When Mom Leaves: Attachment

Have you ever seen this sign outside a day care?

“Available openings. Now accepting babies from 4 weeks.”

If you go search on mommy forums, you’ll find that plenty of women are thinking about putting their babies in day care. Maybe not quite this early, but most before their baby’s three-month birthday. If you peruse these boards, you’ll find the mothers deeply conflicted, wondering if their baby will be all right in day care. Will he be sad? Will he get used to it? Unfortunately, the all-too-common response on these boards is from women who have also put their babies in day-care this early, assuring the new mother that everything will be fine.

Why are new mothers so conflicted about this? If we believe what the feminists tell us, that anybody can change a diaper, we should be eager to pass off this mundane task to somebody else and pursue our careers. But most women know, instinctively, that this is wrong for their babies. They are tortured by the decision, and only the chorus of encouragement from other working moms gives them reassurance.

So today, I want to talk about what all women know instinctively: that something important is going on in the early months on your baby’s life, no matter how mundane caring for him may be.

The National Institute of Health describes attachment thus: “Attachment is where the child uses the primary caregiver as a secure base from which to explore and, when necessary, as a haven of safety and a source of comfort.” Helpguide.org tell us, “The secure attachment bond is the nonverbal emotional relationship between and infant and primary caregiver, defined by emotional responses to the baby’s cues, as expressed through movements, gestures, and sounds. The success of this wordless relationship enables a child to feel secure enough to develop fully, and affects how he or she will interact, communicate, and form relationships throughout life.”  A baby’s ability to attach to one single caregiver will be one of the most important factors in their future emotional well-being.

We know now that the first years of life are critical, and that what happens in the early years will affect a human being for his whole life. (Dreskin, 124)

So how does attachment happen? It starts before a baby is born.  Babies begin attaching to their mothers as soon as they can hear and recognize her voice, and become accustomed to her movement pattern. After birth, this process of attachment continues through physical touch and care. All the little, repetitive tasks that a mother does for her baby encourage the baby to trust her: diaper changes, feeding time, bath time, walks in the park. All these tasks, that truly anybody could do for her baby, are one-by-one helping her baby to trust her, and through that trust, to learn that people are trustworthy.

What seems to feminists the most degrading job in the world is actually teaching a tiny person how to trust, first and foremost, his family.

It is important to remember that the care of the child under three is the care of the developing personality, not the formed personality. It is the ongoing emotional relationship and bond established between the infant and mother—and later between the infant, mother and father—that becomes the basis of the formation of the whole personality. Secure children are much more able to establish themselves as unique individuals than insecure children. (Hattemer, 79)

It makes sense that a task this big—the forming of a child’s ability to trust—would not be a quick job. The nature of the tasks that must be done in the first few months of a baby’s life exclude the idea that quality time can trump quantity time. There is no way to change a baby’s diaper in a ‘quality’ way. It is only through quantity that the baby learns to trust.

The sum of the thinking of these authorities is that attachments and quality of care influence learning from birth into the school years. The strength and quality of attachment is principally determined by the amount and kind of care given by the mother or mother figure. For those mothers who suggest that they give “quality time” in lieu of quantity of time, we feel constrained to ask if they or their husbands may do that at the office. The affectional bond gives stability to children’ uncertain world and contributes to a healthy independence. (Moore, 102)

Through the next few years, the child continues to learn that he can trust his parents. This base of trust enables him to safely start exploring the world around him. It gives him a base of security from which he can become independent.

An attachment is an affectional bond that gives stability in a world full of uncertainties. The mother or mother figure to which the child has become attached affords a safe base from which to explore the unknown, a place to which once can return when things “out there” become too threatening. An emotional stability develops that builds a desirable independence and makes possible a child’s persevering in spite of frustrations—to stay with a task until a goal is reached. (Moore, 102) 

During the first three or four years of life, the child undergoes an enormous expansion of intellectual, emotional, and neuromuscular development. From the very beginning of life outside the mother’s body, the infant seeks to relate to, and to bond with, the mother by means of reflex actions of contact-seeking, rooting, and sucking. This bonding relationship is essential for the later development of the child’s capacity to form human relationships, thereby to become a socialized human being. It forms the basis for the individual’s ability to think clearly, to develop a sense of property, to respect others, and to learn. (Rinsley, 44)

I think it is safe the say that this is not an unimportant job. The responsibility for forming a well-adjusted and emotionally stable adult is mind-boggling. The nurture of a baby is not limited to the physical acts of feeding and changing diapers. It is through these physical acts that the baby learns the building blocks of human interaction.

Mothers who care for their own children are doing an important job. They are not old-fashioned, following some out-moded tradition. They are giving their children the upbringing which the most up-to-date research has determined is best.

There are those who say we cannot afford to have mothers remain at home. They must enter the workforce and be productive, we are told. What could be more productive than raising children to be caring, compassionate, ethical adults? (Dreskin, 135.)

Next week, we’ll look at what happens when this mother/baby attachment is interrupted.


Works Cited:

Schlafly, Phyllis, Ed. Who Will Rock the Cradle. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990.
Dreskin, Wendy. “Daycare: A Child’s View.” Schlafly 123-138.
Rinsley, Donald B. “A Child Psychiatrist Looks at Child Care.” Schlafly 43-54.
Moore, Raymond S. “Home Grown Children Have the Advantage.” Schlafly 85-114.
Hattemer, Barbara. “New Light of Daycare Research.” Schlafly 69-83.


Part 1 I Part 3 I Part 4 I Part 5

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