Definitions of Terms

Why is it so important to define bonding in specific and objective terms? Two important reasons stand out. First, the negative consequences of interrupting bonded relationships can be severe. A hole, an emptiness exists, a time and space that cannot be recovered. An empty chair. A lonely time of day. An important task with a missing partner. That is when we know for sure that we have disrupted something important and significant. By then, however, it is too late. To anticipate and prevent the loss, we need to know beforehand.

Second, mental health professionals are often vague and fuzzy in trying to define bonding, giving opinion rather than data, generalizations rather than facts. As a result, case managers may not have given bonding the important consideration it requires. And courts do not get the objective and unbiased information they need to make critical decisions about a child’s placement.

Bonding, when it occurs, can be more important than kinship. We have a genetic attachment with those persons who share our DNA. Yet many significant relationships are fashioned in other ways. Bonding refers to the strength of a relationship, not necessarily its biological source. Throughout life people may attach to one another in ways more significant and more powerful than those dictated by genes. A very close friend can become more important than a brother or sister. The most obvious non-genetic bond occurs in marriage where two people attach themselves to one another with a commitment that supersedes genetic connections and they expect that connection to last a lifetime.

Confusion between the concepts of attachment and bonding has muddied definitional clarity. These terms have often been used interchangeably. In fact, they are different. Bonding, as defined at the opening of this chapter, should be reserved to identify a significant attachment, one that is expected to last a lifetime and whose disruption is likely to cause serious and long-lasting trauma. A brief review will reveal the different ways these terms have been used, the overlap, and the failure to distinguish between them.