Meet Our Guest
Lysa Parker is co-chairman of Attachment Parenting International, co-author of Attached at the Heart, and a certified family life educator with the National Council on Family Relations. Attached at the Heart, written with Barbara Nicholson, is a leading book on attachment parenting. It was fully revised and updated in 2013 for a new generation of parents and their children.
First developed by Dr. William Sears, attachment parenting is a child-centric parenting style based on meeting your baby’s and infant’s needs quickly. The idea is to build a foundation of trust, to show your baby that the world is a positive place where needs are met quickly and love and support are ample. Although attachment parenting has many supporters, critics worry that it can be overwhelming or that it is difficult for working parents to provide that kind of intense contact with their babies. Here, co-chairman of Attachment Parenting International and co-author of “Attached at the Heart” (HCI Books, 2013) Lysa Parker talks about what attachment parenting is…and isn’t.
Bundoo: What is attachment parenting?
Lysa Parker: Attachment parenting is rooted in attachment theory. The essence of attachment parenting is that parents should follow their intuition and recognize that their infants have the expectation that if I cry, someone will hold me. When these expectations are met in a loving, kind way, that child will learn to trust and learning intimacy.
How long should parents use attachment parenting?
There’s a time it’s developmentally appropriate. You have to follow the child’s lead, and every child is unique. If you try something that’s not developmentally appropriate, they’ll resist with all their might. They’ll cry. We’ve found that the attachment relationship takes time to form over the first three to five years, but it really begins to solidify over the first year. Sometimes, parents think that if they do everything right the first few months, they’ll be good to go. But I think stopping attachment parenting before the first bithday is premature.
Where did attachment parenting come from?
When we were writing the book, we wondered where the myth came from that if you picked up a crying baby, you’d spoil the baby. So we did some digging and found it came from these early twentieth century childhood experts who didn’t really have a hand in raising their own children. We found that it came from Dr. John Watson, the father of behaviorism. Back then, they thought children were a blank slate, that you could raise a healthy child with a behavioral approach. Later, Watson’s granddaughter wrote a book called Breaking the Silence in which she said that, yes, her mother could read by the age of two, but that her grandfather left a legacy of suicide and bipolar disease. So many people have suffered because of the work of her grandfather and behaviorism. Our book was written in response to that, to help with parenting and child-rearing. If you leave a baby to self-soothe or “cry it out” before they are neurologically ready, they’ll shut down.
Attachment parenting itself is often featured in the media, but from your book, it seems like you’re not especially happy with the way attachment parenting is portrayed in a lot of articles. Why not?
The media perpetuates the same things over and over. They say that if you breastfeed, wear the baby, and practice co-sleeping, then you’re using attachment parenting. But that’s not attachment parenting. Those are tools, but there is more. It’s about quality interactions.
Back to the question of spoiling children, is it possible to take attachment parenting too far? How would a parent know?
Sometimes parents go to the extreme, but that’s not attachment parenting. If your child is developing in a healthy way, they’ll resist the helicopter parent. We have to let our children experience mistakes and failures. That’s how they learn. That’s one of the criticisms of attachment parenting, but it’s not specific to attachment parenting. We have to let our children fail until they come to us for help.
When some working parents hear “attachment parenting,” they might feel guilty, thinking they couldn’t really practice attachment parenting and work outside the house. Can working parents use attachment parenting?
We strongly encourage working parents. Attachment parenting is about quality interaction. It’s an awareness as a parent that when I’m there, I am present. I taught school for many years and it was always sad to me that so many children had no quality time with their parents. They got picked up and went home. They played or did homework and went to bed. There was no quality interaction. With attachment parenting, you want to be aware of those interactions. You’ll find that an infant will let you know if they haven’t had enough time with Mom or Dad. I like to say that we all have an emotional tank that needs to get filled up every day. We talk about the four Ps: protection, predictability, proximity to caregiver, and play. These have to be fulfilled on a regular basis.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2019
This interview is an eye-opener for me! Love that it debunks common media perceptions, as those were questions I had in my mind, too.