Saying Goodbye Is a Hard Thing to Do: Why Saying Goodbye to Mom Sucks


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As college students, we've all shared the familiar melancholy feeling when our parents leave us at school to head home. This weekend, when both my parents came to visit me, I had a significantly harder time saying goodbye to my mom than my dad. This made me wonder, are children more attached to their mothers than their fathers? 

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A study published by ,Scientific American, featured the research of Francesca R. D'Amato of the CNR Institute of Neuroscience, Psychobiology and Psychopharmacology in Rome. In the study, D'Amato studied two different types of mice. One group of mice lacked U-Opiod receptors, a chemical that is linked to pain, pleasure, and addiction. The second group of mice acted as the control. When the newborn pups (without U-Opioid receptors) were separated from their mothers after birth, there were significantly less distress calls compared to the control pups. When the control pups were given morphine (a drug that acts on the part of the Opioid portion of the brain) they  calmed down. However, when the pups that lacked U-Opioid receptors were given morphine, there was no effect. 

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In a second part of the study, the mice were given the option of choosing between two different cages- one that was familiar and one that was strange. The control mice all selected the familiar cage, and the mice that lacked U-Opioid receptors mostly chose the strange cage. 

 

Using this information to answer my question (are children more attached to their mothers than their fathers?) I concluded that "normal" children are drawn to their mothers by the chemicals in the Opioid Systems of their brains. These receptors (if present) act in an addictive and pleasurable way and make us feel better when we are in the presence of our moms. This could explain why everything seems at ease when she's around- it's just like feeding an addiction. The presence of these receptors could also explain homesicknesses and why it's so hard to be separated from your mom. 

 

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Something interesting that this study suggested was that malfunctions of the Opioid System could be linked to the social indifference of autistic infants. 

 

If there is anything I've learned from blogging about this topic is that it's a very normal feeling to miss your mom when she leaves. You may say you miss her because she always made your bed or packed your lunch for school, but deep down there's a chemical connection that explains why you miss her so badly. 

3 Comments

I found it very interesting that the study thought it could be possible that there's a link between the malfunctioning opioid system and the social indifference of infants with autism. I have a cousin who is autistic, and when he's separated from his parents (He's 2) he just cries and cries and throws temper tantrums. I'm guessing that that means in his specific case, there isn't a problem!

After doing some research on my own, it seems that maybe he's just got a milder form of the disorder and that could be why! Almost every autism website I found stated something similar to this one, stating that babies are generally aloof and seemingly unattached to their caregivers. It's definitely something interesting to think about!


I also have a cousin who's autistic but opposite of the study's findings in your blog my cousin is undoubtedly more attached to his Dad. There may be some chemical connection to mothers and their children, maybe it's because children are in their mother's womb for 9 months so children naturally feel closer to her. I think it has more to do with the amount of time you spend with each parent than the chemical science though. The study could be misleading because I would say on average mothers spend more time with their children than do fathers. In most homes with two parents the father works more, therefore spending less time with his kids. I know in my home it was always my mom who I called when I needed something for school or if I wanted to sleep at a friend's house. My mom is also the one I talk to most of the time while away at college. This is because I usually have time to call during the day when my dad is at work. My parents were also visiting me this weekend and even though I talk to my mom more I felt an equal amount of sadness for each of them when they left.

Is this the mother-baby bond effect that is formed during pregnancy as some people have claimed? I still don’t really understand why a child does not feel as connected to their father. I think if a child were raised primarily by their fathers they would probably feel the same attachment to their father.

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