Chapter three of A Secure Base, by John Bowlby, started out pretty dry, but has gotten much juicier. In this chapter, I’m learning that how a mother, or primary attachment figure treats her/his child directly correlates with the child’s daily behavior.
More on Chapter 3 of A Secure Base, the theory behind Attachment Parenting:
We left off with the idea that scientists must have faith that theory is accurate, all the while questioning those theories. Sort of the Yin and Yang of the method.
When Bowlby became a psychoanalyst in 1937, he found that psychology was exploring the minds and fantasies of its subjects, but not their real life experiences. It was assumed that anyone interested in the external world would not be interested in the internal world. But as a biologist, Bowlby believed the two should intermingle and was constantly confronted with parents revisiting the same problems with their own children that they had had as children. He concluded that how parents treated their children was just as important as how their children thought of them.
A couple of anecdotal observations Bowlby makes regarding this are: A father, who punished his son for showing any interest in his genitals, had considered his own masturbatory inclinations a problem all of his life. And a mother, who punished her daughter for sibling jealousy, was found to have been jealous of her own sister as a child.
Instead of concentrating on parent-child interaction, however, Bowlby chose to study the effects of child removal from the home to a nursery or institution for several practical reasons.
Bowlby also found that despite many pioneers’ advances in psychoanalytic work, the idea of observing children in the home was slow to be accepted as a valuable tool.
Even so, he does give some examples of differing ways children develop based on familial interaction.
The first example of from Mary Ainsworth, another attachment theorist and pioneer in the field.
Ainsworth had studied mother/child interaction in Uganda and developed a theory that by 8 months of age, children who have a devoted mother will use her as a base for exploration, making trips further away from her, but always keeping tabs on her whereabouts. Then she studied two groups of children in Baltimore.
The two sets had very different behaviors based on how their mothers responded to them.The children whose mothers responded with sensitivity and quickness, actively explored, returning to her in spurts and greeted her warmly when she returned from a trip out of the room. The children whose mothers misinterpreted cues, responded slowly or not at all, explored less, sucked their thumbs anxiously, seemingly preoccupied with where their mother was, and then greeted her with ambivalence when she returned.
Essentially, these studies found that children whose mothers responded with sensitivity, was accepting of their child’s behavior and co-operative, found that by these children, by their first birthdays, were beginning to develop a limited sense of self-reliance. The children whose mothers were insensitive, ignored their children, responded to their cues arbitrarily or outright rejected them, were unhappy, anxious, and difficult.
Bowlby notes that there are theories that say some children are born with difficult personalities and their mothers’ adverse reactions are to be expected because of the difficult personality of the child. He rejects these theories based on observations made during the first three months of the lives of the children. The studies found that the children whose mothers responded promptly during the first few moths, cried less by the end of the first year than the children whose mothers left them to cry.
There are other examples, but Bowlby’s conclusion is that in all but a few exceptions, it is the mother who sets the tone for the relationship between mother and child and it is the mother who is responsible for how interaction develops.
For instance, Ainsworth studied some children in the home and found that some mothers ignored their child’s cries because they believed the child would cry harder, would she give the child any attention. Some mothers waited as long as they could stand it and then attended to their children. And some mothers did not actually seem to notice their child’s cries. This was the most disturbing and painful to observe, as these mothers were generally depressed and anxious, and truly unable to attend to anything else.
Bowlby notes how these observations are important because were we to rely on the parents tales of life at home, it may be a much different picture. It is clear, even from small case studies the obvious correlation between how a child is treated and the child’s behavior.
At this point, Bowlby says that he doesn’t lay blame on inadequate mothers. Even with the most ideal of circumstances: a happy childhood, a supportive partner, and if she has not been filled with mistaken advice about child-rearing, motherhood is a taxing and exacting job. So for women who are not living with ideal circumstances, he says it is no wonder that they end up with “emotional hassle,” as he puts it.
Even so, he says, it is obvious that the effects of insensitive mothering, mixed with some rejection, and separation has devastating, deplorable effects, leaving the child with the possibility of never finding a secure and loving relationship with anyone else.
There is way more to this chapter, but I think this is enough to ingest in one sitting. If I have time, I may go ahead and finish the chapter this week instead of waiting another week, as it is promising to stay just as interesting.