Attachment in Infancy and its Lifelong Effects

When discussing mother-infant attachment we are discussing the various theories surrounding it. Freud was the first to claim that the attachment between mother and infant was the most important factor determining future behavior of human beings. But in brief, he claimed that the closer and stronger the relationship between the mother and infant the more that person would be the type to be needy or clingy later on in life.

Later John Bowlby was developing his theory regarding mother-infant attachment and was joined by Mary Ainsworth who had spent most of her life aiming to work in this field of study. Contrary to what Freud said, they said the stronger and closer the relationship the more secure the child would become. The reason was that a child who in infancy knew that all of his emotional and physical needs were being taken care of developed confidence in himself and in his world and thereby was able to have mastery over his environment and manage relationships with his peers and adults.

Mary Ainsworth conducted studies with her students by visiting the homes of families with infants, making around 52 visits, each visit consisting of 4 hours. She said in her brief autobiography that by spending so many hours and so many visits they would be able to catch mothers in many different activities and in different frames of mind.

Later on in the 1980s Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver further developed the infant-mother attachment theory and connected it to adult romantic relationships, claiming this early relationship would have bearing on an adult’s ability to sustain long term relationships. They said that there were four behavioral characteristics in adults resulting as an outcome of the types of mother-infant relationship: secure, anxious, dismissive-avoid-ant and fearful avoid-ant.

The child with secure characteristics as adult in a relationship is able to let his or her partner be independent without feeling threatened. The second, anxious describes an adult who is needy and clingy. The third, dismissive avoid-ant, describes adults who are overly independent, and the last, fearful avoid-ant, is one who is afraid of trusting anyone enough to be intimate with them.

Martha Farrell Erickson, Ph.D., and Lyn Glen, director of Children, Youth and Family and Consortium, at the University of Minnesota, not only accept Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s theories, but point out that this attachment is so important various public works should be formed to protect that attachment, as they say, that parents can only support this attachment if they have enough energy and if their own needs for housing, food, clothing and health care are being met. They feel that this is definitely a public concern as young children are the forerunners of the coming generation, and that current statistics regarding children are alarming regarding the high percentage of abused and neglected children, infants born to unmarried mothers, school-dropouts, and the percentage of homicide perpetrators under the age of 25.

I was planning to write about my feelings and my own experience as a mother, but when I started to research, I found this was an actual subject of study, supported by varying theories and the more I read, the more I was touched. Mary Ainsworth, in conclusion of her brief autobiography, says she realizes feminists might berate her, because of her claims regarding the importance of a mother in an infant’s life. But she tells them she is not telling people what the best solution is, whether to be a stay-at-home mom or use outside care, although she does admit the best quality care is probably from a mother who is available. She does go on to say that in a world that is overpopulated it is no longer the duty of every woman to have children, and thus, they can pursue careers, etc. She herself had no children.

I apologize to all the theorists if I have been too arrogant in how I briefly summarized their theories. The subject is so vast and interesting, that it is difficult in 300 words to even scratch the surface. I do hope that all who read this will read more about this, as this is such a touching and interesting subject that is important to us all.