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Mothers' Reactions to Separation from their Pre-School Children as Effected by their Social Networks and their Relationship to their Children

Gorman, Kate Hooper

This study was a comparative, cross-sectional analysis of maternal reactions to separation from their young children at school entrance. The first observation was of mothers who were entering their children in school for the first time. The second observation, made concurrently, was of mothers who entered their children in school at least six months before the observation. These were the "experienced" mothers.

The sample population consisted of 177 mothers drawn from nine schools. Data was collected by means of a written questionnaire, distributed to the mothers at the school.

The study sought to discover factors which might influence the ease or difficulty which a mother experienced during separation. Six major and seven minor hypotheses were tested.

The first hypothesis stated that reactions to separation change over time and will be most intense at the initial separation. It was confirmed. The separation reactions of the "inexperienced" mothers were significantly different from those of the "experienced" mothers, and in the predicted direction.

The second hypothesis stated that separation reactions change according to the mothers' view of her relationship with her child and her perception of the degree of independence between her child and herself. It was hypothesized that a mother who was able to recognize her child as a separate individual, with needs different from her own, would have less difficulty at parting than a mother who saw her child as an extension of herself.

In the operationalization of the hypothesis, four different content areas were created. In the findings, two of these areas proved to have significant relationships to the mothers' difficulty separating: her early mothering experience and her assessment of the child's current level of independence. The mothers who indicated great satisfaction with the early mothering experience were the ones who had the most difficulty separating. Those who only moderately enjoyed the early mothering experience had a much easier time separating. Second, mothers who saw their children as able to function fairly independently were able to undergo the separation with much less anxiety themselves.

The third hypothesis examined the effect of a mother's social network on her difficulty separating. It was predicted that the more isolated a mother was, the more difficulty she would have separating at school entrance.

The findings confirmed the hypothesis for the "inexperienced" mothers. The ones receiving the lowest amount of support from their husbands, parents, and relatives were very clearly the ones who had more difficulty separating.

The fourth hypothesis stated that mothers who had difficulty separating were less likely to find new activities and also less likely to have an improvement in their relationship with their children. The findings were not significant.

The fifth hypothesis stated that differences in the mothers' responses to separation related to their views of the school. Did they see the school as helpful and supportive, indifferent, or even intrusive? It was hypothesized that a mother who feels that the school cares about her child and herself will have an easier time separating. The findings were that there was no relationship between a mother's difficulty separating and her view ·of the school.

Hypothesis 6 stated that separation reactions related to the amount of separation experienced prior to school entrance. It was predicted that a mother who has frequently been apart from her child will experience less separation anxiety. Conversely, a mother who has never left her child will experience greater separation anxiety.

The hypothesis was confirmed. The mothers who spent more time away from their children before school entrance had an easier time separating from them at school entrance.

Hypotheses 7 through 13 explored the relationship of the main dependent variable, "difficulty separating" and seven antecedent variables: "general morale", "age", "social class", "ethnic group", "religion", "length of employment", and "number of children". None were found to relate significantly to "difficulty separating".


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 1, 2015