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I am somewhat ashamed to admit that until @NotMaryP over at Daycare Daze made this post, I had no idea that attachment parenting was so despised by the very people who practised it.

I read Daycare Daze specifically because I admire her excellent authoritative parenting style and wish desperately that I lived close enough to send Babby to her daycare when he is a year old. But I recently found out that to her, Attachment Parenting is four-letter phrase. Since my foundation is in Psychology and Biology, I learned about Bowlby long before I ever heard of Dr. Sears and so I missed the whole attachment parents = permissive hippies connection.

My understanding of attachment theory comes psych courses, rather than from popular culture.  I’ve always been a bit of a shut-in, so this isn’t the first time I’ve realized that I missed something big (I found out when I was 14 that there had been this guy named Kurt Cobain, who was now dead, and that his band Nirvana had started a whole movement called “Grunge” and I was like “What happened to the Beatles?”).

Apparently, to most people, “Attachment Parenting” as considered to be the name for what Perfect Husband and I call “Please Parenting” – the kind of parents who beg their tiny children to behave and alternately scold or coddle during tantrums rather than calmly enforcing proper boundaries.

Ironically, this actually violates attachment theory.

This is how I feel when I encounter Fundamentalist Christians. As a child, I learned about Christian forgiveness, about the dangers of wealth, and about accepting the differences of others. The fact that Christianity is now largely associated with Republican mysogynist, homophobic, and capitalist agendas baffles me… because it seems completely in opposition to the whole point of Christianity.

Daddy loves me, this I know

Now here I am, being told that Attachment Parenting is associated with Please Parenting, and I can only shake my head in disbelief.

So now I am here now to explain Attachment Theory and debunk this bizarre misunderstanding once and for all.

…at least, among the 200 people or so who happen on my blog every day.

What is Attachment Theory?

Attachment Theory is the result of some rather cruel developments in the early to mid 20th century, in which mothers were increasingly separated from their infants in hospitals, hospitalized children were not allowed parental visitation, and other instances of maternal deprivation ran rampant. Parents were seen as somewhat unsanitary and ultimately inferior to the hospital model which was clean, clinical, and scientific. John Bowlby and other researchers discovered that constant affection is as vital to child development as food and safety are. Yes, back in 1951, this was a shocking discovery. Extra! Extra! Children Need Parents! Read All About It!


Further investigations revealed several key facts:

  • That at least one significant parent figure is necessary for healthy physical and mental growth of a child
  • That parenting style can affect the style of bond between the parent and child
  • That the type of bond between parent and child has a significant effect on the personality of the child later in life
  • That the type of bond between parent and child is highly predictive of the child’s relationship style in adulthood

A researcher named Mary Ainsworth described several key “attachment styles”, which were based on how a toddler behaved when a parent left the child alone in a new room with a stranger.

  • “Secure” toddlers explored the strange room confidently with their mother present, became upset when their mother left the room, greeted her joyously when she returned, and went right back to playing.
  • “Insecure Avoidant” toddlers explored the room freely, appeared unmoved when their mother left the room (but sensor readings of the child showed that the child was experiencing a great emotional disturbance which he was simply not displaying) and did not show much reaction to her return.
  • “Insecure Ambivalent/Reactive” toddlers became extremely disturbed when their mother left the room, and remained very upset even after she returned, clinging to her leg or sometimes displaying anger at her for leaving.
  • “Disorganized” toddlers showed no consistent style at all – they behaved alternately like an avoidant child, and other times like an ambivalent child. They displayed a lot of anger and resistant behaviour.

Now, this “Strange Situation” test seems a little pat, so it is remarkable how well it predicts two things: the child’s future relationships and their attachment with their own children.

  • Secure” people grow up to trust others easily and enter into long-term, committed relationships with ease. They are much more likely to describe themselves and others in a positive fashion.
  • “Insecure Avoidant” people grow up to have difficulties with intimacy. They are highly independent and show no particular desire for closeness with others. They have poor opinions of their romantic partners, and their relationships rarely last long.
  • “Insecure Ambivalent/Reactive” people grow up to have poor opinions of themselves and a mistrust of others. They are often clingy, jealous,  and dependent in relationships and need constant reassurance from their romantic partners. Think Bella Swan.
  • Disorganized people can be messed up in a huge variety of ways, but they generally have severe difficulty forming relationships and trusting others.

Also, the attachment a child has with his/her caregivers is largely predictive of the parenting style being used.

  • “Secure” children are almost always being raised by authoritative parents. The parents encourage independence and enforce consistent expectations within a framework of love and empathy. The parent is a firm authority figure but the child’s feelings are always acknowledged and considered important. The parent models appropriate ways to control difficult emotions such as anger, frustration, and fear.
  • “Insecure Avoidant” children have authoritarian parents who scold or punish negative emotional behaviour such as anger, frustration and fear. The parent does not comfort the child when he is upset and enforces strict rules, harsh consequences and high expectations. The child does not learn empathy and does not learn how to share his/her feelings with others.
  • “Insecure Ambivalent/Reactive” children are often associated with a permissive and inconsistent parenting style. The parents are usually extremely reactive and sympathetic to the child’s emotional responses, but do not model or encourage the control of these emotions.  The parent does not enforce consistent rules, so the child often feels confused by constantly shifting expectations. The child does not trust the parent to react in a predictable manner and learns that the world is a worrying and unpredictable place.
  • “Disorganized” children are associated with abuse, changes in caregivers (such as institutionalized care) or simply a parent who cannot correctly identify a child’s emotional cues (the parent chases the child in a fun game of tag, but does not notice or stop when the child’s laughter turns to real terror). The child both loves and fears the care giver simultaneously, or has not had the opportunity to bond to a specific person.

This is why it surprises me so much to find out that “Attachment Parenting” has become a pseudonym for “Permissive parenting” – because permissive parenting does not foster a secure attachment, which is what Attachment Parenting is supposed to be all about! The goal of Attachment Theory is to foster secure attachments with the caregiver so that the child will grow into an emotionally healthy, happy, and confident adult! Permissive parenting does no such thing.

Do you understand my bewilderment more, now?

Coming up next time: The difference between an authoritarian parent, a permissive parent, and an authoritative parent, or, why Amy Chua and Mayim Bialik are both wrong.