The security, self-esteem and confidence provided by parents' presence can never be replaced by material things.
“It is a mistake to think that the security, self-esteem or confidence provided by the presence of parents can be replaced by material things,” says Marta Prada, a family counselor, who recently wrote a book (“Mamitis,” published in Spanish) on how attachment and human development work.
Replacing human presence with material things
Spending time with children is the best gift and the best investment we can make in their development. “Love does not spoil children; absence does, and a lack of love, affection, contact, structure, and limits.”
Prada talks a lot about healthy and natural bonding. In her most recent book, she explains that parental presence can never be replaced by something material. Toys and gifts “may attract the child’s attention momentarily, but it will be ephemeral.” The habitual absence of a parent “leaves a void that will be transformed into a wound of abandonment,” she says. “Adults who have not felt the affection and presence” of their parents in childhood “tend to establish relationships of dependence and act to please others for fear of loneliness.”
Lack of self-esteem
Feeling that there is no adult figure close to them who gives them affection and dedicates time to them directly affects their self-esteem. “Their self-esteem is diminished because they feel that there’s something wrong inside of them, due to which they don’t deserve love, because they didn’t feel loved when they were children. They will seek to fill that void by means of their friendships and professional or romantic relationships, always pleasing others and not giving due importance to their own opinions and limits.”
Bonding with parents
There needs to be a bond with a parental figure from day one, a role usually occupied by the mother. “It is she who gives them their main point of reference: her smell, her voice, her body temperature … the things that make them feel safe. This helps them establish basic trust in the world.” When their mother is close to them, it’s as if someone is telling them, “Trust, you’re safe.” That closeness helps them create a positive predisposition.
Feeling that support and the resulting peace of mind helps them develop fully and integrate into society. “Mothers liberate their children from their fears. Through her, they will gradually learn to relate to others, relying on her confidence and example,” and this will also help them face changes.
This informal term in Spanish, derived from “mama” and the termination “-itis” (often associated with an unhealthy obsession) is commonly used in that language to describe children’s dependence on their mother—the feeling of only wanting to be with her, glued to her. This term gives its name to Marta Prada’s book. She defines this mother-child relationship positively, as “the food of the heart.”
However, on many occasions, mamitis has a negative connotation. For Prada, a negative attitude towards children’s attachment to their mother reflects “not having enough knowledge about how human development works.” She explains that there are many preconceived ideas about parenting that have been passed down from generation to generation but which lack a scientific basis.
She gives the example of letting children who are upset cry without seeking to console them, in the hope they will simply stop on their own. “Before it was thought to be the most appropriate thing to do, but today we know that children don’t learn to stop crying, but rather learn to give up; they learn that when they need affection or closeness they will not receive it.”
Marta insists that this attachment, this contact with a parental figure, improves and completes children’s development and is “fundamental for survival and healthy development, as much as warmth or food.”