Attachment parenting has had a bit of a bad press but actually I really do not know why as it’s just following your natural instincts to keep your child close and connect with them. On my journey of working to manage my daughter’s high emotions and outbursts I have learned that time in, is immeasurably more powerful than time out, that connection before correction is life-changing and that most adults I know are still recovering from how their parents were with them! This is why I am excited to interview Michelle McHale from Attachment Parenting Uk.
Hi Michelle, welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum (or dad) should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! We love that you have upgraded your life by embracing Attachment Parenting to raise your daughters and to support others.
Can you tell us about Attachment Parenting?
It’s more of an attitude than a set of practices and it’s what humans have been doing from the word go – listening to instincts and following the natural tendency to be close to our children and to nurture them. If we think of attachment as ‘relationship quality’ then everyone is striving to have an attachment that feels secure given how they see things. How we go about creating those bonds will vary in each family and while attachment parenting isn’t prescriptive in terms of specific practices (such as breastfeeding, bedsharing or babywearing) it’s probably safe to say that it’s founded on a parental desire to create a loving, trusting, supportive environment.
At Attachment Parenting UK we support parents to connect with their innate wisdom and to see that their children don’t need fixing. When parents see for themselves how resilient their children are and how they always return to a place of wellbeing, even after the biggest tantrum. Trusting in this default setting means there’s far more acceptance of transient feelings and moods and ultimately less need to manage or control the child’s experience. It sounds (and is) simple but the implications of living this understanding are huge – it means parents see more clearly the child’s needs and treat the child more respectfully. What we’ve seen in our work with parents is that the parenting experience becomes more enjoyable and easeful and everyone benefits.
How did you discover Attachment Parenting?
When my first daughter was born her need to be close to me came as a surprise! Looking back it’s a little crazy that I’d reached the age of 32 without knowing that humans are a constant contact species designed and primed to attach in order to survive. I started to investigate attachment and discovered Dr Sears work in the States and the research by Bowlby and Ainsworth in the UK in the 1960s which looked at how infants respond to maternal separation. That led me into anthropology, human biology and history. Ultimately my daughter’s intense need for physical closeness was revealed when she was age 5 and diagnosed with 2 rare heart defects. Her instinctive behaviours had been not only been wise but were essential to her development and I’m so glad I had responded with the care and attachment she had needed.
It seems many people are confused about the message of Attachment Parenting Myths can you debunk for us?
It’s curious how the initial research into attachment by Bowlby & Ainsworth in the 1960s never mentioned breastfeeding, bedsharing or babywearing. It was only later that Dr Sears, an American pediatrician, suggested that these practices support good attachment. In trying to understand this new label, the media have focussed on the 3 Bs, and in so doing possibly disenfranchised many parents. At Attachment Parenting UK we have always held a clear message that parents don’t need to (and in many cases can’t) breastfeed, bedshare or babywear in order to form close bonds because the possibilities for connection and attachment are infinite.
There’s another myth that attachment parenting is exclusive to the mother and that the maternal/infant relationship must remain unseparated on a 24/7 basis. On the contrary, the more trusted loving attachment figures there are in a child’s life, the deeper the attachment will be to the primary carer. It means mothers can work, share their parenting responsibilities and spend time apart from their child knowing it is healthy for both of them. Naturally, this does require those loving, trusted adults to be available and this is the cultural challenge faced by so many parents today.
In some media, attachment parenting has been accused of being permissive and exclusively child-led but at Attachment Parenting UK we support parents to set confident loving boundaries and to remember that consent works both ways. It is this firm but loving approach which creates a safe positive connection upon which effective parenting is founded.
I see many mothers become the one primary attachment and that’s a lot of pressure how can we be attached without feeling suffocated?
Even though fathers spend more time fathering now than they have done for many decades, it’s invariably the mother who fulfils the primary attachment role. With more pressure on mothers to go about their lives with very little external support it’s almost as if the bigger commitment must go towards creating a village which sustains us to be the mothers we want to be but also to attend to our unlived lives (our own creative pursuits that can easily become marginalised but that nourish us as individuals beyond our roles as mothers). The sad irony is that early motherhood is when we often have the lowest resources and energy to fulfil our vision of an attachment ‘village’.
We also notice in our work that mothers who prioritise behaviours that bring them personal enjoyment, however small, feel happier and more resilient. Similarly, those mothers who recognise and trust in their child’s innate wellbeing feel less stressed or anxious about their child’s upsets and are able to be emotionally available in a more peaceful way.
A great reason to practice Attachment Parenting is that closeness can help development, can you explain why this is?
When babies are born only 25% of their brain is developed. In the first 3 years this develops exponentially and as parents we have a unique opportunity to, quite literally, build our child’s brain. Our loving, stimulating behaviours is known to help fire neurological connections and wire the brain for empathy – how we treat our littlest ones really make a difference and the first year can be said to last a lifetime.
One of the reasons using a sling, for example, is so popular among parents is that it allows the parent to respond in a timely and sensitive way because the baby is held close and the parent is able to attune themselves to the child’s subtle cues. It is this sensitivity and attunement that allows the child to rest in love and direct their energies into exploring, learning, and creativity – all of which nurture a growing brain which will take a good 25 years to fully develop. Because children learn by imitation we also have a powerful opportunity as parents to model respect and trustworthiness so that the child absorbs these behaviours and healthily expects and seeks them in their adult relationships.
Positive Discipline is championed as a powerful tool under Attachment Parenting can you give us some examples of this in action and why it works.
Many people are put off by the word discipline but we see it in terms of it’s original meaning of drawing out knowledge. Our online Positive Discipline course is both consensual and non-punitive and we encourage parents to rely in many ways on the depth of the relationship and their child’s innate common sense rather than external motivating factors such as rewards and insincere praise.In terms of so-called ‘bad behaviour’ Positive Discipline looks to the underlying universal need for connection and security rather than punishing the innocently-driven actions.
This is frequently seen with aggression during toddlerhood – the most violent time of life! For this reason, our module on brain development makes parents more empathic to the child that lashes out before they have any neurological control over their impulses. Our module on tantrums is especially useful as it invites parents to see tantrums as a normal, healthy process of downloading accumulated tension rather than something personal or a reflection of their parenting.
Simply knowing that young children’s brains are much more sensitive to fear response can transform our annoyance into compassion. Reframing how we see our child will reframe our whole experience of our child as a young person doing their best to connect and feel safe rather than the child that deliberately pushes our buttons or wants to embarrass us. The online Positive Discipline course also includes a parenting style questionnaire to help parents notice their predominant patterns and attitudes and how couples might be compensating for one another in certain areas – a fascinating exercise!
When we think about Attachment Parenting, I think we think about babies, can parents who have not used attachment parenting in the early years still use this method and if yes how could they start the journey?
I love this question! The possibilities to build bonds and create connection can happen at any age. If the bond doesn’t feel strong and the parent wants to improve the depth of the relationship then positive change is always possible. It won’t necessarily happen overnight but through the attention, you give to the small, ordinary daily interactions that are noticed incrementally – rather like slowly filling a cup. Validating your child, showing empathy, respect and holding firm but loving boundaries will support parents to create a sense of safety and trust that the child learns to rely on. When the child trusts the parent and when there is both a good quality and quantity of attention, the child is more likely to gravitate to the parent when they need to. Offering plenty of encouragement and learning not to take things personally frees you up to really see your child when they are struggling rather than being confused by your own hurt thinking.
No matter what, remember that your child is driven by an innocent need to connect with you. Seeing their innocence helps us resist any urges to punish the child or withdraw our affection and instead helps us remain available and open-hearted. It might sound like hard work to be emotionally available, attentive and respectful but the fruits of this loving approach will be plentiful and life-long.
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