Parental affection is sometimes a pretext to tyranny, Wollstonecraft says. In the current situation, since women are “a slave…to prejudice,” mothers are typically either neglectful or overindulgent. Since women are naturally caretakers of their children in their infancy, women’s understanding should be strengthened. Women who are guided chiefly by their own feelings, rather than by reason, will continually fall to one extreme or the other, failing in the formation of their children’s temperament.
Since women are not taught to develop their reason, they aren’t equipped to be good mothers. They will either tend to overindulge or dominate their children, with harmful effects on children’s character. If for no other reason, then, women should be educated so as to become more effective caretakers for their children.
Good motherhood requires sense and independence of mind, which women who are dependent on their husbands lack. Unless she has a firmer command of her own temper, founded on reason, a mother can’t manage her children properly. In fact, she hardly deserves the name of “mother,” in Wollstonecraft’s opinion, if she refuses to nurse her children. This duty is naturally intended to deepen affection.
Breastfeeding, with its clear link between affection and duty, continues to be a key issue for Wollstonecraft. She goes on to argue that those who hire others to nurse and nurture their children should not be surprised when their children’s sense of duty to their parents is weak.