Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

29
Attachment Relationships
in the Context of Multiple Caregivers

CAROLLEE HOWES

In his early writings, Bowlby (1969/1982) proposed that a child develops a hierarchy of attachment relationships—first to the mother as the primary caregiver and then to others, specifically the father. In 1967, Ainsworth wrote that “nearly all the babies in this sample who became attached to their mothers during the period spanned by our observations became attached also to some other familiar figure—father, grandmother, or other adult in the household, or to an older sibling” (p. 315). The Ainsworth sample was composed of Ganda infants in East Africa. Ainsworth’s next major work was the Baltimore study of child–mother attachment (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Although this work was concerned with patterns of infant–mother attachment relationships, Ainsworth still acknowledged the possibility of other attachment figures: “The mother figure is, however, the principal caregiver, whether the natural mother or someone else plays that role” (Ainsworth et al., 1978, p. 5).

Although, as these quotations show, recognition of alternative attachment figures has been part of attachment theory since its development, attachment research has largely been conducted on the child–mother attachment relationship. Thus, we know considerably less about attachments to other familiar figures. In the United States, however, families outside the dominant culture (particularly people of color, immigrant families, and families living in or close to poverty) have historically used a variety of childrearing configurations involving networks of caregiving adults rather than a single caregiver (Jackson, 1993). In order to understand children’s development in these families, it may be useful to consider a network of attachment relationships, rather than to focus only on the child–mother relationship. As the roles of women and men in family life have changed, and as the two-income family has become an economic necessity in many cases, most children even in dominant U.S. culture are now regularly cared for by more than one adult. Furthermore, new work driven by a developmental perspective on attachment, by a move toward a concern with attachment representations as well as secure-base behaviors, and by increasing understanding of the importance of teacher–child relationships in school-age children has expanded the definition of attachment figures beyond adults who attend to children’s physical needs. Therefore, we must study attachments with multiple caregivers.

The inclusion of multiple caregivers in the study of attachment relationships adds new dimensions to a number of theoretical issues within the field of attachment research. These issues are used in this chapter to organize the growing empirical literature on attachment relationships in the context of multiple caregivers. Once a child is considered to have more than one attachment relationship, we must identify which adults in the child’s social network are attachment figures. Central to attachment theory is a set of propositions about how attachments are formed

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