The Maternal and Husbands

The maternal instinct in our wives makes better men of us husbands. It pushes us to be more
conscientious as protectors and providers. It forces us to pay attention to the needs of wife and
family. It punishes us when selfishly we neglect our duties and pursue our own narrow interests.
Most of us are better men because we are married. Our wives’ maternal-driven demands have
forced us to grow up, to be adults, to put others first, and to fulfill our manly responsibilities.

However, the fierce loyalty that is a by-product of the protective maternal instinct easily can be
corrupted. Not infrequently it undermines objectivity. Criticism of one’s family, one’s spouse,
and especially one’s children rarely can be heard dispassionately. Hyper-sensitivity often leads to
misinterpretation of the comments of others. It turns their jokes into slights, observations into
criticisms, ambiguities into cruelty, and unintended oversights into calculated attacks. It further
spills over into poisonous jealousy, the bitter refusal to countenance the superiority of any other
person or spouse or family in any manner whatsoever over one’s own. Criticism of others
spreads like cancer as one must tear down the competition in order to elevate one’s own.

Every strength, we see time and again, easily becomes a weakness. What can be done about it?
C. S. Lewis argues that

The relations of the family to the outer world – what might be called its foreign
policy – must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to
be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders.1

Why does he say this? Because of the maternal instinct. He explains:

A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the
world. Naturally, almost, in a sense, rightly, their claims override, for her, all
other claims. She is the special trustee of their interests.2

What then is the husband’s role?

The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference of hers is not
given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the
intense family patriotism of the wife.3

She, far more than her husband, has a “natural preference” for her own people, Lewis maintains.
She has an “intense family patriotism.” He then makes use of an illustration.

If anyone doubts this, let me ask a simple question. If your dog has bitten the
child next door, or if your child has hurt the dog next door, which would you
sooner have to deal with, the master of that house or the mistress? 4

Still doubtful? He then asks,

Or, if you are a married woman, let me ask you this question. Much as you admire
your husband, would you not say that his chief failing is his tendency not to stick
up for his rights and yours against the neighbours as vigorously as you would
like? A bit of an Appeaser? 5

What is a husband to do? Lewis advises that he represent the more moderate less intense face of
the family to the world. To this we would add that he work to moderate his wife’s views. Help
her to see that the joke was not a slight, the question was not a criticism, the oversight was not an
attempt to injure, the observation was not a complaint, the correction of her child was not an

The maternal instinct makes the world go round, putting men to work in service of women’s
concerns. It gives human community the shape of female interests. Yet it is subject to corruption.
In God’s design it needs the balance of a husband’s foreign policy experience.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 113-114.
Lewis, Mere Christianity, 114.
Lewis, Mere Christianity, 114.
Lewis, Mere Christianity, 114.
5 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 114.