Stability and change of attachment representations across the transition to motherhood



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This dissertation investigated changes in attachment representations across the transition to parenthood, a normative life transition that is related to attachment. A handful of studies have used the Adult Attachment Interview (George et al., 1985), which is the gold standard of adult attachment measures, at two time points, but none have explicitly examined the transition to parenthood (Bakersman-Kranenburg & van IJzendoorn, 1993; Benoit & Parker, 1994; Crowell, 2002; Sagi et al., 1994; Speiker et al., 2011). To date, no study has specifically examined the stability of attachment representations with one’s own parents over the transition to motherhood. The present sample consisted of 93 mothers who participated in the Adult Attachment Interview (George et al., 1985) at two time points. The first assessment was conducted when the mothers were in their third trimester of pregnancy and the second when their child was 24 months. Representational change has been linked to therapy (Taylor et al., 2015) and negative life events (Crowell et al., 2002), so these were examined as possible correlates of change. Overall, results showed that organized attachment showed stability over time, while unresolved attachment was not stable. However, each subgroup showed different patterns of change. Preoccupied was the most stable organized category, followed by autonomous, with dismissing being the least likely to remain stable and most likely to become autonomous. Unresolved loss was unstable while unresolved abuse showed higher than expected stability. Therapy was significantly related to representational change, though not in the expected direction, while negative life events were not significantly related, but descriptively showed promise for future inquiry. An informal review of the interviews of those who changed afforded insights into possible mechanisms for future study. These possible mechanisms included participants’ ongoing relationship with their parent(s) and how their parent functioned in the grandparent role, their experience of being a mother and their relationship with their infant, and their relationship with their partner. These findings have meaningful implications for clinicians working with mothers of infants and young children, as well as for researchers seeking to understand the processes by which humans change over time.