In the 1950s, famed psychologist Harry Harlow conducted a series of attachment parenting experiments using baby monkeys. He crafted together wire mesh monkey “mothers” with milk dispensers fastened to them. These were to serve as surrogate parents to the monkey babies.
Harlow then tied a soft terrycloth rag around other wire mesh monkey mothers who did not have food dispensers. He found that during times of fear and anxiety, the baby monkeys would cling to their soft terrycloth mothers and not to the ones who actually fed them.
This landmark study sat in the back of my brain for more than 20 years before I realized its implications.
I am a terrycloth monkey mother.
There is no food dispenser attached to me. My children will never look back upon their childhoods in relation to any elaborate meals or fresh-baked cookies from mom. When my youngest son arrived home with a recipe from French class, he asked if he could call my friend, Lucy, because “she can cook, Mommy!” My middle son was undergoing speech therapy years back when he suddenly removed the mother figure from a kitchen playboard. He immediately replaced it with the daddy figure, shaking his head emphatically to indicate mommies simply do not belong in the kitchen.
Lest anyone think I starve the boys, there are a few basics I have learned to make when my husband, who is a masterful cook, is at the firehouse. Corn Flakes. Tacos. Hamburgers.
Did I mention Corn Flakes?
I hate cooking. I do not follow directions. The smell of raw meat is nauseating. My kids usually turn up their noses whenever I do try a new recipe, mostly because of the whole “does not follow directions” part.
My husband dedicated a lot of time early in our marriage to help overcome my culinary deficiencies, offering patient guidance and suggestions. Yet after almost a decade, the man now doesn’t trust me alone with a knife and an onion.
But I am cuddly. Whenever I sit down on our couch, three boys flank me within seconds. I scratch heads, rub feet and offer unlimited hugs and kisses. I adore holding hands. Sometimes, late at night, I sneak into my children’s rooms to rock them for just a few minutes before these days are gone forever.
I take consolation in Harlow’s findings that no amount of terrycloth mother love can alter the psychological damage to babies once deprivation occurs. Hug early and often is the ultimate lesson of Harlow’s experiments.
I figure I can always learn to cook later.
Or buy Cheerios.