Maternal Negativity and Child Maltreatment: How evolutionary perspectives contribute to a layered and compassionate understanding

In Western culture most people believe that mothers evolved to love all of their children instinctually and unconditionally. In contrast, any mother who feels ambivalence or hostility towards her child is typically seen as unnatural, and a mother who maltreats her child is seen as behaving pathologically. This chapter draws on evolutionary research to challenge this widespread view of motherhood. The goal is to foster a more evolutionarily valid, nuanced and compassionate understanding. Such an understanding has the potential to contribute to clinical work with faltering mothers and also to programmes focused on preventing maternal maltreatment of children.