What Bonding Is Not

Bonding may be more clearly understood by differentiating it from what it is not.

Bonding is not everything. Bonding evaluators have sometimes adopted the “kitchen sink” approach, using a broad smorgasbord of evaluative procedures, including psych testing, mental status exams, and parenting skills. The important issue of bonding is weakened and gets lost among other important factors.

A bonding evaluation is not a custody evaluation. Bonding is very important, but still only one factor. Bonding does not suffice to determine the best placement for a child. A good custody evaluation will include information about the physical and mental health of all parties, financial matters, and the actual home setting.

Bonding is not mere attachment. Attachment refers to a variety of relationships. Bonding is one specific type of attachment. Because of its general nature, attachment admits of categories and hierarchies. People can grow in their relationships and become attached to some more than to others. Bonding goes beyond attachment and usually involves a lifetime commitment. This type of commitment is rare.

Bonding is not simply being together. Although being on the same softball team or frequenting the same bar has been referred to as “male bonding,” that falls far short of our definition. “Girls’ night out” is in the same category.

Bonding is not a single shared memorable moment. Sharing something profound such as being cancer survivors, the death of a child, or being with someone when something transformative happened such as 9/11 is not bonding. These shared experiences may be deep and unforgettable, but they are not so significant that their loss leaves a hole, a person that cannot be replaced, an emptiness that cannot be filled.

Bonding is not superficial. Anything but. Bonding meets vital needs at every level of development. As an infant, our very life depends on the bond with our caregiver. Throughout life, bonding provides the secure base to allow us to satisfy more sophisticated needs like self-esteem and self-actualization.

And finally, although they are often confused, bonding is not love.

  • Love can be one-sided. Bonding is mutual.
  • Love can become an obsession. Bonding is a steady need.
  • Love is more emotional. Bonding is more tangible and practical.
  • Love is exciting. Bonding is more “quiet” and everyday.
  • Love is enhancing. Bonding is gripping.
  • Love is almost always seen as emotionally positive. Bonding is neutral.