A note from Jen: When we first became parents, we were already teaching the 19 relational skills and the Life Model principles, yet parenting was still totally foreign to us! We had to learn how to use these skills as parents, and since neither of our families of origin provided great examples of applying these skills, we were looking for stories, models and examples to show us “how this works.”
I hungrily looked for creative examples on how to apply the principles, and since there was not much written at the time on parenting with the Life Model, I stumbled on attachment parenting blogs and groups and was pleased to see the many similarities with the Life Model. I enjoyed having concrete examples and creative methods to try in parenting.
After implementing what I was reading and hearing, I found myself exhausted with constant attuning. Even though my boys supposedly “knew how” to recover when they were upset, they never seemed motivated to help themselves, but instead depended on me. I was working really hard and felt like I was somehow missing it.
Since Jim Wilder knew the Sears, and Martha Sears was even on the Board for the ministry at one time, I reached out to him. After my conversation with Jim, I discovered why I was so frustrated! Ever since I have had it in my mind to have him share a guest blog on attachment parenting and the Life Model regarding the similarities and differences. Much to my delight, he has given me a 3-part blog series to share. I hope you enjoy the first installment.
Attachment Parenting Part 1 by Jim Wilder
Dr. Bill and Martha Sears, who are credited with creating attachment parenting, sat in my living room as we discussed the beginnings of the Life Model. We found ourselves in agreement about every topic we considered but we were dedicated to different areas of application. I was thinking about model development so I didn’t mention to my wife Kitty that the Sears were coming over. I also forgot that she was a big fan of the Sears. As a result, she was not home at the time and has not let me forget missing a chance to meet these parenting pioneers.
There is a rather large gap today between what people think of attachment parenting and what it was intended to be. Those who know the Life Model will quickly understand the difference so let me explain in Life Model terms. Attachment parenting was intended to 1) create a strong attachment between parents and children and 2) insure that the attachment was activated (relational circuits on) when parents and children interacted. These are two exceptionally good goals.
Attachment parenting was soon reduced to 1) be physically close to your children and 2) provide maximal empathy to children at all times. It is true that 1) physical closeness is one small factor in attachment and that 2) empathy is one sign of an operational relational circuit, BUT this oversimplification creates many problems. We will consider the three biggest ones.
Physical closeness and empathy are not enough to produce healthy attachments
Not all strong attachments are secure and good for children
Attachment does not teach children all they need to know
Dr. Allen Schore was the first to point out that distancing as well as closeness (proximity seeking – Bowlby) is needed for strong attachments. Certainly you need closeness, but closeness can be overdone, and there are at least 12 elements to good attachments that we will consider in another blog.
Secure attachments require good synchronization and timing of interactions with a baby. This synchronization involves empathy. Without empathy we will not recognize the needs of the infant or child. Yet, to be resilient and healthy, children need to experience recovering from the many times and ways that others do not “get what I feel” and still manage to maintain good relationships. Perfect empathy does not produce the best parents or most resilient children. This leads us to the observation that there are many kinds of fear based and insecure attachment patterns that can and will develop in spite of closeness and empathy.
The third problem with a limited understanding of attachment parenting is a belief that attachment will make everything work. This is ridiculous. If your child cannot drive a car will a secure attachment to parents make a good driver of the child? This extreme example helps us realize that a secure attachment with parents is only the starting point for what we have to learn about being human. If we neglect starting with a secure attachment when teaching a child to be trustworthy, we have multiplied our troubles. But if we think that a secure attachment and empathy from parents will teach a child to be trustworthy, we are equally wrong.
There are many relational, intellectual, social, linguistic, emotional, playful and stylistic skills to be learned by developing children. Being close and empathically attuned provides the opportunity to learn new skills but does not teach them. The Life Model has identified 19 relational brain skills that we need as a basic start. Parents who lack these skills cannot teach them even if they are attached to the child. The idea that attachment provides all we need to raise children is as big a mistake as trying to raise children without attachment.
Certainly we must look up from our smart phones and be present to each other. We must have empathy for one another, but we must also learn what we don’t know about sustainable human relationships and teach these skills to our children once our attachment and relational circuits are up and running.
Closing note from Jen:
For those of you who may have been trying to apply some of the writings out there currently about attachment parenting, I hope this is exciting to you. Attachment, attuning and synchronization are not the only tools in our tool belts! Empathy, attunement, and attachment are all keys to parenting, but our children are supposed to learn from our “being with them” in these hard places and start applying this on their own.
It can be exhausting to feel like the only tool your child has to recover from upset is you! Especially if you have been this for your younger children and now your older children are home from school for the summer, it probably feels like there is not enough of you to go around!
We will be sharing part 2 in two weeks. I am eager for you to read the next installment as Jim goes into the 12 ways to build attachment. It might surprise you to hear that having some distance from your child is a part of it!