Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Forging of Relationships

   The building of a relationship between two people is always an interesting development.  Two people come together and enter into a relationship for a variety of reasons.  When do we begin to build relationships?  The truth is that we begin to forge relationships at a very early age, beginning with the relationship we have with our parents and, most particularly, with our mother (whether biological or adopted). 
    New research from the University of Reading in England says that children, especially boys, who have insecure attachments to their mothers in the early years have more behavior problems later in childhood.
    An analysis by Pasco Fearon Ph.D., from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, looked at 69 studies involving almost 6,000 children aged 12 and younger.
    The quality of the relationship between children and their parents is important to children's development, but past research on the link between attachment and development has been inconsistent. The volume, range, and diversity of earlier studies made it difficult to get a clear picture. However, this new analysis has been able to pull together evidence from past research to answer a number of scientific questions around attachment.
    According to attachment theory, children with secure attachments expect and receive support and comfort from their care givers. In contrast, children with insecure attachments have requests discouraged, rejected, or responded to inconsistently, which is thought to make them vulnerable to developing behavioral problems.1
    It is in our earliest developmental stage that we begin to learn how to develop relationships, a quality which remains with us for the rest of our lives.  The bonding, or lack thereof, between a mother and her child can have a profound impact on this person’s ability to forge lasting relationships due to a lack of trust. While it might be true that a mother instinctively loves her child, it is not necessarily true that a mother instinctively bonds with her child. 
   While such psychological inquiries involve the relationship between adolescent children and their mothers, there are very few, if any, long term studies of the relationship between mothers and their adult sons. 
   Men are more likely to confess to a predilection for pornography than admit to a close relationship with their mother. There isn’t much left that the modern man is made to feel ashamed of, yet confessing to your friends that you sometimes call your mom for a chat is something few do. Even though a man’s mother is likely to be the second most important woman in his life, even though he may have deep feelings of love for her, this is a relationship about which men are sheepish, secretive and often outright embarrassed.
   Why are men ashamed to be seen being kind to their mothers? Cultural pressure is a factor. On film or television, if you see a man talking to his mother, or (heaven forbid) listening to her advice, you are probably watching a comedy, and the conversation will be the screenwriter’s way of letting you know this is the kind of guy you can push around. But is there something more complicated at work here? And how do mothers feel about their sons’ reticence? There is only one person to ask: my mother.
   I called her up. She is pleased to hear from me. Of course she is – she is my mother. When I explain why I am calling, she tells me that she is, at that moment, listening to a radio dramatization of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, in which the arch-creep Widmerpool is always talking about his mother.
   “Isn’t this very hard on mothers and unfair?” I ask her. She responds by reminding me that she is a woman as well as a mother, and every woman knows that there is something unhealthy and unattractive about a man who is too close to his mother. As a mother of boys, you know that your job is to prepare them to be handed on, she tells me. You know that you harm them by keeping them too close for too long. “I was constantly torn between not being overinvolved and not seeming indifferent,” she tells me. “It’s a hard balance to strike, and you never know when you’re getting it wrong. I still don’t know.” 2
    This issue was addressed by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904) in his short story entitled The Bishop.  In the cathedral a distinguished bishop (Pyotr) is conducting the liturgy on the Eve of Palm Sunday. Among the hordes of people who come to the altar to receive palm branches, the bishop sees an elderly peasant woman who resembles his own mother. He drives home to the monastery feeling extremely fatigued (he has been ill for three days) and learns that, indeed, the peasant woman was his mother, who had unexpectedly made the long journey from her village to see her famous son.
   The next day the bishop dines with his mother and his naughty niece (Katya). Suddenly, after the meal, the bishop becomes gravely ill with typhoid. Yet over the next few days he travels around conducting Holy Week Services. Toward the end of the week, he begins to hemorrhage. He reviews the events of his life as his mother sits by his bed. Just before Easter arrives, he dies. As time goes on, the bishop is forgotten, except by his mother. 3
   Here one is taken into the personal thoughts and concerns of the bishop as he struggles with the psychological effects of “feeling distant” from his mother. While such distance might be understood as a sign of “respect” which she gives him due to his position, he perceives it rather it terms of “loneliness”.  She is comfortable with other people, but not with him. 4
   This person is not only an adult, but an Orthodox bishop; however, in regard to his relationship to his mother none of this makes any difference.  There is no way for anyone to understand the relationship between two people from the “outside” which is true of any relationship. 
   Even though Bishop Pyotr feels a certain way about his relationship with his mother, it appears that his mother had a much different feeling about the same relationship.  It did not take long after Bishop Pyotr died before people began to forget about him.  Life moves on and the people now have a new bishop.  However, he was remembered by his mother.  Ideally there should be no stronger bond than the bond between a mother and her child.  However, this is not true in every case.
   In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  Unhappiness is not a requirement for family life. The most important thing is that parents should begin to establish a relationship with their child(ren) as quickly as possible which will have a life-long benefit for both them and their children.  If no bonding takes place between a mother and her child it will have a negative impact on the child’s ability to bond with anyone in the future.  The forging of a positive relationship at an early age has long term benefits for everyone involved. 

                                                     End Notes

      1)    “Mother Son Relationship Key to Emotional Development” (3/29/10) Accessed 10/8/11. 

2)    “Men and their Mothers.  What’s it all about?”  (4/27/08) Accessed 10/8/11.

3)    “The Bishop by Anton P. Chekov” (Accessed 10/8/11). 

4)    Rodney J. Hunter (ed.) Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), p. 164

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