Children all share the urgent need for the loving support of at least one reliable, predictable empathic caretaker. People who lack that experience show up later in prisons, hospitals, homeless on the street, or in the offices of psychologists and psychiatrists. We call this universal need “attachment” and usually accompany it with the word “parenting”.
Optimally, it is birth mothers (and fathers) who supply the essential experience of attachment. But lacking a birth parent with the ability to attach in a loving and predictably supportive way, the presence of another person, early in the life of the newborn, can also supply what is needed. It could be an adoptive parent, a grandparent, an aunt, or even someone hired to care for the child… a nanny, a cook, the house cleaner, or any other person who interacts routinely and regularly in a loving protective manner with the child.
“Recent research suggests that attachment patterns formed in childhood may be relatively stable into adulthood. They have been shown to impact experiences of romantic love, interpersonal attitudes, and the sense of self.” (Cozolino, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy quoting Brennan & Shaver). There is, however, a difference in the responses of children who were exposed to violence and discord and those exposed to anxiety, lack of eye contact and physical closeness. Those exposed to violence are more likely to end up in prison while those without an attachment figure but no violence are more likely to end up in my office.
If parents turn over child care to someone else, they should not be surprised when that person becomes the one loved as a Mommy. Instead of being jealous or resentful, gratefulness would be appropriate. Unfortunately, the very same frailties that prevent people from being successful as parents often interfere with their ability to appreciate what is being offered by someone else. Instead they tend towards jealousy and often fire the very person that might have saved their child’s emotional well-being.
© 2014, Alice Kahn Ladas