How important are moms? John Bowlby and the attachment theory

Perhaps no time in our life has been given such significance as its very beginning. No matter how much we experience after that period, the roots of our faults and qualities are often in the early years of our existence. We usually question the relationship of a child with close people – parents, and especially with their mother. One of the people who devoted his entire career to studying these relations is John Bowlby, a famous psychologist who scientifically proved how important moms are! The mother’s voice, the smile, the look, the touch, the scent, the warmth we find in her hug, the safety that her hands give, leads to what science calls affective attachment.

In simpler terms, Bowlby studied emotional development of people and claimed that the connection we have with our mothers (or other people who care for the child) at the beginning of life, gives the basis for later relationships that we achieve and influence the development of the entire personality. Bowlby built his theory by collaborating with many scientists who observed animal behaviour, and also followed the development of children who grew up in different conditions. He noticed the need of an adult to find protection, love, attention and safety in of his/her own kind, and he found that this is a natural need, such as the need for food and water! The combination of mother’s presence and sensitivity to children’s needs determines what affective (emotional) connection the child will establish with her, but also the type of connection that will be achieved later in life with other people. In addition to the inborn need for nearness with adults, the child seeks to meet the world around them. Their strong relationships with people who care about them and the sense of security allow them to pursue their adventures carelessly.


What about Bowlby himself? John Bowlby was fourth of the six children in his family. He was born on 26th February 1907 in London. As usual for that time, he and his brothers and sisters were raised by a nanny. With his mother, he usually spent only an hour during the day because in those times society thought that excessive attention and emotional parents would lead to children being spoiled and not “hardened”. He rarely saw his father, since a great deal of time he was absent from the family because of the war. Fortunately, until the fourth year, the nanny who took care of him was warm, caring and dedicated to children. It is the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth year that Bowlby saw as the most important period for achieving affective commitment with an adult who cares about us. In the later period, the child becomes more relaxed in the presence of other people, and as they grow, affective attachment develops with other people in their life. His other nanny was much colder and more restrained than the first one, and with only 7 years he was sent to a boarding school, which marked the beginning of his education. He later marked separating from the family at that age as a rather traumatic experience.

In what extent his personal experience affected the creation of the theory of affective attachment, it is difficult to say. But it is easy to see that thanks to long-term and dedicated study of child development he contributed to understanding the nature of emotions and close relations. Therefore, we should keep in mind that selfless love, dedication and support you extend to your child daily strengthens their capacity to have a healthy, close and normal relationship with others later in life!