THE IMPORTANCE OF MATERNAL CARE
Dr. Osman Kucukmehmedoglu
Almost all animals come into the world without need of long training or education to
manage their lives. Whatever knowledge they need to do so is either ‘deposited’ in their being-modern materialistic science misnames it instinct-or is continually ‘inspired’ in them. However, in this respect, as in so many others, man is completely different from animals. He comes to the world without knowing anything but with a capacity to learn, that is, he comes needing training and education. The more compatible with his disposition the education is, the more attuned to his spiritual, intellectual and material needs, the better and more beneficial and character-building it is.

Among all living beings, it is also man who needs the longest period of care and upbringing. Although most modern legal systems have set the age of discretion at 18 years, it may be said that, with rare exceptions, a person does not reach the age of discretion much before 30 years. Almost everyone, even a genius, needs to consult with others before taking important decisions. Besides, everyone is susceptible to making errors and therefore in need of correction. This is because man is a fallible social being compelled to live together with his fellow-men and co-operate with them. The first school where he receives education and learns social manners is his family.

Especially in infancy, man is in dire need of love and affection. For man to grow into a resolute, well-educated, well-mannered and loving, useful member of society, and a strong, sound, healthy individual, the warmth of a family environment is of the greatest importance. In this environment, the mother has a special place. It is the mother who nourishes the infant with her milk. Probably more than her milk, the love, care and affection of the mother for the baby have great significance for the development of sound human personality and character.


A baby has the deepest need for its mothers direct care and close attention especially in the symbiotic penod. Even in the most professionally-run nurseries the baby cannot find a substitute for the affection, love and interest its mother can show it. Whereas the baby is embraced by a halo of care and love in the family and attracts the direct attention of its mother, in nurseries it has to share the care of a stranger, however professional or efficient a carer he or she may be, with at least ten or fifteen other infants. Whereas it is embraced, caressed, kissed and played with many times in the family, and is in the lap of love, in a public nursery it is abruptly deprived of almost all of these things in an alien environment.

The first twelve months of the relationship between mother and baby is called the symbiotic period during which the baby feels a deep attachment to its mother. Indeed, in the first six months or so, the baby cannot distinguish its mother as a being separate from itself. It begins to do so only after this period. During this first year of life, the love of the mother forms the foundation of the baby’s spiritual personality and develops in it the feeling of self-confidence. The mother’s love is also an important factor in the development of the baby’s intelligence and in enabling the baby to grow as a social being. Long or short term separation of the mother from the baby gives rise to depressive anxiety.

Dr R. Spitz, a modern psychiatrist, defined two syndromes in children who have grown up without sufficient maternal love. One of these syndromes, called anaclitic depression, arises from short-term separation of the baby from its mother after the first six months. This usually occurs when the baby is placed in a public nursery. The baby thus separated from its mother reacts initially with long, loud cries. If one approaches it when it stops crying, it begins to cry again. After this initial reaction it stops crying and an expression of exhaustion and sulkiness appears on its face. Dr. Spitz called this the period of protest: the baby begins to eat less and lose weight and its physical development ceases. Vomiting and diarrhoea may accompany these symptoms.

The period of protest, usually two or three weeks, is followed by a period of depression when the baby is sulky and mournful. After two months, these emotional reactions become less frequent. The baby now becomes uninterested in its environment and in those who approach it. In short, it introverts.

The meaning of these phases of response is easily understood. The baby first of all reacts against separation from its mother with long, loud cries to call her back. After that, it grieves. Then, when it is no longer hopeful of reunion with its mother, it suffers depression and becomes introverted.

If the separation does not exceed three months, the baby can recover and restore to its former state. But if the separation continues beyond three months, the baby does not recover fully and develops a long-term separation depression.

This kind of depression arises in infants separated in very early life and brought up in public nurseries or hospitals for long periods. It is characterized by insufficient bodily, spiritual and intellectual development and growing up as a dissociable being.

A baby has the deepest need for its mother’s direct care and close attention especially in the symbiotic period. Even in the most professionally-run nurseries the baby cannot find a substitute for the affection, love and interest its mother can show it. Whereas the baby is embraced by a halo of care and love in the family and attracts the direct attention of its mother, in nurseries it has to share the care of a stranger, however professional or efficient a carer he or she may be, with at least ten or fifteen other infants. Whereas it is embraced, caressed, kissed and played with many times in the family, and is in the lap of love, in a public nursery it is abruptly deprived of almost all of these things in an alien environment.

Children separated from their families in the early years of their lives and left in public nurseries suffer difficulties in adapting to new environments and circumstances in later life, and give late responses to different stimulants. They develop tics and other involuntary movements such as swinging their legs while sitting, leaning against something, hitting the head against a wall, pulling their hair, playing with their ear- lobes, and shaking the head. Such behaviour in an infant left without its mother is in part an attempt to compensate for the loneliness and deprivation it feels. In addition, some sort of mental retardation may be observed in them. Studies have shown that, even in properly and sufficiently nourished children, rates of susceptibility to illness and death are higher. Compared to their equals in age, they are usually less in height and weight. Although thirsty for love, they respond with indifference or suspicion when they are shown love and nearness.

Some of the children deprived in this way grow up destitute of self-confidence; some become timid, reserved and passive, others become aggressive. They display signs of ill-breeding such as petty theft and truancy. Some of them are disposed to criminal behaviour and violence. They may also commit suicide or attempt it. Studies done on criminals and the mentally ill have shown that most of them spent their childhood separated from their families, deprived of love.

Character weakness and personality defects which arise as a result of long-term separation from the mother are, unfortunately, long-lasting. The younger a baby is when placed in a nursery and the longer it remains there, the more undesirable the effects are.

In sum: the love and care a mother shows her baby is so important for the growth, education and character of the child, that nothing can compensate for the lack of it. The symptoms observed in children growing up separated from their families also appear in adopted children. These children cannot adapt easily to the new family and can never have the same feeling towards their adoptive mothers as they have towards their own mothers. The state of children in divorced families or ‘broken homes’ is more pathetic still.

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