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Parent-Child Bonding

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In each person's life much of the joy and sorrow revolves around attachments or affectionate relationships -- making them, breaking them, preparing for them, and adjusting to their loss by death. Among all of these bonds as a special bond -- the type a mother or father forms with his or her newborn infant. Bonding does not refer to mutual affection between a baby and an adult, but to the phenomenon whereby adults become committed by a one-way flow of concern and affection to children for whom they have cared during the first months and years of life. According to J. Robertson in his book, A Baby in the Family Loving and being Loved, individuals may have from three hundred to four hundred acquaintances in there lifetimes, but at any one time there are only a small number of persons to whom they are closely attached. He explains that much of the richness and beauty of life is derived from these close relationships which each person has with a small number of individuals -- mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, and a small cadre of close friends (Robertson 1).

Attachment is crucial to the survival and development of the infant. Kenneth and Klaus points out that the parents bond to their child may be the strongest of all human ties. This relationship has two unique characteristics. First, before birth one individual infant gestates within a part of the mothers body and second, after birth she ensures his survival while he is utterly dependent on her and until he becomes a separate individual. According to Mercer, the power of this attachment is so great that it enables the mother and father to make the unusual sacrifices necessary for the care of their infant. Day after day, night after night; changing diapers, attending to cries, protecting the child from danger, and giving feed in the middle of the night despite their desperate need to sleep (Mercer 22). It is important to note that this original parent-infant tie is the major source for all of the infant's subsequent attachment and is the formative relationship in the course of which the child develops a sense of himself. Throughout his lifetime the strength and character of this attachment will influence the quality of all future ties to other individuals. The question is asked, "What is the normal process by which a father and mother become attached to a healthy infant?" Well, since the human infant is wholly dependent on his mother or caregiver to meet all his physical and emotional needs the strength and durability of the attachment may well determine whether or not he will survive and develop optimally. Experimental data suggest that the past experiences of the mother are a major determinant in molding her care-giving role. Children use adults, especially loved and powerful adults, as models for their own behaviour. Children development literature, states that the powerful process of imitation or modelling socially inclines children. Kennell and Klaus explain that unless adults consciously and painstakingly reexamine these learned behaviours, they will unconsciously repeat them when they become parents (Kennell and Klaus 11). Thus the way a woman was raised, which includes the practices of her culture and the individual idiosyncrasies of her own mother's child raising practices greatly influences her behaviour toward her own infant. Bob Brazelton in The Early Mother-Infant Adjustment says that, "It may seem to many that attachment to a small baby will come naturally and to make too much of it could be a mistake... but there are many, many women who have a difficult time making this adjustment...(Brazelton 10). He points out that we must understand the ingredients of attachment in order to help, because each mother-child dyad is unique and has individual needs of it's own (Brazelton 12).

It might be argued that the length of breastfeeding is not a valid assessment of the strength of bond between mother and infant since it is culture bound. According to Violet Oaklander in Windows to our Children, too many variables influence a woman's decision to continue breastfeeding to make it a valid assessment of bonding. She explains that a woman who discontinues breastfeeding to return to work four weeks after delivery can be just as bonded as a breastfeeding mother who takes a nine-month maternity leave. Similarly, she explains, the initial decision to breastfeed must be continuously used in the assessment of bonding (Oaklander 102). A mother's decision to breastfeed may be an indication of her willingness to give of herself to her infant, which is characteristic of bonding.

The parent-infant (father as well as mother) relationship is a continuing process of adaptation to one another's needs, and parents should be aware that all is not lost if early contact is not possible. However, it should emphasized that it should be the mother's choice to determine how much time she spends with her infant in the hospital. "When it is possible for parents to be together with their babies, in privacy, for the first hour, and throughout the hospital stay, the most beneficial and supportive environment for the beginning of the bonding process is established", (Kennell and Klaus 57). According to Oaklander, "A most important behavioural system that serves to bind mother and infant together is the mothers interest in touching her baby" (Oaklander 151). Eye-to-Eye contact serves the purpose of giving a real identity or personification to the baby, as well as getting a rewarding feedback of the mother (Oaklander 45). The mother's voice is another important element as well as entertainment. Another important element is odor. Rolland Macfarlene in The Relationship Between Mother ad Neonate, found that by the 5th day of life, breastfeeding infants can discriminate their mother own breast pad from the breast pads from that of other mothers with significant reliability (Macfarlene 63).

According to Claire Berman in her book Adult Children of Divorce Speaks out, parents need to understand that the bonding which will take place in the earlier stages of the infants life is very important in determining the overall type of individual that child will grow up to be (Berman 16). Mark A. Stewart in Raising a Hyperactive Child, says: there are some homes in which children are raised so permissively or so haphazardly that they are never taught how to listen to someone else. Neither are they taught how to stick to a task, or how to control their impulsive behaviour because there never was a great bond created between the child and parents...(Stewart 23). Stewart continues by pointing out that these children will,

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