Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Grandmother Phenomenon

My mom sewed this cute outfit for me when I was a child!
The success and proliferation of the entire human race is owed to the grandmother, I read recently.

But how could this be so?

Indeed, grandmothers are wonderful for kissing boo-boo's, baking cookies, sharing wisdom, and slipping money into your pocket when your parents aren't looking.

But despite their wonderful amazing qualities, how does their grandmother-ness get the credit for all of humanity's success?  I was puzzled.

But, as I began to read the article, I unpacked a marvelous concept called "The Grandmother Phenomenon."  The thesis of the theory is that our good health, our intelligence, our longevity, and everything that we are is all because of the commitment of a grandmother to help the mother raise the child.

What an excited grandmother!  She scooped him up shortly after he was born!
 The "Grandmother Phenomenon" can best be explained with a scenario.  Imagine this:

Mother #1 raises her child by herself.  Perhaps because of an early death, there is no grandmother present to help out, so most of the child-rearing is done by the mother.  All feedings, all supervision, and all of the child's needs are fulfilled by the mother who gives all of her physical energy to her blessed child.  Mother #1 is no doubt an exhausted one.  Since her body is so taxed by this commitment, her menstrual cycle returns more slowly, and--when it does--there is hardly any time for sex with her husband because she is so busy with the child.  Yes, Dad helps...but when he is helping with the child there is certainly no time for sex because he is occupied.  Thus, procreation happens less often.  This couple might have only one child or maybe two.  So, they have contributed very little to the gene pool of humanity.  Their traits in the gene pool, no matter what they are, are just less.

Mother #2, however, raises her child with the assistance of her own mother, the child's grandmother.  As the grandmother helps out with feedings, supervision, and all of the child's needs, this reduces the pressure on the mother.  In theory, this should give her less stress, allow her to rest and refresh more, and provide more free time for her to enjoy sex with her husband.  Physically, she will return to her baby-making prowess more quickly, for her menstrual cycle will return more swiftly, and with it will come her fertility and the increased probability of conceiving that second child.  If Grandma stays around to help raise the second, the third will be more likely to arrive.  Such is often the formula for big families with 5 to 10 children.  As the biology of our ancestors have shown us, the more Grandma helps, the more grandchilden she will have, and many families of our ancestors were indeed HUGE with many, many children!

As you can see, Mother #2 contributed much more to the gene pool.  And, since Grandma's intelligence lead her to be committed to her grandchildren and her DNA has already given her the gift of longevity, the contribution that this family makes to the gene pool will have both more intelligence and more longevity.

The descendants of this long-living, intelligent grandmother will carry those same gifts in their DNA, thereby increasing the chances of more of humanity's children growing into supportive, helpful grandparents themselves.  The theory suggests that this makes humanity stronger and more robust because we're working to help each other -- and making room for more of us to be born.

No matter what, we can definitely conclude that helpful grandmothers are a blessing indeed.  And little Liam is lucky to have two fantastic ones!