Did you feel “love at first sight” with your baby? Does it matter?
I’m an avid reader of the babycenter magazine – mostly because I’m dreadfully insecure in general and particularly as a mother. I have recently seen a survey in that magazine. The title was “Did you experience love at first sight with your newborn?” and the possible answers were “yes” and “no”. As if we don’t have enough mommy guilt already. So I want to use this post to talk about bonding, attachment, and what should we be concerned about as parents (or not).
My experience, interestingly, is a wide variation. That is, I totally experienced the “love at first sight” thing with my son (first baby), but not so much his younger sister. It took me a very long time (a few months, which is like 10 years in staying-at-home-with-a-baby time) to stop worrying about it – I was really worried that I don’t love my baby girl as much as I love my son. But then the psychologist in me kicked in to remind me the difference between bonding and attachment. Bonding is the “love at first sight” feeling, the connectedness we feel to our newborn baby. It’s mostly physically and hormonally driven, and there is no indication that it has any effect on later parent-child relationships or child development. Attachment, on the other hand, is the relationship formed between a baby and a primary caregiver (mother, father, grandparent, nanny – whoever spends the most time with the baby in the first year of life). Attachment has tremendous effect on child development, and we’ll get to that in just a minute.
Research found four types of attachment: secure attachment, and three subtypes of insecure attachment (avoidant, resistant, and disorganized). The way attachment is typically measured is by observing the baby’s behavior after separation – that is, what happens when mommy (or daddy, or nanna, or whoever) leaves and what happens when mommy comes back (see this cool video if you’re interested in how exactly). Several things affect the type of attachment a baby develops, but the most important factor is the caregiver responsiveness to the baby. That is, how long it takes the caregiver to respond to the baby’s cry, laughter, and other expressions of interaction. Basically, secure attachment means the baby develops a trust that the world is a good place in which her needs are met within a reasonable time frame. For non-secure babies, the world is a bad place, generally speaking.
The interesting thing about attachment is that it plays an important role in children’s cognitive and social outcomes. That is, the attachment the child has with her primary caregiver is the basis of her social relationships later in life. Several studies found that securely attached children had higher grades and IQ than non-securely attached children. Now, that doesn’t mean that children who are non-securely attached are not smart. There are other factors that affect IQ and grades, and research suggests that those other factors are affected by attachment, and in turn affect things like grades and IQ. For instance, attitude towards testing is one such factor. What happens, according to some studies, is that non-securely attached child has negative attitudes towards testing (maybe they don’t like to be tested, or they have a hard time creating a relationship with the tester or a teacher). These attitudes make it pretty hard for the child to get high grades.
For me, the strongest indicator of my baby girl’s secure attachment (which, surprise, surprise, developed despite me not feeling “love at first sight”) is that she wails when I walk in the door after leaving her with a sitter. She is saying, “I need you and you left!!”. But then as soon as I pick her up she smiles at me, and chats with me, which means, in baby language “that’s ok, as long as you’re here now”. And that melts my heart every time I walk in the door. Good thing, since it’s going to happen every day starting Monday… Yep, my maternity leave is done. I’ll let you know how that goes! :)
If you are worried about your child’s attachment, academic performances, social relationships at school, or his/her relationship with you - look for help! See a doctor, a nurse, a psychologist, or other professionals who can help you! If you’re not sure who to see, please contact me and I’ll do my best to help you find someone!