The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a book about relationships, attachment, and saying goodbye to a nanny. How a mother’s needs affects a child’s attachment, the importance of the child’s attachment to a non biological caregiver, and the pain connected to the loss of an attachment figure. While the book is set within a historical context, the deeper message in the book is very much applicable to today – a person’s needs to attach is instinctual, attachment is filled with love and hurt, and bonding happens through respect and emotionally nurturing.
Attachment as a theory on how we operate has grown ten folds in the last decade. People like Dr. Daniel Siegel are studying the brain and through the use of MRIs have literally seen that brain chemistry is impacted during the infant attachment process. This physical change shows that attachment not only matters, but is a primary predictor of who we will be as adults. Insecure and disorganized attachment styles are now being blamed for alcoholism, eating disorders, and failed relationships. And there is substantial evidence to support these claims.
Stockett depicts clearly the pain a child feels when they do not receive the attention and caring they desire from their mother. The hired “help” responds to this hurt and fills an emotional gap. When the “help” is fired or removed from the person as a child or during adulthood, the emotional need for that attachment figure is still present. In most cases the “help” disappears without explanation, causing anxiety and longings in the main characters.
For adults the book The Help causes us to look back on the relationships of our youth, and consider how our needs were met by our own parents and caregivers. It makes us wonder how goodbyes were handled in our own home, and how past losses might be impacting our role in current relationships.
For parents The Help is a reminder that children’s relationship to their caregiver/nanny is important. That a system of transition is needed when a child starts school to minimize loss and anxiety. And most importantly that we can secure our child’s future by considering attachment in the present.