I read yet another article that lamented about the perils of breast feeding on demand and co-sleeping with your toddler and was titled, when attachment parenting goes wrong (or something like that). When I read these articles I get really sad and frustrated that yet again we seem to be promoting what is and isn’t attachment parenting and on top of that, it has a funny sensation of judgement and parent shaming… Depending on the slant of the article, you’re either an idiot for doing this or not… And yet attachment really doesn’t have anything to do with breast feeding on demand, baby carrying or co-sleeping OR even dropping everything upon the demand of the child. In fact, you can do all of this and still create a child that has an insecure attachment to the parent!
Attachment theory is about the relationship and not the things you do. Attachment theory honors the natural drive for all humans to seek love and connection and negotiate closeness and distance with our parents. Attachment is determined within the first 9 months of life, based on the interact between baby and parent and is not solely dependent on feeding, or carrying your child but on the quality of the connection and the emotional availability of the parent. So you may be doing all the “right” things (according to many attachment parenting models) but you may still have a problematic attachment because the parent’s emotional availability is shaky or inconsistent at best.
For example, mum or dad may be fearful, anxious ridden, and scared of the baby’s crying, perhaps nervous of upsetting or over tiring baby and as they grow into a toddler, always allowing the child to lead the relationship. As a result, this little baby/toddler gets the sense that there’s no stronger, safer person to protect them and they are fed a diet of anxiety rather than calmness. So even though they may be breast fed or kept close to their parent, they are never given a sense of safeness because the parent’s anxiety level is always high and baby’s nervous system is compromised because their brains mirror the parents (google mirror neurons – or see this RSA Youtube on empathy).
Secure attachment for the child is based on the quality of the relationship – can you, the parent, help support the child regulating their emotions through your relationship by being bigger, stronger, wiser, kinder. Can you regulate your emotions in order to help your baby regulate their own. Watch this video to see why it’s so important and how just your facial expression is enough to communicated with your child.
What is required in true attachment parenting?
Our role as parents is to have the presence to be available for when our baby/toddler/child/teenager has a need to explore the environment/world around them, support them being autonomous and also be present when they need comfort and reassurance.
As they explore we need to watch over them, help them only a little (until they can do it for themselves), delight in their exploration and enjoy with them as they go out more and more into the world. When they need reassurance, can we be a safe place for them to turn to when they need comfort, protection and delight in them as they come to you for that support. Can you help the baby/toddler/child/teenager by naming their feelings and experience so they can progressively make sense of this emerging world as they grow up.
Notice none of this is based on whether you breast fed, slept with your child or strapped them to your body 24/7 or not…
This is what attachment parenting is about… Are you emotionally available supporting their exploration and intimacy needs on a practical, emotional and spiritual basis on a regular basis. It’s about how you support your child and also any important relationship in your life such as your intimate partner, your friend, and even your employee when you can… You do not need to be perfect 100% of the time… Just consistent.
Secure attachment relationships support and encourage exploration, adventure, learning and understanding of the world And it also supports intimacy between individuals – can you support the emotional and physical needs we all have has human beings. Can you also allow for someone to provide this to you?
These attachment/relational needs are required by ALL of us through life and not just as a baby. We all need someone who has our back, who encourages us, who helps us when we need it and who is safe to talk to, explore feelings with and offers the protection when we need it. These are fundamental human needs that address mind, body and spirit.
Not all of us got them consistently as children… Some people barely had these needs met and are therefore wired to not to trust intimacy and may even avoid it. Others created coping strategies that make them seem demanding or hot or cold when they clearly are suffering or wanting connection. These strategies were created early in life and are laid down in our neural pathways and can be tricky to overcome if we avoid the necessary work to re-pattern the brain. It’s often why we choose partners that are emotionally unavailable to us or needy or mean because our brains were wired to look for this in a partner.
Fundamentally, we need to look at our relationships to see if we need to work on our attachment systems… Ideally before we have children! This helps us understand how we are wired and what we consciously need to do to help our loved ones.
Many people are great at the practical aspects of supporting a loved one and yet struggle with the intimacy requirements, and by that I don’t mean sex, I mean the ability to emotionally connect and stay with that connection when our partner, child, employee needs it.
It’s not about breastfeeding or co-sleeping
It’s not about making dinner or doing the washing
It’s not about ensuring you call your friend regularly so they don’t get annoyed with you
It’s not about ticking the boxes and ensuring your staff get the feedback they need to improve their chances for promotion.
It’s the quality of your relationship… How you support them to grow and learn in the world and how you respond for their need for comfort, closeness and understanding. It’s how you are in that moment… Are you showing up bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder so they know you’ve got their back? Are you able to understand their needs in this moment? Are you both a safe base, for exploring, and a safe haven for when they need it?
IF yes, then you’re nailing it!
If no, then work on it… before it affects your relationship with your partner and flows on down to your children.