What is happening to child-parent relationships in so called advanced technological societies?
Two items in the news today suggest that there is a danger that parental detachment in terms of sensory engagement and availability is affecting the emotional development of children.
The first item (Daily Mail 7.4.14) quotes research suggesting that ”four out of ten babies in the United States do not form a strong bond with either parent, and they will pay for that for the rest of their lives”. Poverty, ignorance and stress are said to be the main factors from preventing bonding from forming, in this article.
The second item (Daily Telegraph 4.4.14) comes from the UK in which Dr Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in advance of a conference next week says that pressure on parents to work for long hours is damaging family life and failing to meet the needs of children. She is quoted as saying that, ”children need a work-life balance just as much as adults” and although high quality child care has many benefits, “nothing can replace the relationship that effective and good parents have with their children. So we need time for both”.
In fact, I believe that modern living, driven primarily by economics and an adult centred society have reduced parenting to a series of episodes in the life of many children: maternity leave during which breast feeding must be developed, done and dusted in the allotted 9 – 12 month period. This is followed by the difficult balancing act of work and childcare for mothers who return to work.
There is State supported nursery care from the age of three which can be a blessing for parents struggling to balance child care with the demands of the work place. There are breakfast clubs and after school activities. We are told that these will be a bonus for families and improve educational outcomes but are we forgetting about the fundamental needs of children? Just as adult relationships falter when partners do not have time to spend together, child-parent relationships also suffer. How can we expect the parent-child relationship to blossom if they spend very little time together?
Research has shown that oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the hormone of love” is increased when people share activities. It is raised during sexual intercourse, breast feeding and when people simply share a meal, discussion or play a game together. This nicknamed “love hormone” is not just about sexual love, it is also involved in forming the connections which bind us together as families, friends and a society.
Over the years I have written about how an infant’s relationship with its parents is the first love affair of life, and how the nature of that relationship will have a lasting effect on the child’s ability to form and sustain meaningful relationships in the future. That love affair begins in the context of a sensory world communicated through touch, smell, movement, tone, timbre and rhythm of speech as well as vision. This early form of communication – first language – is nurtured in the context of close relationships, proximity and security.
Less “advanced” societies have honed this primal communication system to a level we cannot begin to achieve. In one group where babies are carried by the mother through the day as she works, the mother is so attuned to her baby’s needs that when the baby needs to urinate or defecate she simply lifts it from her body and holds it over the ground demonstrating an extraordinary level of non-verbal communication between mother and child. But this level of communication is possible because of the physical proximity of mother and child throughout the first year of life.
As technology aids us in many ways, so there is a danger it is also eroding our ability to think like the mammals that we are. Much of the instinct to parent comes from having been well parented. The more we separate children from their parents, the more we are likely to erode the parenting instinct and the areas of the developing brain which connect emotions. Is this the society and the future we really want for our children?
Parenting and the time to be parents matters.
Further reading “What babies and children really need”. Hawthorn Press. Stroud