Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Attachment: The Holy Grail of Parenting?

Being an attached parent is probably the goal of every parent. I don't think any parent strives to be detached from their children. However, much like the basic parenting styles, what constitutes attachment and how to achieve it are things that can cause a lot of heated debate. Attachment Theory and Attachment Parenting are two things that purport to answer these questions. A lot of the passion for this parenting style comes from the idea that those who follow it are better moms than those who are unwilling or unable to. I wonder where we get that idea from?

Source: Time Magazine
I'd like to start by talking about Attachment Theory. This theory was developed by Bowlby in the 1950s and followed up with research by Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s. After observing children Bowlby came up with the idea that infants, as an evolutionary survival mechanism, instinctively attached to a primary attachment figure and used certain behaviours to keep that figure in proximity. Bowlby's belief was that infants attached to a primary figure in the first two years of their life, that that time of development was critical, that disruptions to that attachment were deleterious, and that based on their experiences, infants would develop an internal working model that would determine the way in which they interacted with the world for the rest of their lives. Ainsworth added to this theory the different types of attachment that can develop based on the responsiveness of the primary caregiver: Secure, Avoidant, Anxious/Resistant and Disorganized. These categories were derived after watching how numerous children experienced separation from their primary caregiver in an experiment called the Strange Situation.

The limitations of the research are that it is observational. It also does not take into account things like temperament and personality, which some have suggested is more relevant than parental responsiveness. Further, this theory suggests that there is a critical period in which an infant can attach to a primary caregiver, when what we now know about brain plasticity suggests that it is more of a sensitive period, not to mention that infants are capable of forming multiple attachments. It also does not take into account cultural factors.

Attachment parenting developed in the 1980s. The term was coined by Dr. Sears who came up with 7 things a mother can do to develop a secure attachment with their baby. While there is a lot of research that shows that many of the individual things on the list have good outcomes, there is no specific research that shows that doing any or all of these things actually lead to a secure attachment. The 7 Bs of Attachment Parenting are: 
  1. Birth bonding 
  2. Belief in the signal value of baby's cries (understanding and responding quickly to cries)
  3. Breastfeeding
  4. Babywearing (carrying the baby in a sling)
  5. Bedding close to baby (preferably in the same bed)
  6. Balance and boundaries (knowing when to say yes and when to say no)
  7. Beware of baby trainers (listening to your own instinct and intuition)
It's interesting that attachment parenting has become more about being physically attached to your baby as a means to develop attachment. I was also surprised to see that Balance and Boundaries was a facet of attachment parenting, when many people have written that the reason they could no longer function as an attachment parent was the lack of boundaries.

As with any doctrine, vocal fanatics turn something reasonable into something extreme. Attachment parenting is less a set of rules to follow and more of a mindset. The idea is to parent responsively -and generally, it is easier to be responsive to your child if they are in close proximity. However, it is still possible for a parent to be unresponsive even if they are following the 7 Bs to a T. One can just as easily mindfully bottle-feed a baby as mindlessly breastfeed. Attachment parenting offers some ideas as to what the term "responsive" means. 

For further thought:

How does this style of parenting compare to how you were raised as a child? In what ways do you wish you had been parented more like this?

What about this style of parenting appeals to you?

What about this style of parenting makes you uncomfortable?

For Further Reading:

Attachment Theory

Attachment Parenting

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