(without losing your heart)

Attachment Theory and Parenting

The theory that has influenced my parenting the most is Attachment Theory as developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, and supplemented by a bunch of others. The book that influenced me most was written by Robert Karen, Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love (1998). It is definitely worth the read for the details and so you can make up your own mind.

It convinced me that parents are vey important but that it’s sad that children had only two parents. In brief, an insecure attachment  with the primary caregiver, who is traditionally the mother but could be the father, a grandmother, aunt, or nanny, can have irrevocable influence on children’s development. This one relationship influences all future relationships and has the power to give or permanently damage a child’s self-esteem. It’s harsh, but I am convinced.

You should be asking yourself why I’m convinced. It starts, for me, with Harry Harlow’s work with rhesus monkeys in which he found that baby monkeys, who have been removed from their mothers, care more for a wire shape covered in foam and cloth than a wire shape that gives milk. I find this to be powerful evidence that affection or love is in some ways more important than food—not for survival but for the fulfillment of psychological needs. Add to this that research with human children has found that death might be the result of having no affection (according to work by Rene Spitz as discussed in Karen, 1998) or may be linked to a range of other problems. Insecure attachments—those cases when for whatever reasons children do not show behaviors that indicate secure attachments—cause significant difficulties even in adulthood. A great deal of research supports this. We should not overreact because these problems are not one-sided, and we should be careful to NOT interpret this as saying mothers need to stay with their babies at all times . . .


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