The original Bowlby’s attachment theory is clear about the risks of mother deprivation at an early age. He supported the concept of monotropism to refer to the special bond between the infant and another caregiver (usually the mother) created during a sensitive period at an early age. Failing to create this bond or disrupting it would cause dramatic issues in the kids’ development, instigating problems during teenagerhood or adulthood, such as delinquency, cognitive deficiencies, or affectionless psychopathy, that could not be undone.
Harlow (1958) supported this idea with his studies with monkeys, where he showed evidence that children were predisposed to forming an affectional bond with the mother, in order to reduce fear and promote exploratory activity. He also reported aggressive behaviours and problems with social interactions in adult monkeys that were deprived from their mother bond in childhood.
Implications of attachment theory
Considering the mother/caregiver the main attachment figure and the basic and only person that can prevent children to become delinquents or to suffer from affectionless psychopathy or other issues in later years has important implications in real life. Mothers have the pressure to build this successful bond with the child.
However, more contemporary researches have put into question to what extent mother deprivation has such dramatic consequences.
The mother bond migth not be essential
Michael Rutter (1981) argued that the anti-social behaviour, affectionless psychopathology, intellectual development issues, are not just due to caregiver deprivation, but to the lack of cognitive stimulation and social experiences that attachments provide. He also found children attached to different figures, such as the father, siblings, or even inanimate objects, questioning that the mother-infant bond is essential for the children’s wellbeing.
Supporting this idea, Van Ijzendoorn, & Tavecchio (1987), claimed that a stable network of adults would be able to provide the care a child needs. In addition to this, Schaffer & Emerson (1964) showed that kids after 18 months old were attached to several figures, not just the mother or main caregiver.
Schaffer also debates Bowlby’s idea that mother deprivation has consequences that could not be undone. He states that thinking about the effects of early experiences in development has gone through three phases. Originally, following Bowlby’s theory, it was believed that children would be irreversible marked if prevented from a secure attachment. In a second period, some optimism raised about the possibility of reversing ill-effects, as some reports showed children with normal development that had suffered profound misfortune at an early age. The third phase, as Schaffer explains, falls into a mid-position, where early experiences consequences are not seen as completely irreversible, but it is considered that certain effects might remain scarred.
To sum up, research on attachment and its effects on development has evolved since Bowlby’s theory to some more flexible ideas about the importance of the mother-infant bond and the tragic and irreversible effects of maternal deprivation. However, it is still not clear to what extent this deprivation damages child development, and therefore it is hard to answer the question of whether the mother knows best and if daycare is harmful to the child’s psychological wellbeing or not. Following all the data and ideas analysed, the ideal situation would be promoting the mother-infant bond as much as possible, but if circumstances won’t allow it, daycare and preschool should not necessarily mean a child wouldn’t get the support needed, as long as he has some quality bonds that make him feel protected and loved.