As I take over the production of this weekly column, I am glad to see the outpouring of affection by many readers to Dr. Val Farmer.
His kind and helpful words had a positive effect on many people during his 28 years of writing this column. Many readers and others he has assisted have developed positive attachments to Dr. Val.
Good and bad news about attachments
Attachments to important people in our lives have positive or negative effects on our adjustments, depending on how they treat us and how we perceive them.
Livestock producers know the importance of allowing a mother cow to sniff and lick her newborn calf to establish a bond that signals to her calf who to count on for food and protection during the following weeks until the calf is able to take care of itself.
All animal producers are familiar with these instinctual behavioral exchanges that involve olfactory, auditory, motor and visual cues between the mother and baby.
People who mistreat us by hurting us physically or emotionally have lasting effects on our ability to predict what others will do to us thereafter. Usually, the earlier in our lives the mistreatment has occurred, the more pervasively it affects us afterwards.
Mistreated children can become adults who are prone to feel angry and to hurt those whom they care for.
However, positive care-givers, who respond with comforting words and touches when those of us who are under their care feel hurt, affect our lives ever after. They replace painful feelings with feelings that someone values us, especially in times of need.
I witnessed attachment bonds during three weeks of caring for my 2-month-old granddaughter in January and February while her mother returned to work as a physician and her father attended to his genetics research work.
Not only did my granddaughter readily recognize her mother’s and father’s voices when they came home after a long day at work, but by the end of the three precious weeks my granddaughter readily smiled at me whenever she heard my reassuring voice.
She knew I was coming to hold her, change her diaper or offer her a bottle of milk when she cried. What fun we had dancing, singing and listening to Grandpa make the sounds of farm animals! She was a wonderful, uncritical audience.
How positive attachments influence us
Dr. Mary Ainsworth, the child development researcher who indicated the enormous importance of attachments of mothers and their infants, found, among other things, human mothers who breast-fed their babies had better adjusted children than babies who were bottle fed.
Breast-fed babies were more confident in exploring their environments, healthier throughout all their lives, better able to share with others and they also developed higher intellectual ability. The positive physical and emotional bonding that developed during their contact affected the babies into their adulthood.
To Dr. Ainsworth and most others since, it made sense to encourage mothers everywhere to resist the temptation to rely on baby formula fed in bottles, unless this alternative became necessary.
Dr. Ainsworth’s research finding that we carry the positive effects of good caregivers in our adaptations throughout our lives, even when we have been harmed by abusive people, is of great importance to me and the people I work with.
Good professional therapists and good people who treat us fairly give those of us who bear the scars of abuse, unfair treatment or neglect, something we carry around in our adjustments ever after — the sense someone cared and helped us through tough times.
What can we learn?
I had the opportunity to be affiliated with Dr. Ainsworth for four years when I was a psychology professor at the University of Virginia in the early 1970s. I also see how the beneficial advice and nurturance readers got from Dr. Val are gifts that influence us now and into the future.
What we can do is concentrate on making our intentions and behaviors positive in the ways we treat others we interact with.
We should treat our coworkers, family, successors and everyone, for that matter, as fairly as possible, without picking favorites. We must respect differences in others and in the ways they do things.
As farmers and rural care-takers of the resources needed to produce food, fiber and renewable energy, we have important duties. We should nurture positive attachments to our successors, to our land and communities.