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Friday, April 25, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Lack of Maternal-Child Bonding

Dear Jeannie, 

Greta spent most of her very young years apart from her mother, who has to come and go from Greta's life frequently out of necessity. Greta's father died when she was 6. Her mother--and the extended family--are soft-spoken, introspective people. They aren't perfect, but they put dedicated work into being a kind, cohesive unit. Greta has never fit in, and when an opportunity comes for her to be with a people who suit her better--louder, faster, more argumentative and more trouble--she is quick to take it. How is Greta going to handle being apart from her family? She will have no contact with anyone she knows once she goes, and this is a big break from everyone and everything she knows. How much of Greta's desire to go is based on a hope for kindred spirits, and how much of it is based on whatever detachment issues she has with her mom?

Numbed in Norfolk

Dear Numbed,

Not having a consistent caregiver in the early years is definitely traumatic. All assessment instruments I've looked at for infant mental health always ask about "maternal availability." Greta's mother's spotty presence could almost be worse than not having her around regularly. The only exception of this would be if the people who took care of her in her mother's absence were steady and dependable. Studies have shown that children can overcome not having maternal availability when they have steady caregivers (be it a family friend, grandmother, aunt, etc). Greta would almost be in a foster care situation with her extended family members. I have a question for you. When Greta's mother would visit when she could, if she had asked Greta to do something that her regular caregiver (grandmother or whoever) had said not to, who would Greta have listened to? Who is she more aligned with? The answer to that question would inform my response to you. A 14-year-old is more likely to seek her peer system for input, rather than caregivers anyway. It's developmentally appropriate for peers to take center focus for a young teen. I'd think her desire to fit in somewhere would be stronger than whatever issues you've cooked up for her to have with her mom. I guess I'm not seeing how mom would factor in all that much since mom isn't around all that often anyway. Perhaps Greta just wants to strike out on her own, thereby gaining more control of when and where she interacts with her mom, but it's far more likely that she just wants to find a place to fit in with like-minded peers. Just my $.02. Thanks for writing in!


If you have questions, leave them anonymously below using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my answers in future Dear Jeannie columns.