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According to Dr Persaud, 'talk to any young mother today and one word is bound to come up - guilt. Women feel very guilty about leaving their children, even for very short periods of time, and they're concerned about the possible short and long-term effects of being separated from their children in terms of future adult human development. Child psychologists have had a particular impact on the practice of parenting and as far as Dr Persaud is concerned a mother's 'guilt' is in part due to one of the most influential writers in developmental psychology John Bowlby. A key feature of his 'maternal deprivation' hypothesis is the concept of 'monotropy'[1].

Yet although most present day practitioners and researchers have long since abandoned the concept, 'policy issues have continued to be influenced by this early work and versions of the maternal deprivation hypothesis are regularly presented in the media and by politicians to justify certain approaches to child care.'[2]

Hayes[1] describes 'monotropy' in the following terms,

In 1951, Bowlby produced a report which argued that infants form a special relationship with their mother, which is qualitatively different from the relationship which they form with any other kind of person. He described this as the process of monotropy. By a mechanism which he saw as very similar to imprinting, Bowlby considered that the young infant developed a firm attachment to its mother within the first six months of life, and that if this attachment or bond was then broken, either by the mother's death or by other kinds of factors, the infant would suffer serious consequences.

In 'Maternal Deprivation; Reassessed' which New Society described as, 'A classic in the field of child care' Professor Sir Michael Rutter[3] qualified Bowlby's original idea,

A further point of departure from Bowlby's views concerns the supposedly special importance of the mother. He has argued that the child is innately monotropic and that the bond with the mother (or mother-surrogate) is different in kind from the bonds developed with others. The evidence on that point is unsatisfactory but what there is seems not to support that view.- Two issues are involved. The first is whether or not the main bond differs from all others. It is suggested here that it does not. The chief bond is especially important because of its greater strength, but most children develop bonds with several people and it appears likely that these bonds are basically similar. The second concerns the assumption that the 'mother' or 'mother-surrogate' is the person to whom the child is necessarily most attached. Of course in most families the mother has most to do with the young child and as a consequence she is usually the person with whom the strongest bond is formed. But it should be appreciated that the chief bond need not be with a biological parent, it need not be with the chief caretaker and it need not be with a female.

Furthermore, it seems to be incorrect to regard the person with whom there is the main bond as necessarily and generally the most important person in the child's life. That person will be most important for some things but not for others. For some aspects of development the same-sexed parent seems to have a special role, for some the person who plays and talks most with the child and for others the person who feeds the child. The father, the mother, brother and sisters, friends, school-teachers and others all have an impact on development, but their influences and importance differ for different aspects of development. A less exclusive focus on the mother is required. Children also have fathers!

It is because 'policy issues have continued to be influenced by this early work and versions of the maternal deprivation hypothesis'[2] that it may be important to remind both mothers and fathers, of the relevant research findings.

See also

John Bowlby

Michael Rutter


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hayes, N. (1994) Foundations of Psychology, Routledge
  2. 2.0 2.1 Barnes, P.(ed) (1997) Personal, Social and Emotional Development of Children, Blackwell
  3. Rutter, M. (1991) Maternal Deprivation Reassessed (Second Edition), Penguin Books