From the marketplace to the workplace, it is mothers who are still perceived as having that “special bond” with their children. This is compounded by advertising and the widely held expectation that it will be mothers who take parental leave.
But in a rapidly changing society, is there really any reason to assume that mothers are any more suited to take care of their children than fathers? Some will argue that a superior “maternal instinct” is part of a woman’s biology. But do pregnancies, hormones or parenting experiences really create a stronger bond? Let’s take a look at the scientific evidence.
Some scholars argue that the relationship between parents and children can begin before birth. They claim that such “antenatal bonding” – feeling connected to the unborn baby – is an important predictor of the infant-mother relationship. However, the actual evidence linking feelings about the baby during pregnancy with postnatal behaviour is inconsistent, so it’s not clear how – or even if – such feelings influence later relationships.
Mothers and their children are generally said to bond in the first few hours after the birth. Bonding, or the development of trust between a mother and her child, begins from the moment the two are brought together. During this time mothers often breastfeed their children and hold them close, thus keeping the two in physical contact for the first precious hours and days of the infant’s life.
There are many reasons that mothers and their babies may not be in contact immediately following birth, such as complications with the delivery or a premature baby that requires medical treatment, and a physical distance does not in any way mean that bonding will not occur. On the contrary, it is when mothers and babies are in close contact but do not bond that there may be long lasting consequences.
There is plenty of time for bonding in the first six months or so, so mothers should feel no pressure to bond instantly with their children. Instead, through meeting her child’s needs and giving the child reasons to trust her, a mother builds up a bond over many months.
Mother Child Attachment
When babies become toddlers they know that their mothers are the primary individuals to meet their needs and so the initial cycle of bonding has been completed. At this time, however, toddlers are beginning to realise that they are their own individuals and now have the mobility to test the boundaries that their mothers have set for them.
As a child explores, usually through trial and error, (s)he will come to realise that his/her mother’s limits have been instated to keep him/her safe and so will again come to trust the mother. With this realisation and resulting trust the second stage of bonding is thus complete, but through the affection that they share for each other the mother and child will also have developed an attachment. According to theorist John Bowlby, this affectional tie will become the template of all relationships that the child goes on to form throughout his/her life. Clearly a mother’s work in the first years of a child’s life has great importance.
While a discussion of a child’s relationship with their mother could easily become a highly involved, deeply psychological or sociological dialogue, it needn’t be so. Instead, any such discussion can be boiled down to the basics: the mother child relationship is probably the strongest relationship in a child’s early life and it will become the template on which later relationships are based.
It may seem somewhat intimidating to new mothers who fear “messing up” or somehow “ruining” their children, but in most cases developing a bond and later an attachment is a purely natural development. Mothers needn’t worry about if they are developing the “right” relationship with their children or if they are going about mothering “correctly” – there is no external standard to which they must perform. Instead, all mothers should do what feels natural and right to them, and as long as they are happy then chances will be good that their children will be too.