More Points for Attachment Theory

My posting has slowed over the past month as I've enjoyed putting more time toward writing and revising my book. I did want to share with you another great parenting discovery, though. Thanks to Stacy of MamaOm, I just finished reading Hold On to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate. The book makes a compelling case against the peer-oriented culture which has grown to dominate over the past few decades, especially as it pertains to parents losing their hold on kids as the primary nurturing and guiding force until they reach maturity. It goes as far as to claim that true maturity isn't actually occurring among those who are taking their cues solely from their fellow immature peers. It's the blind leading the blind, with disastrous results.

In today's culture which places a high value on peer interaction along with less time available for families to spend together, it's more difficult for parents to remain the primary orienting force in their children's lives. Children are encouraged to socialize with other children early and often. High student: teacher ratios in daycares and schools encourage attachment to peers instead of teachers. The extended family of loving adults that used to be the norm in children's lives is now the exception, and our mobile society creates isolation instead of community. Add to this mix the effects of media which perpetuates the culture of cool, and the result is that it's simply much, much harder to parent today than it was a few decades ago, and it's far easier for children to turn to each other to meet their attachment needs.

So … what does all this mean to me, the mother of a three-year-old sensitive child? Actually, the implications are pretty direct. As a sensitive child, Lucas absorbs everyone's energy. He mimics everything and everyone. It already appears that he's very susceptible to influence by his peers, coming home from preschool with new behaviors and mannerisms all the time, to my enormous frustration. He's also sensitive to even the most subtle withdrawal of my affection, and this drives him to attach more quickly to others who will fill the void. If he's around his peers when we've been having a rough time with our mother-son relationship, any authority and influence I may have had disappears and all hell breaks loose. If this keeps up, I'll lose him completely by middle school.

As you already know if you are a regular reader, I've struggled with how to handle these difficulties. Mainstream parenting philosophy dictates that firmer boundaries and punitive measures are necessary to nip negative behavior in the bud. Attachment theory suggests the opposite. I've waffled between the two, leaning toward attachment and then chickening out in the face of parental and societal pressure. Intuition always leads me back to attachment, though. And when I doubt myself, I end up with a book like this one to give me the support I need.

The following is a quote from the book that seemed to sum up the prescription for me:

"The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child. To foster independence, we must first invite dependence; to promote individuation we must provide a sense of belonging and unity; to help the child separate, we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close. We help a child let go by providing more contact and connection than he himself is seeking. When he asks for a hug, we give him a warmer on than he is giving us. We liberate our children not by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it. We help a child face the separation involved in going to sleep or going to school by satisfying his need for closeness."

For me, this translates to:

  • Playing more with him and watching him play, especially when he hasn't asked.
  • "Spending time" at bedtime, (laying next to him until he falls asleep) even if it's inconvenient for me.
  • Satisfying his need for closeness – saying yes unless there is a really good reason to say no – even if it means going with him every time he needs to go to the bathroom or find a sock or wash his hands.
  • Allowing our daily "quiet time" to be spent in the same room together.
  • Being unconditionally loving in my tone and words. Reaffirm that I love him no matter what.
  • Do what it takes to manage my own frustration in healthy ways (exercise, meditate, sleep, etc.) so I don't take it out on him.
In essence, I need to consider his attachment needs ahead of my own needs for space, quiet, control, approval or whatever it is I'm seeking at the moment. I am a mature adult, and I can be creative in finding other healthy ways of getting those needs met. Lucas is not, and he won't be for a long time. If left to his own devices, his choices are not going to be smart ones. Just look at most adolescents.

This book was just the right wake-up call to get me back on track - again.


Stacy (Mama-Om) December 29, 2009 at 10:20 AM  

Wow, Alexis, I am so touched reading this -- I feel inspired by your clarity, passion, and dedication! I also feel warm-hearted, thinking of you and Lucas together.

Also, I thought you gave a wonderfully articulate summary of the book.


Alexis December 29, 2009 at 12:43 PM  

Thanks so much, Stacy! That was a tough one to summarize - so much great information that runs counter to our societal norms that needs to be communicated!

Your recent post on Pearce's "Magical Child" is a fantastic follow-up to this post, and I found it to be a great support. Your list of book recs were so spot on for what I needed!


Mon December 30, 2009 at 6:24 AM  

Thanks for sharing this Alexis. It's one of those books I would read if borrowed but won't buy it. So I appreciate some details.

The only point you made that I waffle on is...
"Playing more with him and watching him play, especially when he hasn't asked."

This would depend on the parent, the whole situation, and the child. Children do need space to be creative without eyes on them all the time. I like to leave my girl to initiate play or contact. I'm doing a 90:10 ratio, lol. The 10 I initiate it.
But that's our situation, where she's been a very physically attached child. So I honour her personal space as a thing she's cultivating away from me, you know?

Anyway, yes, the whole pushing very young children to socialise just doesn't work for me. Modern families have modern needs of course, I'm not judgig individual choices, but philosophically, I feel that home and family are first.

Alexis December 30, 2009 at 8:56 AM  

Hi Mon! I checked my copy out from the library, so I don't own it either, otherwise, I'd happily lend it to you.

I agree with your point about space to be creative without our eyes on them. Unfortunately for Lucas, I've left him to his own devices much more than he'd like as he's gained more independence. This big leap from 2 to 3 years is a huge shift in capability and independence, and it was too tempting and easy to take advantage of it. I probably wasn't even meeting the 90:10 ratio there for a while. So being more aware of giving him my attention even when he's not begging for it is an important shift for me, I'm sad to say. There is no resting on our laurels in this job, is there?

Julie January 2, 2010 at 12:16 PM  

Fascinating post, and am very interested by the book, and the bullet points you've extrapolated from it, which hold very true for me. I've been investigating Waldorf philosphies recently, mostly as a result of my concerns regarding the peer pressure effects, and a search for a simpler, less competitive, media aware lifestyle, and have reached very similar conclusions. My parents are very traditional, discipline led, and whilst I love them, and have nothing but praise for my upbringing, I feel I personally lean more towards attachment style, but find it hard sometimes to stick with my instincts, in the face of both my experiences growing up, and their opinions now. Something to continue to work at I guess...

Alexis January 4, 2010 at 3:09 PM  

Hi Julie,
I love Waldorf and their whole approach to childhood! We have a lovely Waldorf school six minutes from our house, and I wish we could have Lucas attend preschool there, but it's too expensive for us to start him there now. We plan to send him there starting in kindergarten.

You're right that it's so hard to hold on to a parenting philosophy like AP, when it's not what parenting looks like everywhere else. And our kids don't always look like the model (compliant, quiet, calm) citizens society hopes to see. It's a lot of pressure. What we're doing here in connecting with one another helps, though, so thanks for reaching out to share your thoughts!


Lisa (Mommy Mystic) January 5, 2010 at 8:19 PM  

Hi Alexis, just getting caught up here. Excellent summary of this information and book, thank you for that. I have gone back and forth on this myself, and found a happy medium that works for me and my kids, very similar to yours, it sounds like. It gets tougher with more kids obviously too, as they form their own little social network amongst them, and that in and of itself can become a problem. For my kids, I do feel socializing with other kids is key to their development, partly just so they won't only be defined by the sibling dynamics between them. But I think the general points about peers becoming such a dominant force in their lives, and the problems with that, is so true, and mediating that is a big part of what I am trying to do now, with my eldest in kindergarten...I also fear 'over-parenting' though too, which I think is a 'modern' problem, and which personally I think can be an issue in some 'hardcore' attachment parenting...but like everything I guess it is very individual...

Mon January 9, 2010 at 8:02 AM  

" was too tempting and easy to take advantage of it. I probably wasn't even meeting the 90:10 ratio there for a while. So being more aware of giving him my attention even when he's not begging for it is an important shift for me..."

Exactly, translating ideas and thoughts and fitting it into your personal situation.

Loving your clarity.

Alexis January 15, 2010 at 3:05 PM  

Lisa~ Thanks! Your point about over-parenting just summed up in one word (or two hyphenated words)what I'd been struggling with. I didn't start out over-parenting, but then started to get pulled into the over-parenting vortex, which seemed to only make things work. Barbara Coloroso (author of "Kids are Worth It!") finally helped me get back on track with what felt like a comfortable balance for me.

Mon~I am glad you are seeing some clarity here. Thanks! It seems I feel clear for about a day, and then everything gets muddled again.


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