Lesson 1 of 7 - free your true Self to guide you

Two Research Summaries
on Maternal Bonding:

What causes it, and
Effects on later relationships

The Web address of this summary is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/news/bonding.htm

  Updated  April 11, 2015

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      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on  "emotional unavailability" (an inability to bond and empathize). :

      These two research summaries add perspective to the complex subject of mother-childf bonding. A premise in this Web site is that poor bonding can have major negative effects on the wholistic health and adult success of typical kids. See my comments after the article. The links and hilights below are mine. - Peter Gerlach, MSW

What Causes Moms and Kids to Bond?

by Stuart Fox - livescience.com, "Life's Little Mysteries" writer; via Yahoo news 5/9/2010

Aristotle once quipped that, "Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own," but recent work in the field of behavioral neuroscience has shown that maternal love involves a chemical stew far more complex than Aristotle's simple saying.

In particular, scientists have identified the hormone oxytocin as important to human bonding, although researchers caution that they still only have a superficial understanding of how this chemical behaves in humans.

Oxytocin performs a number of roles in the human body, and is especially important in expecting and recent mothers, because it can help induce labor or stimulate lactation. That link to pregnancy made it a prime suspect for inducing mother-child bonding, and much research has concentrated on uncovering its role in maternal behavior, said Jennifer Bartz, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

"We know that oxytocin facilitates child birth and lactation, and that has led some to investigate its role in attachment between mother and child, and in adult-adult pair bonds," Bartz told Life's Little Mysteries (LifeScience.com). "It's pretty clear that the hormone oxytocin plays a role in bond formation in animals, but right now, we really know very little about the neurochemistry of bonding in humans."

The exact mechanism by which oxytocin initiates bonding remains poorly understood. The chemical interacts with a number of other hormones associated with pleasure and social behavior, and scientists have not yet unraveled that complex web of biochemical interactions, Bartz said. However, research has shown that oxytocin helps individuals remember the faces of the people they like, and distinguish them from the people they don't like.

"It seems like one of the things oxytocin does is facilitate social memory. It helps us establish a preference for particular individuals," Bartz said.

And, as any mother who feels that her kids call too rarely can attest, the oxytocin-based mechanism that bonds mothers to children may not work reciprocally. While the role of oxytocin in childbirth helped researchers link it to motherly love, no evidence has yet shown what chemicals might endear mothers to their children, Bartz said.

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Close Relationship with Mom Leads to Better Romance Later
by Rachael Rettner - LiveScience Staff Writer, via Yahoo News - 5/29/2010

How well you get along with your parents in your teens might influence your romantic relationships a decade later, a new study suggests.

The results show a close relationship with one's mother in early adolescence was associated with better-quality romantic relationships as young adults.

The findings highlight the importance of the parent-child bond for building relationships later in life, the researchers say.

"Parents' relationships with their children are extremely important and that's how we develop our ability to have successful relationships as adults, our parents are our models," said study researcher Constance Gager, of Montclair State University in New Jersey. "So if kids are not feeling close with their parents then they're probably not going to model the positive aspects of that relationship when they reach adulthood."

However, the strength of the parent-child connection later in adolescence, after the age of 14, did not seem to influence the children's romantic relationships when they were older. This might be because late adolescence is too late to have an impact, Gager said.

"Adolescents may be more fully formed by age 14 so that there's not as much effect of their parents' relationship on them," she told LiveScience.

The results were presented on May 28 at the Association for Psychological Science Convention in Boston.

Mother's warmth

Gager and her colleagues analyzed the results of a national survey involving nearly 7,000 married couples in the United States. Between 1992 and 1994, the mothers, fathers and children, aged 10 through 17, were asked about their relationships with each other. About a decade later, between 2001 and 2004, the children, now aged 20 to 27, were surveyed about their relationships with people they were dating (but not living with).

The parents and children were asked to rate statements about the "warmth" and closeness of their relationships, such as "It's easy for me to laugh and have a good time with my parent/child," and "I feel on edge or tense when I'm with my parent/child."

The grown-up children had to answer questions regarding relationship satisfaction and how much conflict they were having with their dating partners.

Only the mother's description of the relationship with her child was able to predict how well those children got along with their serious boyfriends/girlfriends later. Specifically, those children with warm and close relationships with their mothers had more satisfaction and less conflict with their significant others

Although fathers have become more involved in the lives of their children in recent decades, the research suggests that it might not quite be enough to have an effect on the children's adult romantic relationships, Gager said. She notes that women are still responsible for two-thirds of the household labor and child-care.

"But we hope in the future as men become more involved with their children and things move along to maybe be a little more equal that we'll start to see effects of fathers on their children," she said.

What about children's views?

The fact that a mother's perception of closeness, but not the child's, influenced the adult romantic relationships might be due to children not being as good survey-takers as adults are, Gager said.

In future studies, scientists might need to reconsider how to phrase questions in order to better gauge perceptions of children, she said.

"It could be that we're not tapping into the kinds of things that might be more meaningful to children," Gager said. "Maybe 'warm' doesn't mean anything to children," whereas it would to an adult."

"Maybe today we would say 'Do you like hanging around with your parents,'" to make the phrase more attuned to children's vernacular, she said.

Future work should also examine romantic relationships not just involving people who are dating, but people who are living together or married, she said.


      Some people "bond" (form psychological-spiritual attachments) better than others. People who are able to form healthy reciprocal bonds appear to be happier, healthier, and more effective parents than those who can't. One of six common psychological wounds proposed by this Web site is an inability to bond .

       Premise - the degree of bonding between a mother and child (and between her and her own mother) are major determinants of a family's nurturance level. If a mother inherits significant psychological wounds (e.g. weak bonding) from her ancestors, she risks unintentionally passing them on to her young kids. The same dynamic may apply to father-child bonding also.

      The first article above doesn't define "maternal binding,": and focuses only on its possible its hormonal and neurochemical roots. The artitcle omits any findings on what genetic and psychological factors determine the presence or absence of the hormone oxytocin in a new mother.

      The main finding in this study and summary is how little is known about the neuro-chemical (and psychological) roots of maternal bonding. The article makes no mention of how the degree of such bonding (weak > strong) affects the wholistic health of mother and child. Conventional wisdom suggests that early-childhood bonding with each parent is crucial for healthy child development.

      A fundamental question is - which comes first: an inherited (genetic) "bonding hormone" in the mother, or psychological health which promotes the hormone - or both? Another crucial question is what can new parents do to raise the odds of healthy bonding with a newborn child?

      The second research summary suggests that mother-child "warmth and closeness" promote the child's later relationship satisfaction. The study makes no attempt to identify

  • what "warmth and closeness" are;

  • what factors determine parent-child "warmth and closeness," or...

  • the relationship between maternal bonding and "warmth and closeness;" or...

  • whether a mother's own early-childhood experience (stressful vs. nurturing) affects her bonding with her child/ren; or...

  • how early-childhood maternal warmth and closeness affects a child's overall development and wholistic health. or...

  • any difference the child's gender and birth-order may make on the later effects of maternal "warmth and closeness;" or...

  • whether kids experiencing maternal "warmth and closeness" are able to provide those same things to their own kids. 

Implication - this study only examines one pair of variables among many that determine how parental nurturance affects adult-children's wholistic health, success, happiness, and productivity. At best, this study's findings support the general view that early parent-child relationships significantly affect child development. It's significant that these articles' authors omit any editorial comments like mine here.

      Lessons 5 and 6 in this course focus on family health and effective parenting. This article examines interpersonal bonding in some detail..

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