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separation from mom makes baby psychotic/neurotic???

post #1 of 60
Thread Starter 
I heard that Peggy O said in this week's live chat that "severe separation" from mother before age 3 can cause psychosis; before age 5 can cause neurosis. I don't want to misquote Peggy so when I have a minute I will go try to find the exact quote. Supposedly there is a wealth of research supporting this statement.

As Mark Twain famously said, "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics." I have never taken a single course in stats or psych, but I have some questions about this research.

1. What is "severe" separation? I have absolutely no idea what that means. That phrase is as subjective as it gets.

2. What are psychosis and neurosis? I don't know what the clinical definitions are but I do know that many psychiatric "disorders" are based on a very sexist/racist/heterosexist/classist worldview. For example, until very recently the DSM listed homsexuality as a disorder. For another example, as recently as the 80s, they very nearly succeeded in classifying a new disorder - Late Luteal Phase Disorder - which is, you guessed it, basically PMS. (For more info on this and other wacky DSM antics, see the book "They Think You're Crazy.") For another example, I find the concept of "Oppositional Defiance Disorder" highly suspect... but then that's probably just a symptom of ODD. So I view the terms "psychosis" and "neurosis" with suspicion.

3. What about other primary caregivers? Did this research examine the affects of separation (again, how much separation and under what circumstances?) from fathers, grandparents, and other primary caregivers, or just mothers? Do the conclusions point to the importance of mother or any consistent primary caregiver?

4. What about other stress-causing factors in the environment. Does the research filter for those? For example, do families w/ WOHMs tend to be lower income? If so, doesn't that lead to a billion other factors that have to be taken into consideration?

OK, I'm sure there are a lot of other questions I didn't think of and I hope others will post them. I would love it if anyone familiar with this research could respond.

Thanks, and everyone - I know this is sensitive to say the least, but please let's keep it civil.

[A reminder which I hope is unnecessary: WOHMs please refrain from denigrating the work of SAHMs, suggesting that they are not doing "real" or meaningful work, that they are naive/dumb, etc. SAHMs please refrain from insulting WOHMs, suggesting that they are not raising their children, that they are selfish/greedy, etc. These are only the insults that pop to mind but I think you all know what I'm talking about so let's just remember we all love our kids, and let's play nice, ok?]
post #2 of 60
Thread Starter 
Here is what Peggy said in the Dec 1 chat:

Quote:
The attachment period is the first 3 to 5 years of age. Research shows that if there are severe separations from caregivers in the first three years of life, we get psychosis. In the first five, neurosis. This is in the extreme, but it points to the importance of mother baby contact during the first 3 to 5 years of life.
post #3 of 60
Separation from "caregivers" not "mothers." A stable caregiver situation is best, and, imo, such a stable situation can involve a dcp.

But no gaurantees in anything. I'm neutotic as all hell and had an ap-ish sahm, in fact a very non-neuotic sahm (my mom is the "healthiest" person I know mentally and emotionally). Now my grandmother, who I didn't spend that much time as a kid, is NEUROTIC. Clearly I favor her genetically.

So much is out of our hands.
post #4 of 60
I'm guessing that the "severe separation from caregivers" phrase is referring to high turnover of caregivers in large group care settings. Or else situations where a child goes from one relative to another or in and out of the foster care system. That kind of disruption can be devastating.
post #5 of 60
Interesting subject.
I guess it would make sense in a way. Like if a child is constantly being shifted around, with no real sense of stability, they could be likely to develop habits that could be deemed neurotic. A kinda frantic, and unsatisfied desire to control one's environment. I am totally being an armchair psychologist here, mind you. I see it with my kids on a small scale. If things are going nutty around here and I'm not getting as much time with them as I'd like or whatever, they get kinda more neurotic than at other times. They are very upset if their bread is not cut into even squares, for example.
I guess if a kid gets used to these kind of behaviours, and they become habit, they may grow to think that's who they are.
I know a little about attachment dissorders which can arise if the primary caregiver is absent a lot, or abusing drugs. The child is in survival mode and will be angelic towards strangers until they reach a comfort level and then lash out really intensely. They do not have the ability to trust caregivers because they feel, that by doing so, they will be placed in harm's way.
I don't really understand psychosis at all but I would imagine that somebody that is in survival mode, would have great difficulty seeing outside themselves, therefore, concern for others would take a backseat.
I believe that children are not necessarily born with these traits but that they become habits which the child deems as necessary for survival. The child grows up so used to it that unlearning can take years of intensive work. This is a relatively new concept, as far I as have read, and new research is being done all the time to learn how we can help children with attachment dissorders reastablish themselves.
To me "severe seperation" means a much more extreme situation than "high turnover of caregivers in large group settings". It means having essentialy no long lasting, stable relationships at all. Perhaps more like a "High turnover of primary caregivers in the child's every day life. A primary caregiver that is abusing drugs will be emotionally and physically unstable. A Primary caregiver that is abusive will be as well (one minute yelling, hitting, the next minute crying and apologizing). A child can be saved from this type of heartache by having one constant, trustworthy, stable, loving, dependable adult involved in the child's life throughout.
post #6 of 60
You’re right that ‘severe’ is somewhat subjective, in the sense that it depends on several things: the temperament of the child, the parents/primary caregivers, the quality and consistency of the secondary caregiver. I think the bottom line is we’re talking about a child’s ability to a) form meaningful relationships and b) handle the normal stresses of relationships with people (separation, jealousy, sharing, etc).

While psychology can be abused (just like any discipline) and twisted to include racism, sexism, etc. I don’t think that negates it as a field of study. Psychosis and neurosis in this context deals with the child’s ability to form and manage relationships. In the past 30 years lots of work has been done on attachment theory, starting with John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and others. You’ve probably heard of studies of children brought up in orphanages where they got little one-on-one time in the first three years of life. Some died, and most who didn’t suffered irreversible damage (talking changes in brain physiology, stunted growth and yes, severe relational disorders). Psychosis in this context would be criminal, sadistic behavior, an utter inability to empathize with another person. Neurosis as in the need to engage in destructive relationships with people who are emotionally and/or physically abusive.

As the pp wrote, there is of course an element of biology and temperament here – the purpose of understanding and studying attachment disorders is not to blame parents or make people feel guilty. It’s also not to label people as defective. The purpose I believe is to come to understand the emotional and relational needs of young children as real, and as foundational (in the sense that all other relating-ability comes from these first relationships). These needs are as real as the need for food and shelter, and have to be accommodated as such.

How do parents do that? Well, families are creative and we all manage the best we can.

Stanley Greenspan and T Berry Brazelton co-wrote The Irreducible Needs of Children, a short book that discusses the problem we have as a society accommodating this need for children to have consistent, quantity time with a primary caregiver in the first 3-5 years of life. The rise of the two-earner family and the lack of good-quality childcare means more children than ever are being raised in group care situations with under-qualified, high-turnover staffing for most of their waking hours, with little one-on-one interaction, little face time, and yes, they do suffer.
post #7 of 60
Quote:
Originally Posted by mamawanabe
Separation from "caregivers" not "mothers." A stable caregiver situation is best, and, imo, such a stable situation can involve a dcp.


And this bears repeating: mothers are not the only caregivers who can nurture a child.
post #8 of 60
My mother is a family therapist, and we've discussed this topic many times. She works with a psychiatrist who is extremely attachment oriented, and she is supportive of extended breastfeeding, cosleeping, you name it. Her explanation of this research is that the lack of attachment in the studies, which were conducted decades ago, was really extreme--grim institutional-type care with little human contact, little or no touch and no interaction. It shouldn't be surprising that such conditions produce horrible outcomes.

Whatever you want to say about more recent research on non-maternal care (and I think there has been significant debate on the boards about the study that came out within the last couple of years on this topic which purported to show that children who spend a lot of time in group child care are both smarter and meaner than kids cared for in other ways), there is no research showing that psychosis or neurosis (this isn't even an accepted term in psychology now--very Freudian) are consistently correlated with being cared for by non-parents or in group settings.

In fact, the hot area of research in psychology now is into resilience--why so many kids who spend substantial time in foster care, are abused or otherwise have histories that one would expect to produce severe mental health problems--don't have them. Research is identifying a variety of factors, including the close involvement of non-parental adults, that seem to serve as buffers for children in terrible circumstances.

Finally, since the early attachment research was done, much has been learned about the possible genetic and other biological factors influencing mental illness. Just today I read about a study showing that people whose mothers had the flu virus during the first half of their pregnancies were three times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia (one manifestation of psychosis). Research has identified genetic influences on other mental illnesses, including depression. So any study that didn't control for a parent or other first-degree relative with mental illness probably doesn't have results that would be considered robust today.

I think the arguments for high-quality care for young children (including those whose parents can't afford it or are now forced to go to work in workfare programs) are compelling enough on their own.

Beth
DS (4-1/2),DD (22 mos.)
post #9 of 60
I am so proud to be a part of a community where the members are so darn smart and eloquent... I can't wait to read more posts on this topic.

:
post #10 of 60
I think I've just found the smartest MDC'ers, all in one thread! I was intending to post a reply relevant to the OP, but after reading the other replies, I have nothing of substance to add.
post #11 of 60
Thread Starter 
Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful responses, everyone. I just learned a ton! Anyone else?
post #12 of 60
Mitigate, yes. Substitute, no. Resilience research has not shown we don't need securely attached primary relationships in early life, or that good secondary relationships can substitute for this. On the contrary, what I have read seems to confirm that primary attachment is a *big* part of creating resilience.

From the The National Child Welfare Resource Center.
Quote:
Studies of resiliency in children have consistently found the most basic and important protective factor is a history of a caregiver-child attachment.
...
The attachment-disordered child does whatever she feels like, with no regard for others. She is unable to feel remorse for wrongdoing, mainly because she is unable to internalize right and wrong. This child may be savvy enough to speak knowledgeably about standards and values, but cannot truly understand or believe what she is saying. The child may tell you that something is wrong, but that will not stop her from doing it.
http://www.cwresource.org/hotTopics/...attachment.htm

The Children, Youth and Family Consortium:
Quote:
While resiliency has been shown to relate to a variety of inherent and environmental factors, across all studies of vulnerability and resilience, the single most important factor accounting for good outcomes in the face of high-risk circumstances is a relationship with a caring, supportive adult. This brings us full circle to attachment: children need at least one secure attachment in the early months of life within the child's own home. When this is not possible, we must ensure that the child has an opportunity to develop an attachment elsewhere that can help the child develop trust in others and learn that s/he is worthy of love and care.
http://www.cyfc.umn.edu/childhood/re...hment8-98.html
(emphasis theirs)

Resilience research focuses on things which might mitigate this damage, but the research doesn't demonstrate that attachment disorders don't exist/aren't caused except in 'severe' institutional cases such as the one I mentioned above.

William J Pieper and Martha Heineman Pieper have a good book called Addicted to Unhappiness which discusses some of the less severe effects of attachment disorders. They have worked with attachment-disordered children, teens and adults for many years in private practice.

I don't agree that the arguments for high-quality care are compelling enough on their own, because they haven't resulted in any significant policy changes, and our overall social structure still promotes high-turnover, low-paying, low-interaction group care for infants and young children as perfectly acceptable. If they were compelling enough, we would have nationally-funded low child-teacher ratio child care, national training and licensing standards for daycare workers, and tax credits for stay-at-home parents of children 0-3.

Perhaps it's just a matter of perspective. Many people (including many doctors) think it's perfectly normal to let an infant/child cry himself to sleep, even to the point of vomiting, for some period of time. Others would think this is child abuse.

Some theorize that 'sleep training' teaches children to learn to sleep on their own and encourages independence. Others theorize that it merely teaches children that their primary caregivers won't respond, so they stop asking for help.
post #13 of 60
Hmm . . . my point in discussing resilience research was to say there is not a linear relationship between particular childhood experiences and specific outcomes. Resilience research does focus on the role of relationships with non-parents in helping children deal with less-than-ideal circumstances. I'm not sure where one would get the idea that I said any of this relates to the severe institutional-type situations at play in the early attachment research, which are certainly relevant at the margins (especially outside the US) but are not relevant in terms of the decisions parents make about child care. (Unless I'm mistaken none of us are considering placing our children in a third-world orphanage, although I have sometimes been made to feel that I have because my children have been in group child care!)

Instead, I was focused on less severe disruptions of attachment and the ways this could affect children as they develop. Empirical work shows that the effects of a lack of attachment to a primary caregiver are complicated and probably depend on a whole host of factors, including the quality of care, temperament of the child, the child's home environment and so on.

When I say the arguments are compelling enough, I don't measure the strength of an argument by whether our messed-up political system has found it persuasive enough to allocate money for quality child care or to give a tax credit to parents who stay at home. There is plenty of good science showing the importance of stable, nurturing relationships with primary caregivers to a child's development. Those arguments aren't made more persuasive, in my opinion, by invoking outdated studies and using terms that don't even have a home in any scientific discipline. Credibility is important.

As someone who participates in the public policy process on a pretty high level, I will offer my opinion, then bow out. The problem is not inadequate scientific support but insufficient political power and organization. Legislators and regulators know about the studies, but no one is making them feel pain when they don't act on them.

Beth
post #14 of 60
Quote:
Originally Posted by Benjismom
Empirical work shows that the effects of a lack of attachment to a primary caregiver are complicated and probably depend on a whole host of factors, including the quality of care, temperament of the child, the child's home environment and so on.
I agree, and believe I mentioned these in my first post. Do you see any studies where children develop resilience despite having not a single consistent person in their life 0-3?

Quote:
When I say the arguments are compelling enough, I don't measure the strength of an argument by whether our messed-up political system has found it persuasive enough to allocate money for quality child care or to give a tax credit to parents who stay at home.
Compelling to me means precisely that it is persuasive enough to create the political power needed to effect this type of change. That's what you public policy researchers get paid the big bucks for, right?

Quote:
There is plenty of good science showing the importance of stable, nurturing relationships with primary caregivers to a child's development. Those arguments aren't made more persuasive, in my opinion, by invoking outdated studies and using terms that don't even have a home in any scientific discipline. Credibility is important.
Not sure I understand what you are saying. To what outdated studies, and to what terms do you refer?

I appreciate your perspectives on resilience research. Do you think that resilience research is being used to suggest that group daycare is just as good as having a single, consistent caregiver?
post #15 of 60
The original attachment studies by Bowlby were done in the 1950s (perhaps early 1960s) under extreme conditions that are unlikely to be in existence today because of changes in the way we think about institutional care. These are the outdated studies I'm referring to. I'm assuming these are the studies to which Peggy referred, because the whole psychoses/neuroses distinction was eliminated from the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM), which is used to diagnose mental illness, decades ago. The word neurosis has not been used in psychology for a long time. (What used to be called neurosis (or neurotic depression) has now migrated, to some extent, to a diagnosis called dysthymia, which is a kind of low-level constant depression.)

I'm not sure what you mean by having not a single consistent person in their life 0-3 so I can't really answer that question. I'm not aware of studies of children who were placed into foster care at extremely young ages, not reunited with their bio families and who moved around a lot in the foster care system. That would seem to be what you're describing. I think resilience research is not at all focused on group child care right now because there is greater interest in understanding how children cope with bigger challenges--the loss of a parent, being in foster care, being abused.

What I do know is that the research on attachment is complicated, and in its infancy (so to speak). There is no evidence that attachment disorder, as that term is defined in clinical practice, or any other mental health problem, is associated with non-maternal care of any kind. That may change, as the research gets more nuanced, but it's not there now. It seems likely that research will identify a subset of children for whom group child care is not optimal, as well as a subset of kids who do better in that setting, at least at certain ages, than with a single caregiver. (I can think of several children of my acquaintance who fall rather clearly into these categories.)

I should note that my mother, who specializes in family therapy, reports seeing attachment disorder in situations involving SAHMs, which should dispel the idea that a single caregiver is always inherently preferable. If a SAHM is depressed or has another mental health problem, for example, a child can develop attachment problems. Some moms she sees just aren't up to the job, either because they're too immature, or too focused on other things, or are using drugs or alcohol, or whatever.

Finally, I have to respectfully disagree with your definition of compelling. There are lots of compelling arguments out there for public policy changes that never see the light of day. Ultimately, moving a policy agenda is only partly about the merit of your program and at least as much about mobilizing political power. A lot of meritless, publicly-disregarding BS is adopted every day.

Beth

P.S. I'm not sure what gave you the impression that I'm a public policy researcher (perhaps women usually occupy the low-level jobs) but that's not the case.

P.P.S. I just realized that you may have thought I was referring to the studies you cited as "outdated." I was getting at the study I assume Peggy was citing.
post #16 of 60
holy cow I can't add a damn thing. wouldn't even know where to start. it's been great reading, tho!! thx to GM for the op.
post #17 of 60
Quote:
Originally Posted by Benjismom
P.S. I'm not sure what gave you the impression that I'm a public policy researcher (perhaps women usually occupy the low-level jobs) but that's not the case.
Not sure what you mean by the part in parentheses - I wasn't trying to offend you and apologize if I have. What made me think you were involved in public policy research was this:

Quote:
As someone who participates in the public policy process on a pretty high level, I will offer my opinion, then bow out.
I worked as a graduate and undergraduate student at a children's policy research center and, at least there, the researchers were academics with PhDs and MDs and they were hardly 'low-level' jobs.
post #18 of 60
I did a graduate thesis on attachment parenting, using John Alford and John Bowlby's data. But the prof. I was working with took the research in a different direction.

I don't believe that staying at home vs. daycare providers is at all relevant to the original study. A parent that is using a daycare is usually attached to their child, and that is evidenced by the fact that the parent is finding an appropriate place for the child to be during the day.

The original studies were done to prove that infants need to attach. Period. The mother is usually the caregiver in these studies. But infants can attach to adults other than the mother. The real basis and theory behind this study was what happened to children who weren't 'allowed' to attach. Children that weren't cared for. Some of the studies showed horribleresults, but they were (for the most part) carried out with children from various homes. No child was left to be uncared for, to see what would happen.

It's a fact that some families had children that were never attended to. The children were given the bare minimum for survival. They weren't loved, picked up, held, nursed, or even clothed to any noticable degree. Some of these children grew up to lead normal lives, some grew up as expected- with various psychological disorders, neuroses, violence, etc.,. Bowbly actually started by following juvenile theives, children he classified as 'affectionless' because they didn't care about themselves or anyone else.

Bowlby was seen as a renegade because he was performing these studies and saying that all children needed to be loved and needed to form an early attachment. He believed that the government needed to care for children who weren't being taken care of. He was very concerned about children who were orphaned in the war.

The term attachment parenting started off meaning something very different than what Dr. Sears is referring to. They are both important, obviously. But when research or data is shown using attachment parenting studies, it's not usually a study done about modern attachment parenting- it's about the basic needs being met and the children not being forcibly seperated from their parents during stressful times in their lives.

The fact that data using such troubled kids sometimes ends up being quoted in discussions between parents who love their children but are debating day care or extended nursing is somewhat ridiculous. Not that raising kids doesn't lead to a difference of opinion, but as the OP said, we all love our kids. This data doesn't really pertain to us.

Take care!
post #19 of 60
Quote:
Originally Posted by zaftigmama
The fact that data using such troubled kids sometimes ends up being quoted in discussions between parents who love their children but are debating day care or extended nursing is somewhat ridiculous.


Thanks for putting into such great words (and providing such good evidence for) what I was feeling about the way these studies were being used to slam the choice to use DCPs!
post #20 of 60
Smaaaaaaart people

Interesting discussion, thank you.
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