As a mom to newborn E. (my now 13 year-old son), I was ripe with the maternal love hormones prolactin and oxytocin. It's one of the reasons new parents seem a bit dopey. Biochemicals like oxytocin, prolactin, and vasopressin, in particular, make maternal and paternal bonding possible. We are all, it turns out, wired for connection. In those early days with E. it didn’t really matter to me that there were specific centers of my brain, and highly elaborate neural mechanisms activated to ensure my maternal love, recognition of my baby, and the kind of protectiveness that promotes secure attachment. I was either blissfully oblivious or too darn tired to notice. Read on for some "good news!"
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The good news: As long as we got some good stuff during our first six months of life, chances are higher that we can learn to become good parents. I also want to be clear that though research shows a critical period of development in the first six months of life; our ability to learn to form attachments throughout the lifespan is by no means limited to that critical period, nor is it limited in the type of primary attachment figure necessary. Does it need to be said that this is inclusive of any type of loving parental relationship surrounding an infant, whether straight or gay, single or two-parent, married or not? Infants aren't as discerning as our lawmakers—they just want our love!
Again, I want to reiterate that forming loving, secure attachments is vital for the survival of our species. Primary attachments, usually parents, help kids develop the kind of prosocial skills associated with social courage. (So do secondary attachments like those with our beloved aunties, uncles, grandparents, siblings, step-parents, foster parents, teachers, and other loving guides along the journey...more about these relationships in later posts). Social skills including:
- self-calming skills
- being aware of one’s own emotions
- recognizing the feelings of others
- being compassionate
- impulse control
- ability to make eye contact
- sharing and turn-taking
Think of it like this: unless you experienced being cared about, why would you run into a burning building to show your altruistic care for another? Unless you learned, through the loving touch of another human being, to be calm during stress—how could you be compassionate and sensitive enough to soothe your own screaming child? Unless you have a strong bond with your child, how will you be able to encourage them to be brave when the going gets tough?
In my personal, professional, and parenting experience...securely attached kids are more confident to explore the world on their own, care more about themselves and others (including us as their parents), and are more apt to resist peer pressure and have the courage to take prudent risks in life. Contrary to many parents' fears about spoiling their child, or raising a velcro-kid who grows into an adult-child who never wants to leave home; infused with our love, support, and courage-coaching, securely attached children grow into confident, caring, capable, and independent adolescents. But don't just believe my word for it, here's a list of the payoffs of raising securely attached kids.
When we ensure secure attachment between ourselves and our children through loving them, we do not spawn cling-ons. Being a secure attachment relationship for your child also doesn't mean you need to be at home full-time, never let them out of your sight, or never lose your patience. It looks more like trusting your gut, loving your child, and doing your level best as a parent whatever the circumstances of your life. There are specific steps to forming secure attachments with children which I will be writing at-length about in this parenting blog.
As a parenting coach, I have the unique opportunity to help parents ensure that they are engaging in the kinds of behaviors, stimulating the kinds of neurochemicals necessary, and thinking the kinds of thoughts that trigger the hormonal chain reactions involved in forming secure attachments. More about the chemical soup we call love in my upcoming posts! If you have questions about attachment and/or an interest in parent-coaching, don't hesitate to post a comment or contact me.
Here’s a sampler of what happens in the first year, in terms of infancy attachment. Read over the list as a way to understand infant development as it relates to bonding and the formation of secure attachments. I have shamelessly cut and paste from an informative and hopeful article by the son of the brains behind attachment theory, Sir Richard Bowlby (2007):
Watch for Don Haln’s (2010) heartbreaking and inspiring documentary about Romanian orphans: http://handheldthemovie.com/
Share your tales of courage from parenthood! We want to hear from you!
Beckett, C., Maughan, B., Rutter, M., Castle, J., Colvert, E., Groothues, C., Kreppner, J., & Stevens, S.,
O’Connor, T., Sonuga-Barke, E. (2006). Do the effects of early severe deprivation on cognition
persist into early adolescence? Findings from the English and Romanian adoptees study. Child
Development, 77, (3), 696 – 711.
Bowlby, R. (2007). The secondary attachment: A look at Bowlby’s theory. The Journal of API. http://www.psych.ndsu.nodak.edu/hilmert/Classes/Psyc787/Week9/Taylor_2000.pdf
Dewar, G. (2008). The science of attachment parenting. Parenting Science. http://www.parentingscience.com/attachment-parenting.html
Noriuchi, M., Kikuchi, Y. & Senoo, A. (2008). The functional neuroanatomy of maternal love: Mother’s response to infant’s attachment behaviors. Biological Psychiatry, 63, 415–423.
Palmer, L. (2002). Bonding matters: The chemistry of attachment. Attachment Parenting International News, 5, (2), 1-4. http://www.newbornbreath.com/downloads/Handouts/Chemistry%20of%20Attachment.pdf
Riley, D., San Juan, R., Klinker, J., & Ramminger, A. (2008). Social & emotional development: Connecting science and practice in early childhood settings. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press