10/04/2016 01:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When Did You First Feel Like A Mother? When Does Mothering Begin?

Watch your active, thriving 3-year-old girl as she takes pillows and puts them in a circle. See how she climbs into this space with her baby doll, little play figures, favorite stuffed animal or toy. Or, enjoy her construction of a fort with cushions from your comfortable couch and colorful, quilts and blankets. She revels in her architectural delight that she carefully crawls into with those special, prized items. She spends so much focused energy on her creation. If it falls apart, she patiently rebuilds it. Why is this so appealing?

For many little girls, behind this creative play are her first maternal longings. She is building a nest for her brood or a home for her loved ones. It may be more obvious if her mother is pregnant and she wants to be like her, but this need not be the case. The feelings come from inside her, not from her environment.

She may have a loving, nurturing mother who she identifies with and wants to be like. But she may have a distant mother who never learned the rudiments of close attachment. This beginning maternal sense grows inside little girls from their desire to be mothered (that may or may not be satisfied). The wish to be mothered gives rise to the desire to mother.

Notice when your 6-to-10-year-old girl is learning to socialize, she yearns for a very "best friend." Quiet and reserved, or bubbly and gregarious, this little girl is looking for someone "Just Like Me" who she can nurture and be nurtured by. The two spend hours lying on their beds chatting and cuddling endlessly. They are mothering each other.

The Desire to Mother as an Adult

It may be more apparent that motherhood begins for some when you first imagine having a baby or child and then make the decision to become pregnant or adopt--or when you see the first sonogram or picture of your soon-to-be-adopted sweetheart--or maybe you feel more like a mother later when you hold your baby in the delivery room or adoption location for the first time--or even later when your two-month-old smiles back at you.

We're all different. But the amazing thing is to realize that the remarkable "nurturing sense" you hold deeply inside of you began when you were a little, little one!

So, think back. When did the feeling of mothering begin for you?

2016-09-20-1474395440-4087912-Key.jpgLaurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Familius and wherever books are sold.