When we set out on the parenting journey in the early 90’s, Anghelika was studying early childhood education at Pasadena City College, and we read books like William Sears’ excellent Nighttime Parenting. We learned about “attachment parenting”, though we did not have nearly the understanding of it that we do now. We might have summed up this approach by describing our family bed. … We knew that it had to do with allowing our child to decide when she needed to be near us, and then responding according to her needs (young children are selfish, and appropriately so). Allowing our child to come to us on her schedule would ultimately encourage her to explore ‘separateness’ with more confidence and courage.
In subsequent years, we’ve seen lots of parents raise lots of kids, and while attachment parenting is now widely practiced, we have at times seen a kind of reduced version of attachment at work: as practiced it can look more like ‘possession’ or ‘unfailing provision”. The mother that thinks attachment means ‘keeping their child close’, or that they must ‘meet all their child’s needs’, even before the child asks, is misunderstanding how attachment really works, and risks short-circuiting a child’s healthy development.
We have a lot to say about this subject and will cover the topic in subsequent posts, but today we want to say one important thing about attachment: attachment and separateness go together.
Good attachment doesn’t just lead to good separation, it requires it. How a parent allows their child to be apart from them is a critical part of healthy attachment. A child has periods of drawing close and seeking attention, and also has periods of drawing apart and …seeking nothing. These quiet times, or empty times, are necessary for a child to learn the boundaries of their own experience as an individual. When a parent interrupts such quiet times, it’s often to meet their own needs, not the child’s.
When children are ready to walk, it would be disastrous to carry them everywhere. In the same way, when a child is ready to explore alone, or simply to be alone, it would be a disaster to never let them exercise that muscle … to develop inner responses to the world as themselves. A parent’s intrusion on this process, imposing our meaning instead of letting a child find meaning themselves, can short circuit a child’s development.
… stay tuned for more on attachment.
Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep, by William Sears, MD