Attachment Parenting: Is The Time Magazine Presentation Appropriate?

Does Time Magazine's Cover about Attachment Parenting accurately depict the reality or go overboard?

Leave it to Time Magazine to sexualize something that I believe, is sweet and wonderful for children, parents and families. Something that I believe is necessary at some level for all children, and sadly lacking for too many. The article has asked if Attachment Parenting has gone too far. After looking around at what seems to be going on with kids today, I would suggest the opposite…that lack of attachment has gone too far. 

Ok, maybe some will see the cover of Time and not see it as sexualized, but at the very least, in my opinion, the picture does not reflect the true nature of attachment parenting. "The essence of attachment parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children," according to the Attachment Parenting International website. "It is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection. It eliminates violence as a means for raising children, and ultimately helps to prevent violence in society as a whole." The Time cover seems to want to elicit a reaction of shock and paint this as extreme.

Attachment theory stems from psychologist John Bowlby's studies of maternal deprivation and animal behavior research in the early 1950s.

The best known expert in this area today, Dr. William Sears, says that  "attachment parenting is the natural way women parented, prior to all the experts telling them how to do it." He believes that attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents. He promotes the 7 B’s of Attachment Parenting as follows:

1. Birth bonding-The way baby and parents get started with one another helps the early attachment unfold.
2. Breastfeeding- Breastfeeding promotes the right chemistry between mother and baby by stimulating your body to produce prolactin and oxytocin, hormones that give your mothering a boost.
3. Babywearing-Babywearing improves the sensitivity of the parents. Because your baby is so close to you, you get to know baby better.
4. Bedding close to baby-Wherever all family members get the best night's sleep is the right arrangement for your individual family.
5. Belief in the language value of your baby's cry-Responding sensitively to your baby's cries builds trust. Babies trust that their caregivers will be responsive to their needs.
6. Beware of baby trainers-Attachment parenting teaches you how to be discerning of advice, especially those rigid and extreme parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby; you know, the cry-it-out crowd. This "convenience" parenting is a short-term gain, but a long-term loss, and is not a wise investment.
7. Balance -Balancing sleep, work, caring for the child, marital relationship is important.

While there are many detractors of Attachment Parenting, suggesting that there is no good research about the results, there is certainly a plethora of research showing the overwhelming problem of lack of attachment or under attached children

According to Dr. Darvin Smith, "instability or disruption in relationships in the care system may give infants or children major problems in their ability to trust and therefore attach to parents or caregivers."  These kids exhibit the following, just to name a few:

1. They may not show normal anxiety following aggressive or cruel behavior
2. May not show guilt when breaking rules or laws
3. May project blame on others
4. Exhibits poor control; depends on others to provide external control of behavior
5. Exhibits lack of foresight
6. Has a poor attention span

This is just a small segment of the results of under attachment or attachment disorder. See the Darvsmith link below to see more.

In society today, we see bullying at record numbers, lack of empathy,  kids getting violent with each other with little to no remorse, kids more attached to machines and games than people. Kids committing heinous horrible crimes while we all scratch our heads about what is going on. When you read any of the many articles about under attachment or insecure attachment between parent and child, it seems to match.

What about the science behind Attachment Parenting. Here are just few that I found in a large list:

Attachment parenting promotes better moods and better emotional coping
A study of American kids—-aged 9-11 years-—evaluated their ability to cope with their emotions in school and at home. Kids with secure attachment relationships-—and greater levels of maternal support—-showed "higher levels of positive mood, more constructive coping, and better regulation of emotion in the classroom." (Kerns et al 2007).  Another study found that parents who were responsive to their children's distress had kids who were better at regulating their own, negative emotions (Davidov and Grusec 1996). The same study found that maternal warmth was associated with better regulation of positive emotions.

Attachment parenting contributes to a child's moral development
Researchers report that kids who engaged in mutually responsive, positive interactions with their mothers during the toddler and preschool years had more developed consciences when they reach school age (Kochanska and Murray 2000). These kids were also more likely to comply with adult instructions. Another study found that kids with more responsive mothers exhibited more empathy and prosocial behavior (Davidov and Grusec 1996).

Attachment parenting practices reduce stress
Research suggests that a variety of attachment parenting practices reduce child distress. One study reports that infants of more sensitive mothers had lower baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Blair et al 2006). Other research suggests that skin-to skin contact boosts levels of oxytocin (the "cuddle hormone") and reduces signs of physiological stress in infants (Uvnas Moberg 2003). Co-sleeping may be a stress-reducer as well. A British study reports that children (aged 3-8) who slept in their parents’ rooms showed lower daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Waynforth 2007). And positive discipline may help kids cope better with stress. One study of kids living in highly-stressed urban settings found that parents who identified themselves as practitioners of positive discipline were more likely to have children who were stress-resilient (Wyman et al 1991).

Attachment parenting is associated with fewer behavior problems
A study of French-Canadian children (aged 5-9 years) found that kids who were securely-attached showed fewer internalizing and externalizing behavior problems (Moss et al 1998). Another, experimental study reports that children living in stressed families (characterized by marital conflict and frequent daily hassles) showed fewer overactive problem behaviors if their parents had been trained in positive parenting and sensitive discipline techniques (van Zeijl et al 2006).

To be fair. Let’s also look at a critic’s comments brought up on CNN and my two cents:

Schools don’t like the "too involved" parents-To that I say tough beans. With the way many of our schools function today, they really don’t have a strong position to ask parents to leave it to them. Too much state in our kids and not enough family. Raised by the state creates allegiance to the state. Raised by the family-allegiance to family and people.

Attachment parents cannot see what their kids do wrong and therefore don’t correct it. My experience as a therapist says the exact opposite. Parents who are more involved with their kids are more in tune and in touch with them and can more readily see the problems and what needs to be addressed. They are also more available to address it consistently and resolve the problem. 

Some parents could not or did not do Attachment Parenting and still have good kids-no one disputes that parents have different ways to connect with their kids and one way is not always right for everyone.  As Dr. Sears points out-"you use the tools you have the best way you know how." I personal feel that up until a certain point, it is not too late to focus on re-attaching your relationship with your child. 

How do they become independent-aren’t they overly dependent? Just the opposite-strong core and strong feelings of belonging and trust help them to feel strong enough in themselves to separate but they also stay close to that original relationship and create their own close relationships. I think that is the absolute best of both worlds.

Do I believe all it takes is attachment-no I don’t. Structure, boundaries and good clear limits are necessary, but without that original deep, close, bonded relationship, a parent’s success level at reigning in bad behavior or addressing emotional issues becomes more limited. Getting that core relationship to a place that is healthy is a first step in the crux and foundation of a good healthy human being. Good self-esteem comes from that original relationship.

Even for those kids who get physical, when I do appropriate restraint interventions training with the parents in response to physically dangerous behavior, essentially what I am training is baby wearing in a sense-safely surrounding the child and holding gently, while following certain stress reduction techniques to help them learn to get control of themselves. I find that most kids who are acting out that way, have had too little in the way of that physical closeness. 

I love what Dr. Sears said in response to the CNN interviewer when she asked whether kids parented this way were less able to separate and become independent. He mentioned the research that says the opposite but then said this: "We have more of a problem in this society with under-attachment than over-attachment. The problems associated with over-attachment are much easier to correct." My experience with clients supports this very strongly.

Many parents would have liked the opportunity to do this but didn’t get the chance. We live in a high taxed society that requires 2 parent working households. That leads to early daycare and early state intervention, although some would call it interference. Some parents I know, have rearranged priorities and lowered living standards in exchange for being able to spend more time with their babies and young children. Unfortunately in the current economy, that becomes harder and harder.

Is it ever too late to try and capture that close relationship if you didn’t when the child was a baby? Obviously when your child is older, you are not going to want to start sleeping with your child and breastfeeding. At some point that isn’t a choice anymore, but that being said, working on developing a core closeness beyond talking can be accomplished. This of course depends on the age of the child. I have met multiple people who have adopted children with attachment disorders who have used Attachment Parenting philosophies and have had great success in stopping intense behavior.

I also don’t believe you need to do it in an "all or nothing" way either. Attachment Parenting isn’t a calisthenics routine. You do the best you can with the tools you have.  I couldn’t do the babywearing for long- my first was 8 lbs. 12 oz., second 9 lbs. 2 oz. and third was 10 lbs. 3 oz. I either had to be "Wonder Woman" or do something different. So I did. I did a lot of holding in a sitting position and a laying position.  You don’t have to do all of it, but doing what you can makes a difference.

At the risk of every feminist cringing, and I don’t have studies ready at my hands here to say any numbers on this, but I will say that if you look at trends in kids from when we had more parents staying at home, to now with few staying at home, the behavior we see in kids is not a coincidence. Do I blame parents? No. Bills need to be paid. Does this mean that I think all moms need to quit to make sure their kids are ok? No, not at all. I just think that with good balance, and making sure that the basics of attachment are followed that good results can be achieved. By the way, it doesn’t have to be mom staying home either.

My experiences with attachment parenting were some of the greatest of my life and I can see the results in the behavior and deep care my kids have for others, in addition to their ability to behave very well and respond to things very quickly. Attachment parenting isn’t about revolving the whole world around the child in an extreme way, as many detractors would say. It is about helping the child have a good foundation of trust and knowing they are heard, loved and cared for so they can treat others the way they were treated. It’s really very simple.  

Dr. Sherri Singer is a Child and Family Psychologist at http://www.happyfamilysite.com



This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

june shellene May 28, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Dear Dr. Singer, I understand some mothers today don't have the option of actually raising them, at least in a way that I believe counts as raising. What disturbs me is women who assume that leaving their child to strangers at an early age, when they do have a choice, is no big deal. It is. I saw it first hand with my grandchild who changed from a healthy happy child to a very sick, needy and insecure child when going to "Bright Horizons" day care 50 hours a week at the age of 16 months. It broke my heart, and tried to offer my help with the child, but was limited by what her mother would allow. She pretended not to notice the drastic change, and said her daughter was adjusting. We all adjust, I guess, but why would anyone, if they had a choice, want their child to adjust to being with people with no real vested interest in that child all day, five days a week? Experts can say what they will, and do, depending on who's paying for their "research." Common sense has lost its place in this arena, as in so many other areas of our lives, but hey, maybe I'm just "old fashioned." And the sexualization thing, well that's just par for the course as we continue with the decline of western civilization.
Hi June, I agree with a lot of what you say. I think there needs to be some balance. I don't know that particular service so I cannot comment on that, but I think without a balance between home and family and outside care, there can be very noticeable effects. If a child is left with care beyond the family most of the time, it makes sense to me that the influences on the child will be from those spent most time with. That can create some problems. The good thing is that even kids who are effected by bad situations can come a long way by changing the situation. It's not all lost because of one experience. Sounds like this was a very sad situation for you and the child and one that felt out of your control. So sorry and I hope that this little girl has a good ending.
Alissa Chung May 30, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Of course secure attachment between caregiver and child has been linked to numerous positive outcomes across development, but we cannot make secure attachment relationships synonymous with attachment parenting. Secure attachment has been linked in research to caregiver sensitivity, as assessed by the caregiver's ability to read an infant's cues during interaction. Attachment security is also related to the parent's own state of mind with regard to attachment (the ability to discuss and reflect on one's own attachment history). Attachment security has not been linked with extended breastfeeding or co-sleeping in our research literature. There are many experts of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth of course, but also Mary Main, Alan Sroufe, Everett Waters, Alicia Lieberman, to name a few. Dr. Sears is not an expert on attachment theory and has not published peer reviewed literature on attachment using empirically validated constructs. If parents are hoping that their children will be securely attached, they should do their best to read their infant's cues, make sure that they address any "ghosts in the nursery" or traumas from their own past, and make sure that they have enough social support. Winnicott famously referred to "good enough parenting" as what children need. There are many recipes for a secure attachment relationship. In fact, about 2/3 of families in stable, low stress situations will have secure infant caregiver attachment relationships.
Carol Emory May 30, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Thank you, Ms. Chung. You've answered many of my questions.
Alissa Chung May 30, 2012 at 07:21 PM
It's my pleasure. For a reasonably good read on attachment theory that is approachable for someone not in the field, try Robert Karen's Becoming Attached. I think that for a parenting book, T. Berry Brazelton's Touchpoints series hits the right notes on ways to understand and respond to your infant and young child.


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