Only subscribers may read this in its entirety. What follows is a free preview, truncated midway through.A look at the new social science Holly Schiffrin and Miriam Liss, professors of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, spent their early years as students reading about the perils of insufficient mothering: John Bowlby’s war orphans, scarred with the lasting psychic wounds of “maternal deprivation”; René Spitz’s bereft infants, starved for mother care in foundling homes; Harry Harlow’s baby monkeys so desperate for maternal contact that they’d cling to a terry cloth mother-substitute. Once they themselves became psychologists, however, and—eventually—mothers, their interest in the dynamics at work in the mother-child relationship took a somewhat different turn.
There was, they realized, more than a half-century of research looking at the needs of infants and the psychological fallout for children when mother-baby bonding goes wrong. Indeed, the parenting culture they’d entered, as new mothers in America in the early 2000s—a culture that celebrated stay-at-home motherhood, idealized mothers who submerged themselves completely in the care of their babies, and treated all mother-child separation as a problem fraught with the potential for psychic tragedy—had sprung, to a great degree, from the lessons of that research.