What Is Attachment?
In the parenting world, you are likely to come across the word "attachment" a time or two, but what does that word really mean and how does it relate to parenting?
The word attachment has been defined as "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings," and "includes responding sensitively and appropriately to the child's needs," by John Bowlby- the pioneer of attachment theory. (simplypsychology.org) The concept of attachment is what makes it so crucial for us, as parents and caregivers, to do our best to be in tune with our babies needs and development because it lays the groundwork for our children's relationship patterns and interactions in the future. As I stated in my previous post: It’s important to keep in mind that children are just tiny humans trying to learn the way of our world and it is our job, as parents and caregivers, to help guide and teach them (versus dictate) how to function in it."
Before we can dive into what we are looking for in regards to attachment, it's important to acknowledge the 4 different types of attachment: Secure, Avoidant, Resistant, and Disorganized. The three latter types are categorized as "insecure attachments" but that does not necessarily mean that these children will form psychopathologies (such as behavioral or mental disorders) later in life- but they can contribute to the risk of them forming. Here is a little more about each of these three types of attachment courtesy of psychcentral.com:
- Resistant: The child explores little, preferring to remain close to the parents. He or she becomes highly upset when the parent leaves, and resists interaction with the parent upon his or her return
- Avoidant: Similar to the anxious-resistant type, by the child does not appear to behave much differently around the parents than he/she would around strangers
- Disorganized: a proposed form of attachment for those children whose behavior cannot be described by any of the other 3 main attachment types
*Again, it is important to note that if these types of attachment patterns have formed, that does not necessarily mean that the child has been "set up for failure." It is hypothesized by attachment theory that the critical period for developing an attachment is about 0-5 years, and there is always an opportunity to work on where you are at and where you want to go.
So what about secure attachment? A secure attachment allows children to know that they are safe, because their needs are met, and as a result, they are able to better explore their environments and their learning experiences. Think about it, how much better do you function when you have a full belly, dry underwear, clean clothes and have at least some degree of satisfaction with "where you are" in life. Say for example you are having a really bad day, how much better are you likely to feel if you have a friend to confide in, someone to hug/a shoulder to cry on, a creative/physical outlet, or even just a plate of your go-to "comfort food," to help you work through the stress? Any of these things are likely to make an adult feel less anxious and more stable and safe right? The same thing applies to children except for the fact that since they are so limited on experiencing all these other options and the ability to be self-sufficient, we-the parents and caregivers- are their outlets, shoulders, friends, and providers of their comfort food. These are the reasons is why it is so crucial to keep babies close are respond to their cues.
When discussing attachment, it is also important to remember that every child and parent is different. In my own experience with twins, this has become very clear to me. Each of my daughters are different people with different needs and different preferences. For example one self weaned at 25 months, and the other continues to nurse (mostly for comfort) at 31 months, which brings me to the subject of temperament. Temperament is based on a biological factors, such as heredity, however it can be impacted by environmental and parental factors. It's no different than comparing two adults: what may please some may not please others. Think about your friends, family, and maybe even your partner. If we were all the same, this world would be a very dull place. These differences that makes us each unique as parents and individuals brings me to my next point: "How does this all relate to attachment parenting (AP)? Is AP the only way to promote attachment?"
The answer is no, which is where gentle parenting comes into play. Keep in mind that the main goal of gentle parenting is to parent "with empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.." (Gentleparenting.com). The key component in forming attachment with your child(ren) is responsivity to your baby and not whether you decide to formula feed or breastfeed, babywear or push a stroller, cosleep or use a nursery. From the womb until beyond when babies enter our world, they only have needs, not wants, and they continually have to rely on us to help meet them (especially in the early days). A baby does not WANT to be feed, clothed, changed, or have constant physical contact, they NEED that. Keep in mind that a baby does not cry to try and manipulate and control us, they cry to communicate with us. And remember most importantly: You CANNOT spoil a baby!
The "issue" with promoting attachment parenting as the "main way" of establishing and maintaining a secure bond is that the methodologies are rather limiting. (Not to say that it is wrong, because it is a great way to promote and ensure that parents and caregivers are well aware of the tools available to them to promote a secure bond. But let's face it, sometimes it's just not the best fit for everyone at a given time.) Attachment parenting emphasizes the 7B's as its core philosophy (according to askdrsears.com) :
- Birth Bonding
- Bedding in close proximity
- Belief in language values of your baby's cries
- Beware of Trainers (avoid rigid schedules/clock watching)
Keep in mind that I am in NO way, shape, or form knocking AP, because I think it is a great way to raise awareness about ways to bond with infants and children, but not everything on this list is always doable by all parents and caregivers which is why I decided that gentle parenting was the route I wanted to advocate. (Also, it feels like there is an "expiration date" on attachment parenting, whereas gentle parenting is something you can practice even after your little ones have moved past childhood and on into adolescence and adulthood.)
Whenever you find yourself in a place wondering "how will what I am doing now affect my child in the future," try to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. "If so-and-so did *this* to me, how would it make me feel? Would I trust them more or less? How would it impact my future encounters with this type of situation again?" It's important to remember that as parents and caregivers we are only human too, which makes us all far from perfect, and that we have both good days and bad days. Don't beat yourself up if you know that you could have done better, instead focus on the next time and make sure your little knows that you didn't mean for things to happen the way they did. Whether or not you think your child understands, they are listening and look to you as a model of how to learn and grow, and become the best humans that they can.