Prairie Baby

~growing moms and dads, one baby at a time~

The Baby Keeper: Chapter Three—Love, Actually (Part 3) August 1, 2013

The capacity to love and to be loved, to care and to be caring, and to be able to show empathy and compassion is shaped very early in life.

The capacities to love and to be loved, to care and to be caring, and to be able to show empathy and compassion are shaped very early in life.

The Quest To Understand Love

The next day I jotted down how many times I use the word “love” to describe how I feel about something. I “love” my husband and kids, my family and friends. I “love” buttered movie popcorn (thank you, Food Network, for removing the butter stigma/shame/guilt for all of womankind!). I “love” teaching and writing and autumn and the prairie and college football and classical music and Donny Osmond (hey, it happens) and Starbuck’s iced tea and the sound of a newborn’s cry.

As I thought about it, it seemed to me that I “loved” anyone and anything that didn’t make me sad or mad. And that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

So I continued my quest and searched the thesaurus to see how “love” is defined. It looked like the dictionary/thesaurus gurus didn’t have any more insight than I did because this crazy little thing called love has been given over 20 different definitions! For example, when I say I “love” chocolate, what I’m really saying is that I have a weakness for chocolate. That I’m fond of chocolate. And that I’m devoted to or adore chocolate (Welch, 2012).

Then it dawned on me—most of the time I tend to use the word “love” when I really mean that I prefer something, or enjoy something, or like something.

Back to square one. Back to the original problem: In the English language we only have one word for love. And because of this limitation, when we say, “I love you” to someone, we almost always assume that they assign the same meaning or definition to “love” as we do.

And for most people, that’s the ground-zero problem in their intimate relationships and marriages.

Big.

Huge.

Problem.

I had a Southern Mamma, and a person couldn’t walk through the room without her saying, “luv ya!” We were a lovey, touchy, kissy, huggy, feely kind of family. But my husband’s family…well, that’s another story. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this about my husband’s upbringing.

Fast-forward several months into our dating relationship, to when I decided it was time that someone in the relationship said “I love you.”

I did. First.

And he responded.

Several seconds later.

“Thanks.”

Thanks? Thanks??

I responded.

Several seconds later.

“You’re welcome???”

Over time he tried to express his love for me. But it always seemed to fall short of what I was accustomed to, what I was taught by my parents and family what love and expressing love is. Hurt, frustration, emptiness, and believing that my love needs weren’t being met, I questioned every aspect of my relationship with him.

Over time I realized that the way he loved wasn’t his fault. He was expressing his love for me the only way he knew how—the way he was taught to love by his parents and family.

You see love isn’t something you experience or feel. It’s not something you do for another person. It’s not words that you say.

~Love is who you are.~

As you can imagine, love and loving are complicated, complex processes that are influenced and impacted by a number of forces, but most especially by the parents who raise us. So, how do we come to our understanding of love? How does your child develop her love map?

Baby love.

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The Baby Keeper: Chapter Three (Part 2) July 31, 2013

I thought YOU had the map!

I thought YOU had the map!

From this parent-infant relationship, on to childhood chumships, to boyfriends and girlfriends (and ex’s), to sexual hookups, to any and all relationships that work and those that don’t—we create a relationship mental playbook or script of sorts. This map is then internalized and becomes a part of our innermost being.

It becomes our sense of self, the very core of our personhood, the very center of “who” we are. It becomes our self-love, self-esteem, and self worth.

And it is this self that is the lens from which all human relationships across the lifespan are viewed and experienced.

 

As we grow from birth through old age, our concept of “love” and “intimacy” are under constant construction, continuously developing over time. Ultimately, each of us creates and adopts our own one-of-a-kind definition of love and loving. Family scientists refer to this as our love map.

The love map is kind of like a mental blueprint or prototype. It is a person’s distinctive (almost matchless) image of what love is and what it is not. Most people don’t realize it, but each of us uses our love maps to help us determine who we want to date. Or marry. The love map is used when we question if we’re “in love” with someone, or if we’ve “fallen out of love” with someone.

Because the love map is an integral, inseparable part of a person, it almost always directs each and every aspect of our intimate relationships. It also drives the motives behind our relationship patterns and interactions. For example, a wife could certainly do something kind and unexpected for her husband, like making a cup of coffee for him in the morning as he rushes out the door. But what if her love map is written in such a way that, if she gives something to her partner or does something for him, then she expects something in return? And what if he doesn’t know what’s written on her love map, that she expects something back?

I learned this lesson the hard way. My husband and I got into a particularly heated argument one day because I thought he should have jumped to my defense in a situation. Instead, he just kind of sat there, mute…and, well, bored. How could he? If he loved me, he would have (should have!) known I needed his help to weather that situation.

Yep. I accused him of not loving me.

Several minutes later I found him to apologize. He was crushed because he couldn’t understand why and how I accused him of not loving me. But it wasn’t that I believed or felt that he didn’t love me.

It was that he didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved. 

Photo Credit: Google Map.

 

The Baby Keeper: Chapter 3–Love, Actually (Part 1) July 29, 2013

 

IMG_1007I have a favorite place in this 110-year-old farmhouse my husband and I have called home for more than 20 years. The favorite place is not a particular room in   the house or anywhere on the Kansas prairie that surrounds it. This adored place is a well-worn cupboard door near the back entrance of the house. Scribbled in permanent red marker in my son’s five-year-old handwriting, the words “I love you” stand out in stark contrast against the white. Even though my son is in his mid-20s and the cupboards have been painted several times, I can’t ever bring myself to paint over those three words (Welch, 2012).

What is “love”? Is it a Nicholas Sparks The Notebook-Message In a Bottle-A Walk To Remember-The Last Song romantic, unfailing, rescuing love? Is it a Bethenny Frankel I’m-afraid-to-trust-others-because-I-only-get-hurt love? Is it a narcissistic, self-absorbed, selfish, universe-of-one type of love where one person does all the taking? Is it a love that is more than willing to give, but that is afraid to receive?

Why does “love” hold such power over us? 

Love and loving are tough subjects to tackle because people experience it in ways that are exclusive to them. Depending on who we are “loving” and our past experiences of love, no two people experience or express love in precisely the same way. It can be the scrawling, scribbling handwriting of a kindergartener in permanent red ink. It can be a wife’s kiss that twists and contorts to conform to her wounded soldier’s burned face. A pounding heart and a nervous stomach every time a certain person is near. A sense of calm and comfort—or anger, hurt, and jealousy (Welch, 2012).

My goal in writing this book is to revolutionize the ways in which we think about love and how we experience it across the lifespan by looking at each domain of development and how this holistic growth impacts the development of a person’s love map.

To be sure, each of us has our own concept of “love”…but how do we develop that concept? What influences it? Who influences it?

And, once formed, are we forever bound to our love concept—our love map?

The Journey Begins: The Love Map

As a mom of four sons, it’s tough to find the words to describe how I felt when I held each of them in my arms for the first time, especially with my first son who was pretty beat up trying to make his way into the world.

Looking at his [very] bruised, [very] scratched face, his [very] wrinkled, pug-like forehead, and his [very elongated] cone head that his daddy was sure would never get better, I looked at my baby and said, “You poor, pitiful thing. Mamma’s gonna love you. I’m gonna keep you safe.”

Oh, I loved each of my babies, no question about that! But it wasn’t a love I had ever before experienced. It was warm and tender and caring, yes. But there was something different about this love.

Something very different.

My love for my babies was protective. I was protective. Like never before, I felt this surge of she-bearness. This overwhelming desire to keep my babies from harm and from anyone or anything ever hurting them. This drive-push-urge to keep them safe. To shield them from whatever the world threw at them.

I nurtured my babies. I kept them safe. I protected them.

But my babies didn’t experience me as nurturing. As safety. As protection.

They experienced me as trust.

Little did I know that each time I responded to one of their needs, I was permanently shaping their abilities to someday fall in love and to perhaps become parents and provide love to children of their own. They love today because my husband and I first loved them 30+ years ago. You see, the first love relationship we experience is the parent-child relationship.

Incredible? Good? Bad? Inattentive? Ugly? Indifferent? It is from the experiences of the earliest of all human relationships—the parent-child love relationship—that our later-in-life love relationships form.

 

The Baby Keeper: Chapter Two (Part 2)—The Whole Child July 26, 2013

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~The Three Domains of Human Development:

The Whole Child~

 

The Biological Domain of Your Child’s Development

This area of development is crucial, because it is here where the incredible physical, bodily changes occur throughout the lifespan, and it is this domain that triggers the changes in the other two domains—from how a baby thinks and learns, to the types of friends she chooses to hang out with in adolescence, to who she marries when she’s an adult.

Along with genetics and racial/ethnic differences that affect developmental patterns, the biological domain of development includes the physical changes that take place in the human body:

  • Muscular and skeletal changes that transform a baby from a reflexive creature to a purposeful one.
  • Brain and nervous system changes.
  • Nutrition.
  • Exercise and wellness.

In the next chapter we’ll examine how parenting affects children’s development in each of these areas. We’ll pay particular attention to what emerging science has to say about an infant’s brain development, and how brain changes that take place the first two years of life influence how that individual experiences love later in life.

The Cognitive Domain of Your Child’s Development 

Cognitive development focuses on how our capacities to think, reason, understand, and use logic change over the lifecourse. And children—even newborns—are capable of thought! This domain includes not only a person’s thinking capabilities, but also includes such things as memory, intelligence, learning, language development, creativity, and imagination. The cognitive developmental domain helps us to understand how a child

  • uses more complex thinking abilities from infancy, through toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
  • internalizes (makes a part of him/herself) an internal code of ethics, morality, and love.
  • adopts a world view.

Knowing how a baby’s mind works from developmental stage to developmental stage is fundamental to effective parenting: Understanding how a child thinks and learns, processes information, and communicates is not only foundational to her lifelong learning, but it is absolutely critical in determining which developmentally- and age-appropriate parenting and discipline techniques to use. When parents use age-appropriate methods, they’ll find that their children do not become frustrated and confused; parents instead discover that tender, loving parenting styles yield lasting, positive effects in their children’s behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. We’ll explore cognitive development (from ages birth to six) at length in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8.

The Psychosocial Domain of Your Child’s Development

The psychosocial area of development encompasses the social, emotional, relational, and spiritual aspects of life. And when it comes to infant and child development, this domain is jam-packed with changes! The psychosocial domain of development includes (but is certainly not limited to!) a child’s

  • relationships with her parents, siblings, and grandparents.
  • sense of self-love, self-worth, self-respect, and self-esteem.
  • spiritual development.
  • personality development.
  • moral development.
  • development of character.
  • ability to love and care for others.
  • capacity for empathy.

The psychosocial aspect of your child is her sense of self—her self-love, self-worth, and self-esteem—the very essence of what makes her “her,” that essence that gives her that spark, her uniqueness.

So critical is this area of development—especially within the first three years of life—it shapes and predicts whether and how a child will be able to love, care for, and show empathy towards others when she reaches adulthood.

There is no question, then, that our knowledge of infant and child development, and how we apply this knowledge to our parenting practices, is fundamental to the optimal, healthy, holistic development of our children and their ability to give and receive love. Although most of this book is devoted to the psychosocial domain of development, in Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, I will discuss the most critical areas of psychosocial infant and child development. These areas are the most influential to your child’s love-map growth and overall sense of well-being.

A baby is more than a physical body. It’s our parental responsibility to grow this seven or eight or nine pounds of wonderment into a loving, caring, empathic adult.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Baby Keeper: Chapter Two (Part 1) July 25, 2013

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Chapter 2

~Understanding How Your Baby Develops and Grows~

The first time I held each of my perfectly pink, pudgy baby boys I was overwhelmed with emotion. How was it possible? How was it possible that this person came into existence because two cells joined together just a few short months ago? And each time I help couples work to deliver their babies from protective wombs into protective parental arms I stand breathless…how is it possible that a single-cell zygote develops into a 10-trillion cell person in just 40 weeks?

As parents we know that we are responsible for nourishing, protecting, and guiding our children through the course of their physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual development. We know that we are not only responsible for providing for their basic needs and bringing them up in a safe environment, we know that we must also teach our children morals and values, that we are to guide the development of their self-worth, self-love, and self-esteem, and that we are to teach them to respect, care for, and love others (Welch, 2012).

No pressure, right?!

Just how do we do this? How do we raise great, loving, caring kids? The first step in great parenting is to understand your child’s development across her lifespan. With this knowledge, you can then parent naturally and intuitively, following your child’s lead in what tasks she is able to do, and those she is not yet quite developmentally capable of doing.

When studying human development across the lifespan, psychologists, developmentalists, family scientists, and researchers typically break down their investigations into three areas, or domains: biological (the physical growth that takes place–both visible and unseen), cognitive (intellectual), and psychosocial (social/emotional) growth. It’s important to point out that one area of development is no more important than the other—we simply separate the domains of development for ease of understanding.

All three domains of development are interconnected: Each area affects and is affected by the other two domains. When we look at a baby’s development in this way, we’re using a holistic—or all-encompassing—viewpoint. Developmentalists often refer to holistic development as whole child development.

By using a lens that helps us to view developmental and growth changes in all three domains, even in areas that are unseen to the naked eye, we can better grasp why and how our children become who they are as adults and their abilities to some day love others. 

 

The Baby Keeper: Chapter One–Making People (Part 2) July 17, 2013

7691503034_6721bdbf54_mWhat is Attachment Parenting?  Part 2

Consider these terms from very popular (as in, millions and millions of copies sold) contemporary parenting books that are used to describe children:

  • Newborns are demanding, manipulative, and self-centered.
  • Toddlers are whiney, difficult, needy, and trying.

The overarching theme of the trendy books On Becoming Babywise (Ezzo & Buckman, 2007) and Preparation for Parenting (Ezzo, 1990) is that a baby’s cries—even a minutes-old newborn’s cries—is rooted in self-centeredness. Because of this base belief, Gary Ezzo, the author of these books, advises parents to teach children from the moment of birth that the baby is not the center of the universe. How is this accomplished? Parents are instructed to ignore the cries of the baby. This is often referred to as the cry it out method of raising babies.

Is the baby hungry? It doesn’t matter. Parents direct the baby’s feeding schedule (referred to as Parent-Directed Feeding, or PDF); the baby is expected to wait until the next scheduled feeding in the parent’s fixed and inflexible routine. Ezzo suggests to parents that allowing their newborn baby or an 8-week old baby to cry for as long as one hour (at which point, Ezzo claims, the baby will tire out and quiet down) is not detrimental to the baby’s healthy development.

Let’s think about this: When a baby is left to cry it out, when a parent ignores the cries of his or her baby, what message is sent to the infant? If parents consistently use the cry it out “infant management system,” how many times a day does the infant receive the message that her needs are not important? That she is not worthy of being tended to?

Now, contrast this parenting style with attachment parenting (AP). Attachment parents possess certain parenting characteristics that foster psychologically healthy, empathic, caring, compassionate, moral kids. One striking difference between today’s in-vogue let-the-kid-cry-it-out method of parenting and attachment parenting is that attachment parents fully recognize and understand the importance of responding to their baby’s (or toddler’s or child’s or adolescent’s) cries. After all—isn’t responsiveness to our child’s needs one of our primary roles as parents? If our roles of protector and nurturer aren’t necessary, why are babies born helpless and defenseless?

            Which parenting style is more instinctive to you?

Perhaps the biggest distinction between cry-it-out and attachment parenting philosophies is that attachment parents desire to avoid unrealistic expectations of their child’s behavior—in parenting their children they take into account the child’s physical, intellectual, cognitive, and social-emotional development. For example, attachment parents don’t interpret their newborn’s cry as demanding or manipulative. Instead, they view it as their baby’s sole means of communicating that something isn’t right or comfortable.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that as attachment parents we’ll still be tying our adolescent’s shoes or wiping our 10-year-old’s nose (that’s a whole ‘nother book for another time!). Attachment parenting doesn’t mean that as parents we meet a child’s needs that she is quite capable of fulfilling herself. But along with attachment parenting comes the belief that as parents we are committed to understanding what our child’s needs are, developmental stage by developmental stage. It means that we understand that our child’s needs (and our roles as parents in meeting those needs) change over time, and that we as parents adapt our parenting strategies to meet those needs.

~We understand that parenting is a process that inherently

unfolds and changes over time.~

Thus, attachment parents have a desire to understand infant, toddler, child, and adolescent development, and they use this knowledge to parent their children in ways that they don’t expect things beyond the child’s developmental stage. As such, parenting strategies and behaviors are fluid and flow from one child developmental stage to the next.

Attachment Parenting Principles

Dr. William and Martha Sears, the pioneers of contemporary attachment parenting, note that there is no list of rules that parents must follow to qualify as “attachment parents” (Sears & Sears, 2001). What’s really important is that parents understand their child’s unique temperament and personality and development, and meet the child’s needs in affectionate, sensitive ways. So, when the Sears’ use the term attachment parenting, they aren’t referring to a checklist of do’s and don’ts, but are instead encouraging parents to create a nurturing family environment that fosters the physical and emotional health and well-being of all family members.

The essence of attachment parenting is the creation of nurturing, enduring emotional bonds between parents and their children. Along with an understanding and knowledge of infant, toddler, and child development, this is accomplished through (Attachment Parenting International, 2012):

1)  Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting: Expecting mothers and couples are encouraged to become physically and emotionally prepared for pregnancy and the birth process.

2)  Feeding with Love and Respect: Breast is best when it comes to satisfying an infant’s nutritional, physical, and emotional needs. Some mothers are unable to breastfeed—they should not be made to feel guilty if they elect to bottle nurse their infants. Feeding with love and respect means that parents should follow the feeding cues of their infants and children, not place them on restricted feeding schedules. Parents should model healthy eating behaviors.

3)  Responding with Sensitivity: Calm, loving, nurturing, caring, tender, empathic parents help babies to form a solid foundation of trust—the first building block upon which all future love relationships are built. Parents who respond consistently and tenderly throughout the child’s infancy and childhood developmental periods (and, in my professional opinion, adolescence) grow children who learn to be caring and empathic.

4)  Using Nurturing Touch: Babies (and children and adolescents and adults!) are innately wired to need human touch. Nurturing touch meets the infant’s needs for physical, emotional, cognitive, and social growth.

5)  Ensuring Safe Sleep: Popular cry-it-out sleep training routines—referred to as infant management techniques—fail to meet the baby’s sleep needs. A baby’s physical and emotional needs can be met through co-sleeping and/or room sharing.

6)  Providing Consistent and Loving Care: During about the first six years of life, babies and children have an instinctive, inborn drive/need for a consistent, predictable environment. The child responds best to loving, responsive care.

7)  Practicing Positive Discipline: The purpose of discipline is to help children grow an internal moral, ethical code that will guide them throughout their lives. Through positive parenting, parents are firm and set boundaries, and encourage warm parent-child communication. Positive discipline furthers respect between parents and their children.

8) Striving for Balance in Personal and Family Life: Tired, hurting parents are oftentimes, ineffective parents. But parents who have balance in their lives are better able to physically and emotionally respond to their children.

Throughout this book, we’ll take a good look at each of these attachment parent principles.

I know this sounds like a tall order. Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t want to read this—I don’t want to find out that I’ve already screwed my kid up or that I’m doing everything wrong!”

Let me put your mind at ease. First of all, if your baby lights up every time she sees you, if she’s growing and thriving, you’re already doing everything just perfectly! If your toddler turns to you as a Safe Base when she’s in unfamiliar territory or surrounded by unfamiliar people, you’re doing a great job as a parent! That’s the beauty of attachment parenting—there’s really no “right” or “wrong” checklist. It’s more of a philosophy or an attitude that embraces the idea that “people are people no matter how small.”

And consider this. As a mom of four boys, I had my share of parenting disasters and lived to tell about it. In fact, the boys are all in their 20s and they survived my parenting to tell about it! Just in case you’re doubting your parenting abilities about now…

  • I believed it was absolutely essential that my children were taught the proper names for body parts. How else could my 4-year-old call his best buddy “Vaginahead” when he was mad at her—in church?
  • Sometimes you send a child to his room for timeout and forget that he’s there. And you run errands and go grocery shopping. For two hours.
  • The quiet child always gets left at the fireworks stand in July.
  • Hot cheese can and will come out of a child’s nose if he laughs hard enough.
  • Unsupervised boys can and will encourage their 12-month-old baby brother to jump from the top bunk bed on to a [very flat] bean bag chair on the floor.
  •  When you’re selling your home in a slow market and have potential buyers coming in 20 minutes, that’s about the time two of four children will fall through a glass storm door and require an ambulance.
  • Calling 911 is so simple a three-year-old can do it. Twice. In the same day. Take it from me—police are not easily amused.
  • Driving a car is so simple a five-year-old can do it. Really, the family car driven into the living room isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Believe me. You can’t possibly make as many parenting mistakes as I have!

But here’s the good news: As a parent, you are endowed with the only two tools necessary to effectively (and fantastically!) parent. You have an innate, natural sense of love and protection for your new baby, and you possess an intuitive, instinctive knowing as to what your baby needs and how to meet those needs. This is the reason why pediatricians and developmentalists often refer to attachment parenting as natural parenting or instinctive parenting. By the end of our time together, you’ll probably discover that you’re already intuitively parenting in ways that encourage the healthy development of your child, and the healthy growth of her love map.

Because parents’ child development knowledge is known to grow great kids with big hearts that know how to give and receive love, it’s first necessary to understand the incredible ways in which our little ones develop in the prenatal period and through infancy, toddlerhood, and childhood before we can learn about and implement loving and effective parenting styles and methods that encourage the growth of our children’s healthy love maps.

            Let’s take a look at how we parents make people.

 

The Baby Keeper: Chapter One (Making People, Part 1) July 12, 2013

620643249_59405e9193_m3Chapter One

~Making People~

From the moment of birth, as a parent you etch your child’s love map—the script from which she will experience every aspect of life. But realistically, none of us is equipped to tackle everything that comes with parenting. Often, we face our first newborn thinking we know enough to at least get started on this parenting pathway, that we’ll as partners learn together what we don’t know, and that somehow, some way, we’ll figure it all out before Baby gets a clue that Mommy and Daddy are clueless.

Even though it’s uncharted territory, most of us know what to expect when we decide to have a baby. We know that when we bring Baby home from the hospital we’ll also bring home tremendous responsibilities and worries and sleepless [and sexless] nights. We look forward to the joy and wonderment of parenthood, but because children don’t come with instruction manuals we anticipate unpredictability in our parenting careers. We bring Baby home, perhaps even a bit uncertain of our parenting abilities. But from the very first time we hold that delicious bundle of warmth, we know that she has taken up immediate and permanent residence in our hearts. She is someone we will love forever (Welch, 2012).

Somewhere along the way the enormity of parenting overwhelms us with the knowledge that our goal isn’t just about raising happy, healthy children. So significant are the tremendous responsibilities with which moms and dads are tasked, family scientist and therapist Virginia Satir once remarked, “Parents teach in the toughest school in the world—the school for making people.”

There’s no question that how we parent is fundamental to the optimal developmental outcomes for our children. But what is “parenting”? Although we use a singular term to describe our responsibilities in raising our children, parenting certainly isn’t a singular activity! We “parent” our child’s physical growth and well-being. We “parent” her intellectual growth and language development. Her moral development. Her social development.

And the manner in which we interact with, nurture, and guide our children influences their development in more ways than are immediately apparent, especially when it comes to developing a child’s ability to love and to be loved by others.

Consider the interactions between you and your parents. Did these experiences allow you to feel that you were worthy of affection and love? Or instead, did your parent-child experiences cause you to feel shame, guilt, and doubt, resulting in fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, betrayal, and rejection in your adult relationships? As we are growing up, our interactions with our parents convey to us our worth—our value—as individuals, and this perception influences our ability to relate to others in intimate, loving ways the remainder of our lifespan (Welch, 2012).

Given the ups and downs of parenting, it may seem nearly impossible for me to prepare you for what one family scientist describes as “one of the most definitive stages of life”—parenting your child’s love map (Welch, 2012). This is because parenting carries with it many uncertainties, and because of our own unique parent-child relationships we had with our parents while growing up, no two parents experience parenting in the same ways. To complicate things even further, just when we think we have this parenting thing figured out, we have another child who comes into our arms with a totally different personality than the first! Despite all of these obstacles, however, I can teach you about those things known to impact children’s healthy development of love and loving.

In the early years of life (about the first three years) there is nothing more critical in a child’s life than the formation of attachment.

Attachment: An Enduring Emotional Bond

Have you ever observed a mother or father cuddling with their baby or child? Have you ever observed how, when held, newborns instinctively nuzzle into Mamma or Daddy, getting as close to the parent’s warmth, scent, taste, and nurturing as possible? As a maternal specialist and developmentalist, I never grow bored of those first moments parents and their newborn share—parents gaze in awe, wonderment, and bewilderment at their new baby, and the baby, only able to see clearly at a distance of about eight to twelve inches, returns that gaze. Seeing and holding their baby, parents experience an explosion of delight, joy, and bliss. When held, gazed at, nurtured, fed, talked to, stroked, and loved on, the baby too experiences these incredible feelings.

Enveloped together, the parents and newborn experience an affectional bond, an emotional bond between them that if nurtured, will endure across time and distance. Parents experience this bond as love. The baby experiences this bond as trust and security…for now.

Attachment is the special, enduring bond that the infant forms with significant adults in her life. It is best described as an endearing emotional/affectionate bond that ties or binds the child to the parent.

             Why is such a bond necessary?

Think about this for a moment. The closeness of a baby to Mamma or Daddy is first and foremost necessary for her survival—the attachment bond ensures that the baby’s physical needs are met. A baby cries, her mother lovingly, tenderly, and consistently meets the demands of the cries. A baby clings to her father when held. The parent instinctively, intuitively holds the baby closer. The infant experiences a warm and intimate relationship with her mother and father; both the parents and the baby find satisfaction and enjoyment. This natural process is repeated countless times throughout infancy and toddlerhood.

In an effort to better understand how separation from their parents impacts children, John Bowlby (1980) observed parent-child interactions, and was particularly interested in the parent-infant relationship. Through his observations, he discovered a unique relational pattern that tremendously influences children’s development from the cradle to the grave. Bowlby discovered that in the process of having its survival needs (feeding, warmth, nurturing) met, the neonate forms a type of bond—an emotional attachment—with her mother and father. This emotional tie serves to keep Baby close to Mamma and Daddy and improves the baby’s chances of survival.

The central theme of Bowlby’s attachment theory, then, is that parents who are emotionally available to their infant and who respond in caring, tender ways to their infant’s needs establish a sense of security within the baby. From this close, sensitive bond, the baby derives a sense of well-being, a trusting sense that the world is safe.

But this affectional, emotional bond does more than meet the baby’s physical needs: The tender attention and affection in the early days, months, and years of life is the foundation for every aspect of the child’s future psychological development. Decades of empirical study have revealed that the attachment behaviors that take place throughout infancy and toddlerhood ultimately direct, shape, and mold our personalities (for a complete review, see Turner & Welch, 2012).

Just as importantly, attachment forms the very underpinnings upon which all love and intimate relationships are built in the future. There is no question about it—the ability to form and experience an emotional attachment to parents in the first 36 months of life is a predictor of an individual’s ability to establish and maintain love relationships in the future.

How is attachment formed? Through attachment parenting.

 

 
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