In 1953, the Psychoanalyst John Bowlby wrote Child Care and the Growth of Love

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In 1953, the psychoanalyst John Bowlby wrote Child Care and the Growth of Love. In this book he puts forward a theory that the relationship between a mother and her child during the child’s first year is of vital importance and influences the development of the child in later years. This is the theory of Maternal Deprivation. (Unit 1, p.48) This theory is still being discussed today, fifty years after it was written. It has been reviewed over the years to suit the changing economic environment and the way that families have changed.

Since 1950 the family has changed considerably. In 1950 men were returning from the war and needed work. During the war the women had been working in the factories, but now these jobs were needed by the men. Women were told that their place was in the home, to look after the children and the husband. They were to return to the domestic role they played before the war; to look after the family. The dominant ideology of a family at that time was that the man was the breadwinner and the woman looked after the running of the home; this family was referred to as the “nuclear family”.

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Here the nuclear family is defined as a heterosexual couple who share the home with their young children and no one else. (Offprint 3) Over the past fifty years though the economic situation has changed and so has the family. As can be seen from the charts (Unit 1, p. 65); the number of nuclear families has declined, the amount of lone parents has increased, more women are staying single and more people are living alone. Nowadays the man is not seen as the only breadwinner as for economic reasons the woman may also have to go out to work. It could also mean that the woman goes out to work, whilst the man stays at home to care for the children. When I use the word care, I use the definition “something that is needed when people cannot function in daily life without the practical help of others”. (Unit 1, p.33) So how does this affect the caring of the family’s young children?

Bowlby’s theory of Maternal Deprivation says that any separation of the child from its mother in the first six months will affect the development of the child’s personality. (Offprint 2, p. 9) If after forming this relationship this relationship is broken within three years, then again this can have devastating effects on the child. (Offprint 2, p.10) Yet during the war, women were encouraged to go to work and leave their children in nurseries. After the war though the government changed its views and said that women should stay at home as “prolonged separation from the mother is detrimental to the child and wherever possible the younger preschool child should be home with its mother”. (Ministry of Health, 1968, in Unit 1, p. 54) But over the years new ideologies develop as society changes. In 1972 Michael Rutter reviewed all the research that had been made on Bowlby’s theories and concluded that even if the child was separated from the mother, its distress could be relieved if it associated with its brothers or sister or even a friend. (Unit 1, p.53)

He went on to say that a child’s needs such as forming attachments, basic care and play can be met by different people; as long as these needs are met it doesn’t matter who provides them. (Unit 1, p.53) The dominant ideology in the 1950’s was that of Bowlby, but in the 1960’s and 70’s this was challenged by the feminists. Gillian Pascall’s (1986) research found that even if a child had been separated from the mother at an early age, attachments could still be formed later on in life than Bowlby had suggested. In the story in Offprint 1, pp. 5-7, we see how Sally was abandoned by her mother when she was just three months old. Even though she was separated from her mother at this early age, she still managed to establish a relationship with her “Aunt” who she still speaks with daily. She is also close to her brother and sister which would back up Rutter’s theory that siblings can also take the place of the mother.

One of the reasons that Bowlby’s ideology was dominant was that it suited the government’s views at the time i.e. the woman’s place was in the home. The feminists challenged this ideology; Pascall (1986) went on to say that this was a way of isolating women by keeping them in the home and “disadvantaging them in the labour market”. (Pascall, 1986, in Unit 1. p.56) However, times have moved on and ideologies have changed, or have they?

A recent article in a newspaper (Guardian, 14 November 2003) reported on a study published that day by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER). The study was called “Working mothers ‘bad for children'”; it said:

The children of mothers who return to work full time in the years before they start school have slower emotional development and score less well in reading and maths tests (Guardian, 14November 2003)

It later went on to state:

That in Britain, the adverse effect on children was the same whether mothers returned to work full time before the child’s first birthday or before the age of five. This ran counter to studies overseas suggesting that a return to work in the first year had more impact on the child (Guardian, 14November 2003)

This is Bowlby revisited. The article later went on to say that the National Family and Parenting Institute said:

The ISER report ran counter to a recent study of women from Bristol

University that showed the timing of a mothers return to work had no influence on their children’s development (Guardian, 14November 2003)

So the debate continues to this day. In the end it is for the family to make their own minds up whether the mother returns to work, it may be an economical necessity that she does. What is certain is that the debate will carry on for the next fifty years.


  • Guardian (14November 2003)
  • K100 Course Team (1998) K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Unit 1,
  • Caring: A Family Affair? Milton Keynes, The Open University.
  • Mchardy, A. (1966) The Guardian, 4 March, Lost and Found, in K100 Understanding Health and Social Care, Offprints Book, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

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In 1953, the Psychoanalyst John Bowlby wrote Child Care and the Growth of Love. (2017, Dec 01). Retrieved from

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