Maternal Separation Anxiety: Its Developmental Course and Relation to Maternal Mental Health


  • We would like to express our appreciation to Wilma Lutz for her thoughtful editorial comments. This study was partially supported by grant RO1 MH46003–02 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Ellen Hock, Ohio State University, Department of Family Relations and Human Development, 1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210–1295.


Maternal separation anxiety is a construct that describes a mother's experience of worry, sadness, or guilt during short-term separations from her child. This investigation examined potential differences in psychological correlates between mothers with high and low levels of anxiety when their children were 8 months, 3 1/2 years, and 6 years of age. High levels of maternal separation anxiety had different psychological correlates contingent upon the age of the child. Depressive symptomatology and separation anxiety were unrelated at times 1 and 2, but when the children were 6 years old, mothers who had the highest levels of anxiety tended to have more depressive symptomatology, fewer coping skills, a more negative representation of self, and embraced more traditional sex-role values. Study findings are discussed with respect to their relevance to the mother's role as developmental partner to the child and linked to major theoretical perspectives that address the mother-child relationship.