Attachment Parenting

The most important relationship we have in life is probably the first one, with our primary caretaker, usually, although not invariably, the mother. It is in this first relationship that we get our first taste of how to exchange love, care, pleasure, comfort, nourishment, in which we learn whether the world is a safe place that responds to our needs, or not.

The most important relationship we have in life is probably the first one, with our primary caretaker, usually, although not invariably, the mother. It is in this first relationship that we get our first taste of how to exchange love, care, pleasure, comfort, nourishment, in which we learn whether the world is a safe place that responds to our needs, or not.

According to John Bowlby’s attachment theory, our lives are marked forever by these first experiences of getting our needs met either as soon as they arise, erratically, dependent on factors outside our control, or barely at all. (If they were not met at all, we would not have survived until adulthood). Our relational pattern is created.

On first sight this may seem a pessimistic theory — after all who has had their needs immediately met and received? Who has been perfectly parented? And is this not another way of saying that everything is the mother’s fault? But I don’t think this is an all or nothing situation. Our environment and relationships change throughout life, and although we will have tendencies to trust or not to trust, to assume things are our own fault or not, which may be directly related to how we were parented, it seems to me that we can always seek out new ways of relating and meeting our own needs. And the most positive, proactive aspect of all is that we can change how we parent our own children, not using the idea of perfect attachment as a rod with which to beat ourselves, but as a reminder of just how important it is to respond to our infants just as most parents, when not suffering from depression or other problems which can override the role of parenthood, instinctively want to.

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So here are a few things I personally would like to say to every new mother, from my intuition and experience more than from anyone’s theory, although they certainly seem to fit with Bowlby. You won’t spoil your baby if you carry her whenever she seems to need it. Or if you breastfeed whenever she needs it, even if it is ‘only’ for comfort. Comfort is a vital human need. He will sleep through the night alone eventually if you bring him into bed with you for the first weeks, months, or even years. Babies will not learn to wait if they cry and are not attended to; they are too young for that kind of cognitive process. They will learn maybe to give up trying. There is no need to use a variety of devices to separate the baby from you and promote ‘independence’. This is a natural process which will happen in its own time. Everything we do with a young baby is vitally important, but it is not complicated. We are ‘good enough’ parents when we focus on attuning ourselves to our baby’s needs and meeting them as best we can.

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