A mother and father hold their newborn for the first time. As they gaze at his little face and body, they are in awe of the miracle of life they have created together. The birth of a baby symbolizes a new beginning, a renewed sense of hope, a sense of life’s purpose, and a chance to leave a legacy for family and society. Parents wonder about the future that will unfold as both they and their baby grow. What kind of parents will they be? What kind of relationship will they have with their child? What kind of adult will their child turn out to be? How do they get there from here?
TRUSTING YOUR INTUITION
Parenting is the most important job we will ever have. Yet, in our society, it is one for which we are the least prepared and for which we receive the least support. Babies are born without instruction manuals; every baby is unique, and no one book could possibly teach all that you need to know about your particular child. Only your child can teach you about her needs and personality.
Unfortunately, today’s parents are challenged from all sides by the variety of child-rearing advice now available. When new parents rely on the advice they get from others or from reading parenting books, they come to rely less on their own intuitive feelings or understanding of their child.
The advice they get is often conflicting, so it’s no wonder that many parents become confused or misdirected. This undermines new parents’ confidence in their own innate knowledge of their children. Too often, the most popular parenting advice is based on someone’s opinion rather than common sense and sound science. In some cases, popular advice is harmful to the child as well as to the parent-child relationship.
HOW PARENTING AFFECTS SOCIETY
What parents do within the home has a lasting impact. Most of us have experienced the effects of the way we were parented. Ideally, each generation does a little bit better than the generation before. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go.
Childhelp USA receives more than three million reports of child abuse each year. It is estimated that the actual rate of child abuse is three times this. Since 1995, more than seventeen thousand patients at Kaiser-Permanente Hospitals have participated in a long-term study of the social, emotional, and, more specific, physical effects of childhood trauma: “Data resulting from their participation continues to be analyzed; it reveals staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.”
This groundbreaking study, called ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences, consists of detailed questions related to childhood experiences and trauma. The researchers found that the more adverse experiences a child had, the higher the risk of developing physical and emotional illnesses later in life and the higher the risk for early death.
LACK OF CONNECTEDNESS
Many experts agree that this crisis is due to children feeling a deep lack of connectedness to their parents and their community. In the Hardwired to Connect report released by the Commission on Children at Risk in 2003, more than thirty researchers, community leaders, and scholars found that this lack of connectedness was of two kinds: “close connections to people and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.”
These problems cross all racial, cultural, and economic status barriers. They are not limited to the uneducated or to those living in poverty. They reflect a more intrinsic kind of poverty—a poverty of the mind and of the spirit.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
This information gives you a small snapshot of the lives of millions of children. While it may seem overwhelming, there is something that each of us can do, and it begins with growing a strong and indissoluble bond with our children.
When you respond to your children’s needs in a sensitive, respectful, and developmentally appropriate way, the parent-child relationship—and the family as a whole—is strengthened. A baby’s first lessons of empathy and trust are embedded early on from daily experiences of feeling safe, secure, and protected by her parents. Babies need to know that someone will be there for them when they are in need.
Why is it called attachment parenting? This style of parenting is designed to stimulate the optimal development of children. It calls for a new consciousness in child rearing and encourages parents to learn to trust their intuitive knowledge of their child in order to build a strong foundation of trust, allowing the child to develop his or her capacities for empathy and compassion for others. Attachment parenting will help you to create a strong emotional connection or “attachment” with your baby, empower you as a parent, and strengthen your family.
Many parents have found that attachment parenting has helped them heal from their own childhood wounds by allowing them to give nurturance to their child that they didn’t receive, while at the same time educating them about new positive ways of child rearing and communicating.
FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR BABY
Attachment parenting gives parents “permission” to fall in love with their baby instead of worrying that they might spoil him. When we invest our time in our children in their early years, we can take comfort in knowing that strong attachment relationships then will positively influence their relationships in the future.
The concept of attachment parenting holds tremendous power—in the process of raising our children, we raise ourselves. Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This sentence can easily be paraphrased to say, “Become the kind of adult you want your child to be.” Gandhi understood the power of example that we as parents must provide—the onus is laid squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. Children will model our behavior before they will heed our words.
We want to make it clear, however, that we all are a work in progress, and we do the best we can with what we know and where we are in our parenting journey. Attachment parenting is not a panacea for all problems, but it provides a good start in giving our children the most loving environment possible to achieve their fullest potential.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
As our children grow, they will make mistakes as part of their process of discovering who they are—our job is to maintain the heart connection and be there for them when they need us. It may take a few generations to really see the long-term benefit of our efforts, especially if there is a family history of dysfunction, depression, or addictions. Genetic influences, such as a child’s temperament, also play a major role in how he experiences his home environment and the powerful forces of the culture.
Each of us has the potential to change the course of our familial inheritance and reveal the hidden potential within ourselves and our children, but we can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. We are social beings who need to be connected to others; we need an extended family. There is power in parents helping other parents that builds their confidence and skills.
Our goal at Attachment Parenting International (API) is to create a tipping point of change in our society, to transform a world of war and violence into a world of compassion and peace. It can be done, and we hope you will join us.
Excerpted from the introduction to Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, co-founders of Attachment Parenting, International.
Barbara Nicholson has been a La Leche League International support group facilitator for over 25 years. She is co-founder of Attachment Parenting, International and has been president of the board of directors for 15 years. Barbara is the mother of four adult sons.