A person’s relationships with caregivers in childhood, especially with one’s mother, is unique and unlike any other relationship. The child depends on their primary caregiver for survival, love, and to help make sense of a chaotic world. The way women recall their mother-child relationship is related to the quality of the relationship between her and her child. This research stems from what is called attachment theory. An understanding of attachment theory may be helpful when trying to understand diverse responses to motherhood.

Attachment describes an infant’s fundamental need to remain close to a caregiver to maintain a sense of security. This close bond moves from infancy through childhood, and even into adulthood. Attachment theory posits that the attachment relationship an individual has with a caregiver shapes one’s ability to function and thrive in the world. In general, attachment relationships are classified as secure or insecure. Secure attachment provides the infant with a sense of security, helps regulate arousal and distress, supports expression of feelings and communication, and provides a safe foundation for exploration.

John Bowlby, the creator of attachment theory, argued that working models of attachment (one’s experiences of being cared for) tend to persist throughout life and are especially activated by parenthood. This notion helps to make sense of the drastically different responses women have to motherhood. Mother’s rely upon their own blueprint of attachment/caregiving when facing the monumental task of giving birth and raising a child.

Douglas Davies highlights research completed on the parent’s side of attachment and he identified three major factors that affect a caregiver’s capacity to be in close relationship with their child: 1) The caregiver’s own early experiences with being cared for; 2) Parental risk factors such as mental illness or substance abuse; and 3) Whether the caregiver is receiving outside support from other adults. To expand on the first major factor, a handful of studies with pregnant women have found that the parent’s adult attachment classification (i.e., secure or insecure) prior to the baby’s birth predicts the infant’s attachment classification at 1 year of age in about 70% of infants.

Overall, the research mentioned in this article is intended to highlight the potential influence of a woman’s attachment to her caregivers on her experience of motherhood. Whatever one’s experiences of a caregiver might have been, the awareness of one’s own attachment blueprint may help to modify a mother and child’s bond to build a stronger attachment.


Fonagy, P., Steele, H., & Steele, M. (1991). Maternal representations of attachment during pregnancy predict the organization of infant‐mother attachment at one year of age. Child development62(5), 891-905.

Davies, D. (2010). Child development: A practitioner’s guide. Guilford Press.

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