When Mom Leaves: Attachment, Part 2

Last week, we looked a little at what mother/baby attachment is and how it happens. To continue that theme today, I want to look at what happens when that attachment process is interrupted.

We Americans tend to be very aware of attachment problems when it comes to children who don’t have parents. If we look at foreign orphans, for example, there are many resources for potential adoptive parents about the nature of attachment disorder and the types of work that will need to be done to help these children. We view these children as traumatized, and for good reason. These children have not received the crucial emotional love that they need to grow and thrive, and the consequences of this deprivation are devastating.  In extreme cases, children who do not receive human affection suffer physical consequences, to the point of death.

At home, though, we tend to think of children as being much more resilient.  The reality, though, is this: children who do not attach to a primary caregiver through time and physical touch will suffer emotionally.

With respect to children under two years of age, the evidence of researchers is unanimous; being separated from parents, and especially mothers, for an extended period of time on a regular basis seriously weakens the child’s attachment to his mother, and this weakened attachment results in damage to a child’s emotional and intellectual development. Children deprived of parental care in early childhood are likely to be withdrawn, disruptive, insecure, or even intellectually stunted. (Schwartz, 277)

Putting a baby under one year old in full or even part-time day care weakens their attachment to their mothers.

Group care at an early age dilutes or interrupts bonding to the parent without offering the possibility of an attachment to a surrogate parent. It is very likely that for infants and toddlers the interruption of this early process results on a long-standing emotional deficit. (Dreskin, 24)

If, as we saw last week, the attachment process happens only through a large quantity of time, it makes complete sense that children placed in regular daycare will have less of an attachment to their mothers. If attachment is about learning to trust another human being, that will not be achieved by maternal absence.  While some may argue that daycare providers can still instill trust in a child, the reality is that children are wired to attach to one single person in these early years, and being transferred from mother to any number of daycare providers will only undermine the trust that the mother/baby pair established in their first month or so together.

Most psychologists and psychoanalysts agree that a nonattached child or a child who has formed only a casual or diluted attachment with an adult is in serious danger. Rather than making the child stronger, this can lead to emotional disturbances and may decrease the child’s ability to form close or lasting relationships with other people throughout adult life. (Dreskin, 25)

In the modern day-care debate, I find that this information is almost never discussed. There are studies on the effects of weak attachments in infants, and yet the media does not ever reference this information. It is sad to me that when we’re dealing with something as important as the nurture of the next generation, some of the biggest facts are left out of the case. The debate over whether women can have it all never involves a discussion of whether children can have it all, or need it all. In fact, the needs of the children are never brought into the discussion except as a passing, “Oh, children are resilient.”

Though it has become politically correct to suggest that young children are infinitely resilient, the data do not support this. The fact remains that babies thrive when they have sensitive, responsive, and consistent mothering. And they fail to develop their full potential when they are deprived of maternal love. They need their mothers during their earliest years more than they need toys, socializing with other children, or the material comforts a second income will buy .(Hunter, 64)

The job we mothers have, in the early years of our children’s lives, absolutely cannot be farmed out. We are essential to their growth and development, and we must not let any political agenda ever tell us otherwise.


Part 1 I Part 2 I Part 4 I Part 5


Works Cited:

Schlafly, Phyllis, Ed. Who Will Rock the Cradle. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990.
Schwartz, Michael. “Do We Want Government To Be Our Baby-Sitter?” Schlafly 269-288.
Dreskin, William and Wendy. The Day Care Decision. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1983.
Hunter, Brenda. Home by Choice. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1991.

Posted in Daycare, For New Moms, Having It All, Importance of Mothers, Using Our Minds. Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post. Leave a trackback.

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