~Written by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Shawn Dwyer, ACMC ~
What does it mean to parent, to raise healthy children, to be a “good” parent?
Attachment – While we can answer that question in lots of ways- at the heart of parenting is bonding. It is to connect and to bond with the infant or child so that there is a healthy attachment between parent and child. Now the good thing about this is that every child is genetically wired to seek this attachment. Every child seeks proximity to the parent- seeks to be soothed,
feed, nurtured, loved, stroked, embraced, etc. And this will occur if the parent is mindfully present to the child- compassionate, caring, patient, understanding, etc.
Ah, but here begins the problem. Young parents are often busy, stressed, impatient, and do not understand much of what’s going on within the mind and emotions of the infant or small child. Many young parents are not ready for the infant at all! Many times they are hardly out of their own childhood.
And others are in a place of life where figuring out who they are, what they are about, what to do (go to college, start a career, develop some quality skills), how to pay the bills, etc. are the most demanding, and even
over-whelming, questions that they are facing. And now there’s a baby?
All of that has led me to say for many years, people need to be licensed before they become parents. Parenting is not for the uninformed, the stressed-out, the preoccupied, or the psychologically unwell. No. Parenting is for those who are informed about what parenting requires, for those with the time, energy, and patience, for those who have completed the unresolved issues of their own past, for those who have learned how to be present to another, empathetic, and disciplined. And that’s a lot!
Demanding Parenting Skills
Generally speaking, it takes a lot of self-development and self-awareness to be ready and able to be fully present for the demands of bonding for healthy attachment. If you have learned anything from your Coach Training at The Coaching Centre -you know the challenge as a basically psychologically healthy person to listen, support, receive feedback, and manage your own state. Think about that! These are requirements if you want to bond with a client as a professional coach so that you can be truly helpful.
If that’s the case in handling a group-up client, imagine being able to do that with a screaming infant at 3 a.m.-a little person who can’t talk, can’t manage his state, who doesn’t know what he needs or wants, who can’t tell
you and who is screaming. Truth be told- parenting is a very demanding profession and one that most of us enter into without any (or very little) preparation.
Let’s begin by seeking to understand the psychology of attachment for an infant and small child. The child’s attachment to mom and dad (or whoever is the care-giver) provides the context for safety, protection, and love.
Attachment is what enables the little person to begin to create implicit memory maps that says, “The world is a safe place,” “I am valued and loved unconditionally,” “There is someone there for me,” “I am free to grow and
learn and explore,” etc. This describes the secure attachment pattern.
Brain Development Through Attachment
Attachment also enables the child’s developing brain to rely on, depend on, and use the parent’s brain for development. That is, the way the parent talks, communicates, attends, interacts, etc. with the child gives the child the kind of experiences that provides a model for his own brain. Parenting thinking patterns intimately play a developmental role in the child’s developing mind. The child’s mirror neurons, in part, makes this happen.
Genetics only play a partial role in brain-body development, experience plays the other part of the formula – and perhaps the most significant part. This is called epigensis which refers to how gene expression is a function of the experiences (or environmental contexts) in which we learn what we learn. That’s why the experience of attachment plays such a profound role in the child’s mental, emotional, social, and spiritual development. And we can see this most clearly by the problematic forms of attachment.
Secure attachment. A bonding pattern of love and support, parents giving compassion, patience, time, etc. Parents able to “read” the infant’s signals, respond empathetically.
Avoidant attachment. A non-bonding pattern. Parents essentially not available emotionally or mentally for the child. They are preoccupied, busy, stressed-out, etc.
Ambivalent attachment. An on-and-off bonding pattern. Parents sometimes available, sometimes not. Sometimes highly intrusive, sometimes completely dis-connected. The child cannot depend on them due to inconsistency.
Disorganized attachment. A dis-orienting non-bonding pattern.
Parents themselves unstable and therefore frightening to the child. They scream at the child, hit, beat, abuse, etc.
Finally, when a parent is not there, the child learns a pattern of avoidance and learns to dismiss connection with parent and then others. With the ambivalence pattern, the child learns to be anxious, unsure, insecure. With the disorganized pattern, the child finds the world and especially the social world chaotic and crazy. Hence, in these ways, we fail our children, fail parenting #101.