Parenting Mindfully & Attachment Parenting
by Deborah Groening
We can help our children feel validated and strong by not solving their problems for them but rather by bearing their struggles with them.
Attachment theory and research and Dr. Sear’s “Attachment Parenting,” are two completely different constructs. Attachment Parenting encourages baby wearing, co-sleeping, breast-feeding on demand, and self-weaning — which is all well and fine — but it isn’t related to attachment theory. Attachment theory, on the other hand, is research conducted by developmental psychologists. It defines the different attachment styles a child may exhibit toward her attachment figure – secure, anxious/ambivalent, dismissive/preoccupied, and disorganized. Attachment Parenting, on the other hand, is not research-based — it is a way of parenting that may encourage a secure attachment in the child because many of the principles are conducing to this. However, the topic of this discussion is about how that it can go too far – we can be too fearful of our child’s momentary unhappiness and do them a great disservice. Let me explain further…
Attachment theory posits that it is just as important for a parent to be able to tolerate their child’s struggles to gain mastery as it is to provide a comforting connection during times of stress. Struggle is necessary to encourage resiliency and flexibility in your child. It is crucial for your child to be able to see that things can sometimes be frustrating, but that they will be set right again. Without this experience, the capacity for self-regulation, through rupture and repair, will be hampered. Rupture and repair is when you and your child just don’t see eye to eye and a rupture occurs. When the child has recovered, he will return to a happy state and will discover that mom hasn’t stayed mad at him. In the attachment theory world, there is a saying, that “whenever you can, follow your child’s lead, but when necessary, be bigger, wiser, and stronger.” Take the lead and don’t feel badly about it! It requires flexible thinking and feeling on your feet and mindful responding. You are teaching an important lesson – that people have different minds that therefore have different thoughts, desires, wants and needs. This is what “theory of mind” is and to little ones, it is a new concept.
To parent mindfully requires an inner awareness and self-compassion. We must try to give our children the idea that they are loved both when they are needy and clingy and also when they push us away in their striving for autonomy and independence. They also need to understand that if they suddenly haul off and hit mommy she will react with appropriate anger!
The desire for safety and security and the desire to be independent are two equal aspects of a child’s development and both are necessary to develop a secure attachment relationship to their parent. The parent must encourage and scaffold, but should not help their child to the degree that the child does not experience the exhilaration of first struggling to achieve a new skill and then with great effort achieving their goal.
Our children are different from us, with their own unique needs and wants, personalities and temperaments. Whether we have made meaning out of our lifelong disappointments and struggles will profoundly relate to how we parent. In doing our own inner work we can make space in our minds in order to be curious about our children’s inner world and what they are needing from us. We can help them feel validated and strong by not solving their problems for them but rather by bearing their struggle with them. This is the true definition of mindful parenting. Our hardest job in the world is being able to digest, think about, and bear witness to their sometimes-intense rages without collapsing under the sheer weight of it. Parenting mindfully — regardless of whether you had a Caesarian or a home birth, whether you breast or bottlefed, or whether you co-slept or sleep trained, is the key factor.
By using reflective parenting in daily life with your child and partner, and by practicing loving kindness with yourself, you will have the key to family bliss and your child’s attachment security.
For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org.