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Some Of Us Never Had It

Some Of Us Never Had It

I find it interesting that a child can be well fed, have excellent shelter from the elements, and be reared with absolute detail, yet still not thrive. An intangible factor seems to be absent in these cases. Apparently, Man is not a machine. If he or she were, then food, shelter, and health maintenance would be all that is necessary for him or her to mature healthily. Some factor, or some virtue, that represents human kindness, compassion, and affection is needed for proper unfoldment to occur. What's even more profound is that the absence of these nurturing elements is one of the most devastating stressors one can endure throughout their life. Yet in my experience, most physicians and caregivers tend to downplay the importance as they recite biological and genetic scientific breakthroughs that are believed to be the greatest advances in modern medicine.

My grandmother was reared in Armenia, before she arrived in America in the early 1900's. She was part of a generation that believed adverse effects could occur if cradling or soothing a distressed child happened too often. Dr. Luther Holt popularized this notion when he was a professor at Columbia University. At that time, every child-rearing expert believed that affection and compassion would eventually create an impoverished dependent adult, one who could not stand for himself or herself, or mature to be an independent worthwhile citizen.

In the 1950's, there were two main camps of psychological theory. One was derived from Dr. Sigmund Freud's theories, and the other one was called behaviorism. Behaviorists were psychologists who believed that humans and other animals operated according to very simple rules and constructs; people behaved according to past positive rewards and avoided behaviors that were punished. Less favorable rewards resulted in less popular behaviors. Both Freudians and behaviorists thought people were driven either by sexual gratification, hunger, avoidance of pain, or all of them. They believed if one looked closely at one's response to stimuli, one could predict one's behavior based on a system of rewards and punishments. Clearly, a simple idea for a simpler time in early modern medicine.

A famous (or infamous depending on your personal point of view) researcher named Harry Harlow set out to answer the question: why do infants attach to their mothers? Behaviorists believed it was the simple desire of infants to alleviate their hunger by suckling on their mother's breast. Freudians thought that infants lacked the ego development to form a relationship with anything other than the mother's breast. Pediatricians adhering to Holt's perspective promulgated that there was no need for mothers to visit their infants in the hospital because a bottle filled with milk would supply the proper nourishment, and anyone could relieve the baby's hunger at anytime. Furthermore, the person feeding the child would provide whatever attachment needs the infant had because they were feeding the baby. Orphanages were places where children were never held, touched or noted to be individuals. Foster care was no different. No one believed that love had anything to do with normal, healthy growth and development.

Harlow changed it all. In one of his experiments, he devised a trial where baby monkeys were given a choice between two types of maternal surrogates: a fake mother made out of wood and wire mesh with a milk bottle in the middle of its torso, or a fake mother made out of wood and wire mesh with the torso wrapped in terry-cloth. There was no bottle mounted in the second choice. The baby monkeys chose the terry-cloth mothers even though the Freudians and behaviorists thought the babies would chose the milk-mothers. Harlow wrote, "Man cannot live by milk alone. Love is an emotion that does not need to be bottle - or - spoon - fed."

Some of Harlow's work was barbaric. He did experiments where he raised monkeys in complete and total social isolation in which they never saw another living creature. But his work taught us why some of us love people who treat us badly, and why the mistreatment can at times, increase with love. Some of Harlow's studies helped us to see why abused children have an increased risk of being abusive when they are parents. He also showed why repetitive sustained separation of children from mothers could predispose those individuals to depression and anxiety that extends into adulthood, and maybe even lifelong.

Sometimes things that seem obvious today were not so obvious in the past. Things that will be obvious in the future are not so obvious now. It took a callous man to make baby monkeys suffer in order to help us to realize that love is an essential ingredient in the proper care and rearing of a child. When you have the opportunity to love your children, do it! Life goes fast. And we all hope that our children as adults will have a better future in their lives than we did in ours. Love is the biggest part of that future and some of us never had it.

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 8:50 AM
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