A History of Bonding Definitions

Human bonding refers to the development of a close interpersonal relationship between family members or friends. The term is from the 12th century Middle English word band, which refers to something that binds, ties, or restrains. In early usage, a bondsman, bondswoman, or bondservant was a feudal serf that was obligated to work for his or her lord without pay. Today a bondsman is a person who provides a bond or surety for someone.

Children form attachments to adults who regularly meet their physical and emotional needs regardless of biological relationship. Goldstein et al (1973) developed standards to identify this person, the psychological parent, the one to whom the child appears to have most firmly bonded. Goldstein and his co-authors believed that, in the child’s best interests, the psychological parent should be allowed to become the primary and permanent caregiver.

“Obligations to stepparents, who fill the position of parents, and stepchildren, who fill the position of children, are higher than to more distant blood kin.” (Rossi et al, 1990) Proximity and living together are a more important connection than that of distant blood relatives. Bonded relationships develop when people live together in family situations.

According to Rossi et al (1990), bonded relationships endure and last a lifetime. If, as we shall see, the interruption of a bonded relationship can cause severe damage, we need to know when that line is crossed. When does the “tipping point” from attachment to bonding occur? We do not want to wait until the life has been lived and the harm has been done.

“A bond can be defined as a unique relationship that is specific and endures through time. Although it is difficult to define this enduring relationship operationally, we have taken as indicators of this attachment various kinds of behavior between parents and infants, such as kissing, cuddling, and prolonged gazing – behavior than maintains contact….” (Klaus et al, 1995)

Goulet et al (1998) list three essential characteristics of bonding: proximity, reciprocity, and commitment. These characteristics are contained in our definitive criteria to document bonding.

Reciprocal Connectedness was introduced as a concept by Arredondo (2000) to expand Bowlby’s one-way notion of bonding. “This neurodevelopmental concept describes a phenomenon that does not reside within the child alone but depends on an available adult who interacts reciprocally with the child….It encompasses a broader range of childhood needs, including interactive verbal and nonverbal communication, responsiveness, modeling, reciprocal facial expressiveness, social cues, motor development, and other dimensions necessary for normal neurodevelopment.”

Iwaniec (2006) reviews the definition problem between bonding and attachment. She states: “Bonding is generally believed to be a bi-directional, reciprocal process. It has also been defined as a cognitive and social process that develops through positive feedback and satisfying experiences between the attachment dyad.”