Updated: Jul 18, 2019
This has been a bee in my bonnet for a very long time. The expectation that “good” mothers (generally, as our culture’s usual primary caregivers) should meet all of their children’s attachment needs at all times. Women are expected to bear the physical, practical and emotional burdens of child-rearing, with, if they are lucky, the part-time support of a partner or immediate family members. We talk about “it takes a village to raise a child,” but then leave women alone and isolated, expecting them to do the work of a village on their own, and still have their shit together.
Anthropologically speaking, this is not how parenting has worked for the past millennia. Human survival historically depended on alloparenting – caregiving of children who are not direct descendants. While current attachment theory emphasizes the role of the mother in developing a secure attachment, we know that babies can have secure attachment relationships to multiple caregivers, and that this is, in fact, protective for children. For those who were lucky enough to have a grandparent close by to help out with our kids, that just makes sense! If one caregiver is unavailable or ill, another loved and trusted individual can step in. It is also protective for mothers, to know that they have a backup, that their child’s emotional and developmental wellbeing is not entirely dependent on them to be perfect parents.
As it is, our villages are increasingly eroded as we move away from our extended families and communities, and we are left raising our kids essentially on our own. Mothers amaze me in their ability to patchwork together villages of support for themselves, instinctively knowing that their and their children’s health is improved by sharing the load. As a society we need to acknowledge what we are asking of mothers/primary caregivers, the value of parenting, and provide better supports.