O Father, Where Art Though?

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In a study by a chap called Ahnert (and others) ‘Security of children’s relationships with non-parental care providers: a meta-analysis. Child Development’ they found that around one third of mother-child and father-child attachments (not necessarily in the same household) are rated insecure when their child is 15 months old. These studies were conducted across a wide range of cultural contexts.

The point about it being the same household is a relevant one. One would assume that couples are drawn together based on shared values and outlooks and one might suspect that they would naturally parent in similar ways or at least be influenced by the other’s mode of parenting and thus produce comparable levels of attachment security between themselves and their child. This in numerous studies has proven not to be the case. More recently a study by Nancy Hazen and others at the University of Texas in 2012 discovered that only 57% of two year olds had the same security attachment classification with both parents. They found the security of attachment was not necessarily a reflection of time spent with the child (which was often the mother) but was attributable to other factors.

What is the benefit of this?

A core secure attachment can provide insulation against insecure attachments from other key caregivers. If for example the mother is suffering from a mental health condition, this core attachment can help enervate the effects of this on the child and improve future outcomes. However, that being said, a close relationship with both parents early on will improve the probability of the child developing at least one secure attachment. In the best case scenario this will occur with all key caregivers and produce an enduring benefit in their lives. The adage that more is not necessarily better is not true here. Research has shown that these relationships are instrumental in the way we develop. Secure attachment to both parents early on can reduce anxiety and limit the need to over manage or control our environments. In one study amongst 5-6 year olds it revealed a reduced tendency to manifest negative emotion and further research conducted by Marissa Dieners (‘Attachment to Mothers and Fathers during Middle Childhood: Associations with Child Gender, Grade, and Competence’) it was shown that children in secondary school who were securely attached to both parents were perceived to be more socially competent than those attached to just one parent. They were more likely to exhibit pro-social behaviour and showed greater self-confidence.

The essential point of all of this research is that the benefit is carried throughout our development and into later life. This is supported by recent studies in 2014 by Carter and Almarez who documented its role in the development of positive friendship qualities and its key function in providing stability and protection during the flux of teenage years.

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