Maternal Impact

In 1951, the World Health Organization gave John Bowlby the task of exploring orphaned or homeless children. In understanding these children, Bowlby (1953, p. 11) determined that "what is believed to be essential for mental health is that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute—one person who steadily mothers him) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment. It is this complex, rich, and rewarding relationship with the mother in early years... [that we] now believe to underlie the development of character and mental health." Not only was it determined that proper and adequate mothering was essential for proper growth, but it was determined that the mothering received during this period was also necessary for children's later ability to successfully mother their own children. Brody (1956, p. 377) writes "The genesis of motherliness is to be sought primarily in the quality of the child's attachment to her own mother in the first years of life. In that period the mother actively provides many passive satisfactions to the child, and is perceived as having the power to grant or withhold all of the pleasures that the child can imagine to be crucial. As the child grows capable of activity in her own right, she imitates the activity she is most familiar with, that of her mother."

The research generated by these two prophetic statements has supported the ideas that our mothering is important in who we become as individuals and parents. Through this research we have also learned about the nature and behaviors of mothering—what supports the developing child and what sets the child up for a negative life trajectory. Some of the specific behaviors of mothering found to have positive effects include sensitivity, affect attunement (Haft and Slade, 1989), empathy (Basch, 1983; Settlage, 1980), emotional availability (Emde, 1980; Settlage, 1980), touch or stimulation (Fields, 1994), reciprocation (Mahler, 1961; Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, 1975), ability to read and respond to child's cues (Sumner and Spietz, 1994), contingency (Sumner and Spietz, 1994), parental management and socialization processes (Greenberg, Speltz, and DeKlyen, 1993), and a history of secure relationships or attachments (Benoit and Parker, 1994; Slade and Cohen, 1996). The behaviors that lead to less desirable outcomes include things in direct opposition to those behaviors previously listed. A primary caregiver's insecure attachment history has also been shown to have a strong effect, as has the presence of trauma (Lyons-Ruth and Block, 1996).

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