of the mothers out there.

It’s Mothers Day, a time to celebrate motherhood and moms. I woke up thinking about the maternal instinct and it’s effect on business.

I was talking to a friend last night about the challenges of working on troubled or failed investments. We were debating whether it is even worth the time to try and save a troubled investment versus moving on and focusing on a new one. This is the endless debate in venture capital. It can be applied to managing people as well. Should you work to develop a talented employee who is struggling or just move on and find someone new for the role?

As we were debating the point on whether to fight for a troubled investment or just move on, the Gotham Gal walked by. And I turned to my friend and said “she never gives up on any of her investments and she has 10x the number that I do.” I’ve cautioned her many times that she can’t fix every company, every CEO, every business plan. But she just keeps trying. It’s why I love her so much.

There is something about the maternal instinct. It’s a powerful thing. It is about protecting and caring for someone or something. It is innate in women and they do bring it with them into the world of business. This is one of many reasons why gender diversity in a team is important. Men and women bring different perspectives and instincts to a situation. Debating it out and finding common ground can be quite valuable.

Surely there is a limit to the maternal instinct in business. You can’t make every hire work. You can’t make every project work. You can’t make every investment work. That’s what I frequently tell the Gotham Gal. But that doesn’t stop her from trying. And I understand why.

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there. You care for us and we love you for it.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    It’s because Moms don’t like to see faults in their kids. They are all perfect.

    1. awaldstein

      My mom never thought her kids were perfect, certainly not me.She saw us for the good stuff and left to the rest to human frailty to which we are all subject to.Work hard, take care of yourself and your own, be a good person and the rest doesn’t matter.It’s how i raised my boy as well.Guess a cultural difference.

      1. William Mougayar

        Over the long term, i’m sure your mom was pretty pleased. not a cultural difference.

        1. awaldstein

          the whole idea here is that perfect has nothing to do with pleased or love.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      My kids aren’t perfect. :)But they are wonderful!

      1. awaldstein

        Absolutely.How my mom thought of us how i thought of Asa when i raised him.My feeling on life in general at its best.Happy Mother’s Day my good friend!

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Thank you my good friend! This is indeed a day to count blessings!Your Mom is legendary. Congratulations on passing down her legacy!

          1. awaldstein

            Just got off the phone with Asa talking about my mom. They had a really cool relationship.

      2. Mac

        And, my three sons are perfectly wonderful. We watched our youngest graduate from college yesterday which made for a special Mother’s Day weekend. Happy Mother’s Day! Enjoy.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Congratulations!Thank you. Three sons and a daughter, each so unique. I am rich.

          1. Mac

            That you are.

  2. Tom Labus

    To all the Mom’s out there have a great one!!

  3. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:HISTORY OF MOTHER’S DAY AND RESISTANCE OVER THOSE WHO HELP TO PERVERT IT!——–The American incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar.———–Everyday is Mother’s Day. Doesn’t require commercialization to promote anyone to know their Mother didn’t, feed, clothe or nurture them one day per year.Captain Obvious!#UNEQUIVOCALLYUNAPOLOGETICALLYINDEPENDENT

  4. Jim Peterson

    Re:“But she just keeps trying. It’s why I love her so much.”Nice to have a life partner like that Fred.Maybe there have been times she’s influenced you to try a little harder, to dig to make it work, and I wonder if as often as not it has worked in some fashion.

  5. sigmaalgebra

    Far and away, the most difficult part of my life was understanding women, especially their emotions. Since the current birth rate is so low we are going extinct, I’m not nearly the only one who struggled. In slightly broader terms, in the US now, and apparently starting in about 1960, US family formation just SUCKS — a grand disaster, extraction of miserable defeat from the jaws of magnificent victory. We are failing, in birth rate, and then with the children, and nearly all the rest important for families.Fiction, drama, movies can show candidate situations with maybe examples as input for understanding. E.g., last night at…I happened to see at YouTube the Hallmark movie The Magic of Ordinary Days.The lead as a woman was Keri Russell, and early on her face was astoundingly, exquisitely pretty, not as pretty as the girl 12-13 I fell in love with in high school, but pretty!Here’s the story with some candidate lessons about women:First, she is a relatively well off graduate student in archeology — i.e., is using money from her family aimlessly frittering away her time — but gets pregnant by some man who doesn’t want to take care of her.Some guy with a family farm in Colorado hears of her plight and offers to marry her.She catches a train for the train station closest to the farm, and the couple meet and get married right away, in minutes.So, getting pregnant, she was a bit ditzy. We can start to conclude that the wealth of her family has her being a bit irresponsible.Maybe one way to become responsible is to be irresponsible, suffer the consequences, and then take seriously being responsible. Maybe a child from a wealthy family, especially a pretty daughter doted on, has been able to be irresponsible and never suffer the usual negative consequences and, thus, not yet become responsible. But, some early lessons SHOULD be sufficient. Shouldn’t have to jump off a cliff as the only way to learn it’s a bad idea to jump off a cliff.Yes, in becoming responsible, there can be some poor lessons: One lesson is that just make all As in school and ignore everything else. Well, the As can help but usually not enough to permit ignoring everything else.Second, in the marriage and at the farm, she is bored, unhappy, not taking her marriage, husband, or new life seriously, and putting on acts left over from her earlier life. She’s pretty, no doubt about that. And she’d make good “arm candy” at high end social/political functions.In particular, in terms from E. Fromm, The Art of Loving,:(i) Knowledge.She doesn’t “give knowledge of herself” to her husband. Instead, she (a) secretly writes letters back to the man who got her pregnant, (b) wears necklace with a locket with a picture of the man who got her pregnant but deserted her, (c) with her sister secretly entertains leaving her marriage to go to Denver, (d) secretly gets interests other than the main ones of her husband and their life, interests that apparently deliberately conflict with and hold in ridicule the values and interests of her husband, farm, and community. So, she doesn’t really give knowledge of herself to him and, instead, keeps secrets from him. Basically she is not fully loyal to him. He is fully open to her, gives knowledge to her about his life and family background, and is fully loyal and devoted to her.(ii) Caring.She takes her husband for granted and doesn’t try to understand his work, challenges, and life or how to help and, net, doesn’t much care for him or about him. At least she could be a cheerleader, but she doesn’t try that either. E.g., she is not at all good at cooking and doesn’t try very hard to learn; he helps her with the cooking.While she’s the one with lots of formal education, the wife with the cooking her responsibility, and pregnant, he’s the one who goes to the library and checks out books on cooking and baby care. He shows more interest in her motherhood than she does.(iii) Respect.She doesn’t respect her husband, his life, or values. E.g., she ridicules his devotion to the farm, the 100 years or so the farm has been in his family, the farm house and its belongings, and his sense of tradition for the farm, where he grew up.He tries hard to please her, but she doesn’t want to be pleased. E.g., she mentioned that she likes to go swimming, so he has a friend come over with his big backhoe, and they start digging out a pond for swimming for her and “the children”: She is not pleased or much interested in the pond and is shocked to hear about his plans for “the children”.(iv) Responding.She doesn’t respond to him or understand or take interests in his life and activities. He does a LOT for her, and she does not respond, not even with a smile, interested conversation, joint activity, touch, hug, kiss, inquiries, suggestions, help, or anything. Any of the farm animals, especially the family dog, play a much more positive role in the family than she does. Yes, eventually she does set the dinner table and light two candles.Life with her is something like trying to dribble a basketball on the surface of a pond: Throw the ball down as hard as can and it will never come back and at most will just make a big splash and then just float there. With her, nothing, no effort, favor, gesture of affection, admiring glance, gift, kindness, or attention from him results in anything coming back. So, there’s no response.So, on the four points of Fromm’s scorecard(i) Knowledge.(ii) Caring.(iii) Respect.(iv) Responding.he gets an A and she gets an F.Heck, with an F on these four, sure, there’s no passion, devotion, commitment, no sense of “’till death do we part”, no sense of belonging to one and the same family, no real joining, and nothing like love.In the marriage ceremony the minister has:Bound by these sacred bonds, may you vow to imitate Christ in your new life together, to give one another hope when there is sorrow, strength when there is weakness, faith and understanding when there is confusion or doubt.In such a life we are sustained on this earthy life just as we hope for eternal life through our savior Jesus Christ.I now pronounce you man and wife. It’s is not clear that she felt anything like “bonds”.Marriage is not a new thing; our generation didn’t invent marriage, love, home, or family. Humanity has had many thousands of years to learn what is important and crucial in marriage. In particular, the past shows that the advice… to give one another hope when there is sorrow, strength when there is weakness, faith and understanding when there is confusion or doubt. is profound, even prescient in that it will likely be needed, and awash in wisdom of the past.Both the bride and groom need to take this advice fully seriously. Well, in the movie, it is not clear that she sees anything like “bonds”, sacred or otherwise and mostly just ignores him, uses his love for her to harness him as a mule to solve her problem of being pregnant without a husband.Soon, before the baby comes, he genuinely asserts his love for her. She remains passive and does not reciprocate or even react.The story adds some ambiguity: It turns out that he is a bit rigid and traditional about his family and the family farm and can get angry.But, soon the baby comes: The baby is healthy; she is healthy; she is smiling; he is holding the baby lovingly. The End.Except it is not the end, or the beginning of the end, but at most just the end of the beginning — there’s MUCH more to the love, marriage, home, family, parenting and opportunities to ruin some or all of those.It would be nice if that baby solved all the problems; with a lot of traditions, it would or nearly so. But in the US since 1960, clearly there is much more to family formation than just that end of the beginning.Heck, their family kitty cat might as well have had a litter of kittens — they could both smile at that, too. So, by the end of the movie, there’s still nothing much like love, home, family. So, we have to assume that those two, not totally brain-dead, will come together like they should and very much need to. But, since they would not be nearly the first couple that didn’t join together, we have to doubt that those two will.So, she gets a grade of F until the baby comes and then starts at least to take an interest in the family, that is, the family of her, her husband, and her BABY. So, it’s “maternal instinct” that saves the marriage and makes the family, at least for a while.But for good parenting, there’s a lot more to do, e.g., child development as inemotional, verbal, psychological, social, creative, artistic, empathetic, moral, ethical, religious, athletic, academic, mechanical, rational, quantitative, scientific, technical, romantic, entrepreneurial, etc. and in that movie there is no indication that she has any ideas about child development at all.A clear danger, far too easy to see in current US marriages, is that once the youngest child reaches first grade, the wife gets bored, unhappy, angry, hostile, contacts divorce lawyers, and at the first opportunity leaves. That is, as in the movie, about the only “bond” she had in the marriage was the baby and his role in being a good provider. Then, with no more babies, essentially no “bond”, not much of anything in common, or much interest in love, marriage, or home is left. Then astoundingly commonly the result is disaster for the husband, wife, love, marriage, home, parenting, children, and the rest of life.It appears that many women are heavily driven by emotions that presume a village. So, there she has a husband and children and then spends most of her time with the other women and their children.As the children grow. the girls stay with the women and other girls, and the boys go with the men.So, the norm for the women is that they all help each other and all the children — in particular in this way each woman gets social, emotional, and material security and quickly has high anxiety and unhappiness at anything else.For her to be a wife and mother in a farm house miles from any other women and children has her short on knowing what to do and feeling short on social and emotional security.Another approach is that he has to be a good leader: So, he outlines the direction of the family for careers, making/spending money, getting financial security, doing well with the house, doing well with the family including child development, social connections, e.g., at church and relatives, etc. Then as she does her parts, he gives her praise and, thus, emotional security.He does try to make her smile: In that situation, her being unhappy is a threat to the whole effort, for life. So, about the happiest he can be is to be with her when she is smiling at him from being happy being with him.Ah, some of this might be in Girls 101 for Dummies — Boys!Dad didn’t teach me this stuff. He never had to formulate and learn it since he just followed some strong social norms of his time. Since 1960 or so, so many of the norms have broken down that without some help from leadership, maternal instinct, and more, family formation will just continue to FAIL. No doubt Darwin is on the case.In the movie The Magic of Ordinary Days, she violated so many traditional norms that Dad would never have had her in the house. She was a grand pain in the back side: For the movie, if their life was like a trip in a small canoe across rough waters, then she not only was not paddling in the right direction but was punching holes in the bottom of the canoe.Really, the movie was a chick flick: So, women could watch that and see how, even if she was irresponsible, ditsy, getting an F as a wife, pursuing “her OWN life” neglecting or in conflict with the family, etc., some good man will put up with all that, including being a good father for her child by another man, and get her a good life anyway.Sorry, Honey: Mostly it’s not that easy. Even if your husband is wealthy, kind, loving, and very much wants a good family, etc., YOU just MUST play a constructive role or you can easily end up with a busted family, terrible parenting, and really bad Thanksgiving Dinners for the rest of your life.Instead, sweetheart, just GOTTA really get with the program, take love, marriage, home, parenting, and family formation SERIOUSLY, be PRODUCTIVE, etc.Yes, just what to do might have been easier to see with a village society of 10,000 years ago or with the norms Dad had, but, still, it’s possible to do well if just take life and the goals seriously and think a little.Where can I apply for a do-over, a re-do?It wasn’t me: There are a LOT of women like in that movie — just next to hopeless for good family formation. Men are being asked to understand the disasters of women since 1960, do their own part, fix some really serious problems their wives have, do much of her part, and have her under good leadership about hour by hour. Actually, that’s not very promising, either.I did really well at my part and much more; so I shouldn’t have to have a re-do: US family formation just sucks, for nearly everyone. We will solve this problem or just continue shrinking as a good society. No doubt Darwin is on the case, but Darwin’s solutions take a while.