Category Archives: Secondary Attachments: Fathers, Grandparents & Other Loved Ones

For fathers, grandparents and other relatives, close family friends, childcare providers, teachers, and any other adult who serves as a significant attachment figure in a child’s life.

Attachment as Important at School as at Home

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifecenter.org.il

If your children or grandchildren are anything like mine, they were looking forward to starting school after the long, hot summer, equipped with their new books and school supplies. No doubt, you too are hoping that their enthusiasm about learning will last. All too often, not far into the school year, children complain about too much homework, teachers not being fair, boring classes, bullying on the playground, and the list goes on. What, if anything, can we do to help our children look forward to school and keep their natural bias to learn and grow?

In a nutshell, the answer is to cultivate secure teacher-student attachment. Let me illustrate with a true story. A girl in the third grade, who was getting ready for school one morning, remarked to her mother, “I don’t want to get slapped again by my teacher.” Her mother, startled by this statement, asked her what she meant by being slapped. “I didn’t actually get slapped,” she replied, “but the nasty face my teacher makes is worse, because she uses it all morning.” This student did only the minimum that was required of her. She did not seek to be close to her teacher or to take counsel with her. Nor did she see her teacher as a role model that she would like to emulate. To put it simply, the girl was not attached to her teacher. As a result, she also lost her enthusiasm for learning.

On the other hand, when a student is attached to her teacher, she wants to be close. She loves her teacher and wants to be like her. She is motivated to do her best to learn and succeed.

If you can picture the well-known image of the mother goose followed by a neat, orderly row of  goslings, you get a glimpse of the attachment dynamic in nature. Mother goose is the compass point for her goslings, and she need not worry that they will go astray. This unseen force is what needs to be harnessed between parents and children as well as teachers and students, so that children will maintain their orientation toward the adults responsible for them. The child might not know where you are leading him, but he will follow with trust. This is the true source of a teacher’s authority and ability to teach and influence. This can make the difference in whether or not a child will look forward to coming to school. To the child, school must feel like a safe, secure place where he is cared for. He knows he will find comfort and consolation from his teacher or from other caring members of the school staff. Of course, every child needs to feel this at home, too. Until this need is met, the child’s brain is not free to learn. This is the number-one priority on the brain’s agenda! Learning is a luxury!

A five-year-old complained to his parents that he doesn’t want to go to kindergarten anymore, because “no one is in charge.” Upon investigation, the parents learned that there was a bully among the children and their son took the side of the bully in order to avoid being pushed around by him because the teacher was not solving the problem. “No one is in charge” was the child’s way of saying, “No one is protecting me from getting hurt. Being in school is too alarming for me!” As a result, this child became aggressive and uncooperative.

Although research shows that while children who are in daycare or preschool before the age of five show improvements in cognitive performance, the results are the opposite for emotional health and intelligence.  Researchers have found that levels of stress hormones are high in young children whose emotional needs are not taken care of, and this can lead to aggressive behavior, noncompliance, anxiety, and depression, even years later in life. In this environment, there is no room for creative thought and interest.

Whether a child is in daycare, elementary, or high school, his attachment needs should be taken care of as a first priority. What does an attachment-based environment look like? The teacher greets and welcomes her students with warmth and a smile. Throughout the day, she finds ways to let each student know she cares about him or her. She focuses on her students’ good intentions and personal development, instead of on behavior and performance. She knows how to support a child’s interests, curiosity, and natural desire to learn, instead of motivating through competition and prizes. She helps her students feel safe and protects them from being shamed, hurt, or bullied. She believes in her students and sees the goodness in them. She welcomes the parents of her students into the learning process.

Our goal should be to create learning environments that are attachment-based, in which teachers give their students the sense of home, safety, and security they need to be able to focus on learning and thinking creatively.

Teens and Sex from an Attachment Perspective

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifeCenter.org.il

You cannot understand sexuality without first understanding the attachment dynamic, psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains. The pursuit of proximity is one of the primary emotions that drive our behavior. The main way that the immature seek proximity and closeness is through the senses — being physically close: the most primitive way of attaching. On the heels of closeness through the senses is being the same as; by being the same as the person they are seeking contact with, they are holding that person close. This is also an immature way of attaching, for it does not allow room for individual expression. Following sameness, closeness is pursued through belonging and loyalty, still a rather shallow way to hold a person close as it does not leave enough room for your own personhood.

When a person matures and develops the capacity for deeper relationships, they can hold a person close without physical proximity or having to be the same as. They can feel altruistic love and psychological intimacy; they can share the essence of their being. There is mutual respect, caring, and being careful when someone entrusts his heart to you. This kind of relationship becomes eternal.

Adolescence is a time of becoming a sexual being. Teens have a new awareness of themselves, and touch itself becomes sexualized. Sometimes, the only way teenagers can experience contact and closeness is through sexual interaction — when they have not developed the capacity for deep relationship. A large part of teenage sexuality today is about sameness: being alike. If the norm seems to be sexually active at the age of 15, there’s huge pressure on the teen to imitate, emulate, be the same as his friends, and therefore to become sexually active. Adolescents and children of elementary school age are being exposed to sexual images and pornography through advertising, television, and the internet, and attaching to images and superstars who are highly sexual. This contributes to promiscuity and increased sexual activity, as the immature seek to be like the images they attach to on the screen.

Attaching through belonging and loyalty in the sexual arena creates a huge problem with girls obeying and showing loyalty to please boys, creating intense feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. Kids have no idea of how attached they become; how crucial it is for them to be significant to another. Boys might need to be significant in the eyes of other boys and therefore, in order to get status and recognition, must become sexually active. Instead of sex being part of the context of a deep, caring, long-term relationship, it is being divorced from love and turned into a cheap, shallow, and selfish way to serve the adolescent’s need for attachment.

One’s sexuality is only as developed as one’s capacity for relationship. The greatest expression of sexuality is in the context of marriage, when the potential for all the elements of attachment can be fulfilled. (However, not everyone grows up as they grow older, and even in marriage, one’s capacity for relationship might be superficial, and so the expression of sexuality will also be superficial. )

Dr. Neufeld, who has helped rehabilitate many teens from their addictions, explains that when you understand the nature of relationships, you see that sexual liberation is a myth, as there is no such thing as sexual freedom. The desire for sexual interaction automatically brings the desire for fusion and union. It’s meant to create an exclusive relationship because this connection involves incredible vulnerability. Teenagers are shocked to discover that some kind of union has taken place that there is no way to get out of without getting hurt. The greatest wounding comes from separation, being rejected, being ignored, losing your specialness. These painful feelings trigger defenses in the brain that lead to numbing out of feelings, tuning out perceptions, and a hardening or toughness, which actually fuel the need to pursue closeness through the senses. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the answer is teaching teens to use birth control or condoms, for we are ignoring the emotional pain and psychological problems that are involved.

A teenager’s safest bet is strong relationships with his parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. These relationships are hierarchical, and are not sexualized. The teen, as well as younger children, should have his attachment needs met in the context of his relationships with the important adults in his life. This is what prevents the sexualization of relationships with peers, and buys time for the teen to truly mature and develop the capacity for a deep, meaningful relationship.

As Dr. Neufeld puts it, “Sex is ‘super glue’ and is meant to bind two people together.” With greater understanding of the reactions of the brain, science is coming to a very conservative approach towards sex, concurring with the ancient wisdom about creating the right context for sexual relationships.

The Breastfeeding Father

By Jarold Johnston, CNM, IBCLC

BreastfeedingDad’s job is to take over the job of the lactation consultant when the family goes home from the hospital. The father is who will be available to answer questions at 3 a.m.

Many mothers struggle with confidence when breastfeeding: They doubt the baby’s desire to breastfeed, they doubt their family’s support for breastfeeding, and most of all, they doubt themselves and their ability to breastfeed. A new mother struggles with confidence almost every day, and her shaky confidence is easily destroyed by a doubting father. When you say something foolish like, “I don’t know, Honey, maybe we need to give him a bottle,” you have just damaged your family’s chances at breastfeeding success.

So, if you’ve come this far, you’re still with me and it’s time to learn how to breastfeed. Continue reading

#1 on the Breastfeeding Team –> Daddy

By Jarold Johnston, CNM, IBCLC

fatherAs a midwife, lactation consultant, and father of seven beautiful breastfed babies, I’m often asked to share my perspectives with new parents. First, let me say, I have found through personal and professional practice that almost everything is hard the first few days or weeks with a new baby — and breastfeeding is no different.

You will do yourself a favor if you prepare for the challenges by learning all you can before your progeny is born. I encourage you to talk to your health care provider, lactation consultant, and especially friends who have successfully breastfed for more than six months. Learning from successful and experienced breastfeeding friends is a good way to get honest, accurate information and avoid the myths that make breastfeeding so very challenging. I warn you to ignore the advice of couples who failed at breastfeeding, as their perspectives, while honest, may not always be accurate.

Before we can talk about your role in breastfeeding, we have to first answer the most fundamental question: Why would anyone want to breastfeed? In the old days, we used to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding and you will still hear some people mention it, but not me. Believe it or not, breastfeeding doesn’t make your baby bigger, stronger, faster, or smarter. Breastfeeding doesn’t make him super-human, it just makes him human. Continue reading

Attachment by Accident: One Family’s Alternative Parenting Journey

By Joe Diomede, author of Cycles of a Traveler and owner of Cloughjordan Cycle Co-op in Tipperary, Ireland, CloughjordanCycleCoop.com

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Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that is defined by Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. Alternative parenting styles, such as that practiced by the author, and which include natural parenting and instinctual parenting choices, may include Attachment Parenting but do not define Attachment Parenting. API takes no position on homebirth, vaccinations, elimination communication, non-consumerism, and other choices made by this particular family. For more information on Attachment Parenting, visit www.attachmentparenting.org.

When my wife, Angie, and I became parents, a whole new world was opened up to us. We had read books and talked to friends as everyone does, but in the same way that you cannot learn what a good Indian curry really tastes like until you experience it for yourself, being a parent and all that that entails was still only conceptual until the day our son arrived.

On that day our world changed — and not just because we now were three. Just five weeks after Louis was born, we moved to a tiny village in the Loire Valley of France and, in doing so, found ourselves in the situation of being cut off from friends, family, and such networks in a way that rarely happens to new parents in today’s world. It was during this time that we came to deeply connect with a part of ourselves that is buried within all of us and continually trying — sometimes even screaming — to be heard: our instincts.

As parents, we are generally not allowed the space to be able to connect with our inner feelings. There is constant bombardment from all sides telling us what a baby and mother need to be happy, well adjusted, and healthy. While many of these sources may be well-meaning, none of them are without an agenda: Governments, in conjunction with the powerful medical/pharmaceutical industry, want us to raise our children a certain way within their system of medicating and vaccinating our children to excess; baby food and formula manufacturers discourage breastfeeding so we spend on all the accessories to complicate a totally natural process. As new parents we are so vulnerable. We instinctively want to do everything right for our child, but with powerful influences like these, many of us are left shell-shocked and blind to what feels instinctively right. If somehow we could pull away from all of the people trying to sell us and tell us, we would be able to reconnect with ourselves and realize that we are the experts, and that is exactly how nature intended it to be.

The Offer

A couple of months before the birth, a friend of Angie’s offered us her empty house in the Loire Valley of France — an opportunity we didn’t pass up: house sit and redecorate for her, both of us be there for our child’s first months of life, grow our own veggies, and have a totally different beginning as a family. It wasn’t going to cost much and we had some money saved, so there was not much to lose. We felt it was a perfect move.

It soon transpired, though, others felt very differently: “Your baby will be a newborn. What about a doctor, a phone, a car, your family and friends – your support network?” I can honestly say we didn’t listen to a word. Yes, it’s true our decision to move was made before the little guy arrived. We had not held that small baby and felt his warm fragile body. We had not known what protective instincts would come over us when our child was out of the womb. All we could do was be strong and go with what felt right.

The Birth

Louis arrived after a 14-hour drug-free labor. The first part of the day was spent walking on the beach connecting with nature and each other. Angie was determined that if she could keep in touch and go with the feelings that were happening to her rather than panic and try to get away from them, then everything would be fine. She also had me to remind her and keep her grounded when things became a bit too much. With labor now behind her, Angie constantly tells people of her belief that a normal labor is about 75% mental and 25% physical and that all the negative programming we hear, often in the guise of education, before giving birth can only disempower and weaken the inbuilt ability that women have to give birth naturally.

A Life-Changing Move

So when Louis was five weeks old, the move was made down to France. Angie’s college-level French came into its own, and with our neighbor’s help and a few borrowed tools, we had some beautiful, weed-free, brown earth ready to be planted.

Louis seemed quite content to lie near us on a shaded blanket and watch the birds and insects fly by as we worked in the garden. We were enjoying every minute of our lives. We had all day and night to spend with our son, no pressures, and the best thing we actually had was time to really get in touch with ourselves. We were able to make so many decisions without any interference. It’s true that we were miles from any social support systems, such as friends and family, and there were certainly times when we might have liked a word of reassurance or a home-cooked meal from a friend or relative, but Angie and I discovered depths of strength we never dreamed existed and the three of us developed a bond beyond anything we had ever known before.

When Louis was eight weeks old, we put a second-hand car seat, which Angie bulked up with comfortable padding, into a bicycle trailer. Now Louis and Angie could accompany me on my four-mile round-trip cycle ride to the nearest town with a market. Louis loved his first ride so much that we started exploring the wider area as a cycling family and became somewhat local celebrities. People were attracted by the novelty of the whole thing and became instantly smiling and friendly when they saw us. It just added to our status already as the quirky foreigners with the cotton diapers hanging on the washing line. I guess this was the reason we didn’t get any strange looks from the olive and cheese stall holder the first time we asked him to weigh Louis on his scale. It was almost expected.

Our veggie patch prospered, Louis was healthy and seemed happy, and our nights were basically calm with him in our bed. Each decision — like co-sleeping and long-term breastfeeding — was less a choice and more an obvious path.

We stayed in that tiny village for ten months. Louis was such a healthy boy that we never needed to call on the services of the local doctor, who also happened to be our next-door neighbor.

Finding Other Attached Families

In March, we were heading back to New York for a year. It was a great opportunity for Louis to be introduced to his large Italian American family and for us to come to New York for the first time as parents.

It was when we got to New York that we went to our first La Leche League meeting and met other attached parents. The instinctive way of bringing up a baby that Angie and I had followed actually had a name, a legion of followers, and libraries of books attesting to its virtues! We were relaxed with ourselves as parents and now had some like-minded friends. We were also introduced to baby sign language, which benefited all of us. Our choices spoke for themselves, and some of my family were actually enjoying the world we were opening up for them as well. Louis’ fruit-eating capacity and his love of ethnic foods gained him two nicknames: “Mr. Spicy” and “The Goat.”

I had to defend our decision not to vaccinate Louis to my well-meaning cousin who is a doctor in New York. Funny enough, two years previously, Angie and I had to defend our decision to have a homebirth to the same cousin. But demonstrating by example, hearing and seeing us standing strong and confident in our position, and seeing the living proof in Louis, I believe we have possibly opened up otherwise closed subjects to his medically-orientated mind.

Back Home with a New Lifestyle

After leaving New York, we headed back to France — this time to our own house in rural Brittany. Growing gardens was becoming a major part of our life. We were getting hooked on living away from it all, and our instincts were taking us down a path towards a simple lifestyle of non-consumerism: Our bike riding had never diminished as much as grown, as we tried as much as possible not to get into the car we had purchased for the further afield shopping trips. We enjoyed living in our small house in the countryside, growing our own food and being “creatively poor” as we liked to call it.

When Angie became pregnant ,we came across a book called Diaper Free. It interested us, and we thought we would give it a go. Raising Francesca diaper free proved to be a challenge, but at the same time was an incredible opening to a world that forced us to rethink some other pre-conceived ideas that, until then, we had never thought to question. It also made us realize just how much small people, even at six weeks old, are capable of, and how truly sentient a human child is.

Since we had fallen off the mainstream path in many ways, my family in America and Angie’s in England were not surprised about our new foray into alternative parenting. It was an incredible journey and humbled us in our realization that, like an onion, we have many layers to yet peel back.

Parenting by Instinct

The attachment style of parenting has always had its benefits in watching our children be a part of their own process of growth and maturation. They have taught us more about ourselves in their short time with us than any self-help course could ever do. We encourage them to safely explore their instincts and to try to work problems out for themselves.

Our instincts brought us together as a couple, then helped lead us to where we are now as individuals, parents, and a family. This is not to say that we are perfect — far from it: Angie is fond of saying that parenting is the hardest, most wonderful, frustrating, fulfilling, amazing thing that can ever happen to you, and the biggest catalyst for personal growth in the world! I whole-heartedly agree.

Instincts have been around a long time. They have helped us survive and evolve as a species, so we are pretty comfortable trusting that they will help us to tread the path of parenting in the challenging years ahead. When in doubt, we always turn to books that have inspired us in the past or new ones that find their way to us. We also look forward to reading other sources such as good magazines, websites, or words of encouragement and advice from friends and others on similar paths. These resources are invaluable as guides, but remember, the inner voice should always have the last word.

Recommended Reading

These are books that Angie and I have found, and continue to find, helpful in our parenting journey:

  • How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Mendelsohn
  • Vaccination: The Medical Assault on the Immune System by Dr. Veira Schreibner
  • The Vaccination Bible by Lynne McTaggart
  • Spiritual Midwifery by Ina Mae Gaskin
  • Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlisch
  • The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedoff
  • Superimmunity for Kids by Dr. Leo Galland
  • Yoga and Birth by Janet Balaskus
  • Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth by Suzanne Arms
  • The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
  • The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

API’s Role in Shaping Parenting: Highlights from the 2009 API Think Tank Event in Nashville, TN

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

API's 15th AnniversaryIn an unprecedented move, Attachment Parenting International gathered eight brilliant minds in Attachment Parenting for the organization’s 15th Anniversary Celebration gathering the last weekend of August in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Never before had all these parenting experts appeared together at an event open to the public. For the hundreds of parents, students, and professionals sitting in the seats of Belmont University’s Troutt Theatre the afternoon of Saturday, August 29, 2009, the “Making an Impact Now: Creating a Sustainable Legacy for Children” Think Tank Event proved truly to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Moderator Lu Hanessian, author of Let the Baby Drive, founder of WYSH, host of API Live! teleseminars, and member of API’s Board of Directors, introduced the panel of speakers, each walking from behind the stage curtain to sit on chairs arranged in a semi circle under a six-foot banner proclaiming API’s anniversary theme: “Growing More Attached.” Making up the panel were:

  • Martha Sears, RN – nurse and lactation consultant, La Leche League leader, mother to eight children, co-author of 25 parenting books, and member of API’s Advisory Board and Editorial Review Board.
  • William Sears, MD – pediatrician and pediatrics professor at the University of California’s Irvine School of Medicine, father to eight children, and author or co-author to more than 40 parenting books, and member of API’s Advisory Board.
  • Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM – midwife, founder and director of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, and author of two childbirth books.
  • Mary Ann Cahill – co-founder and former director of La Leche League International, mother of nine children, and author of a parenting book.
  • Isabelle Fox, PhD – psychotherapist, author of two parenting books, mother, and member of API’s Advisory Board.
  • James McKenna, PhD – anthropologist, professor, and director at Notre Dame University’s the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab, author of three infant sleep books, and member of API’s Advisory Board.
  • Barbara Nicholson, MEd – founder of API, mother to four children, co-author of Attached at the Heart, and member of API’s Board of Directors, Editorial Review Board, and Research Group.
  • Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE – founder and former director of API, certified family life educator, mother to two children, co-author of Attached at the Heart, co-leader of API of Huntsville/Madison, and member of API’s Board of Directors, Editorial Review Board, and Research Group.

“This is quite an illustrious panel!” Hanessian said. Special tribute was paid to Nicholson and Parker, for “without you two ladies sitting at the table 15 years ago and commiserating about the future, we would not be here,” Hanessian said before launching into a discussion that could have easily lasted longer than the two hours allotted.

Congratulations, Barbara and Lysa!
Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, API’s co-founders, were surprised during the Think Tank Event with recognition for API’s first Award  for Contribution to Parenting going to an AP-minded individual(s) who truly made a difference on parenting. The award was presented by Martha Sears and Dr. William Sears.

Said Dr. Sears of the award recipients: “There are few people – and we really know a lot of people – who I look back on and say, they really made a difference.”

Hanessian opened the Think Tank Event through a series of questions exploring the theme, “Making an Impact Now: Creating a Sustainable Legacy for Children.” To sum it up, she wondered on behalf of parents worldwide what parenting for the future means for the choices parents are making everyday in their homes?

But first, how did API come to be?

API in the Beginning

API, like any effective organization, was borne out a need: “I realized when I had my first child, how few supports there were,” Parker said.

She found new mother support in her local La Leche League, which described a different way of parenting than much of mainstream promoted – one that resonated with her sense of self and where she gravitated toward in her parenting approach. “I think that was a miracle moment for me,” Parker said.

Through the years, Parker and Nicholson saw a need for this parenting approach to get into the reach of more parents. As special education teachers, they encountered children labeled with emotional and behavioral issues and learning disabilities who were, rather, in need of connection with an adult attachment figure. “A lot of problems weren’t really a learning problem but an attachment problem,” Nicholson said.

Read the entire history of API’s founding in the special Attached at the Heart issue of The Attached Family magazine, available at www.attachmentparenting.org/attachedattheheart/journal_aath.pdf.

Ultimately, API came to be as a way to better educate and support attached families, but Attachment Parenting was around long before 15 years ago. Martha Sears and Dr. William Sears, called the Father of Attachment Parenting (AP), coined the term years before API was founded. But the parenting principles that make up AP didn’t start with the Sears.

“In my first year of practice, a wise professor said to me: Surround yourself with very wise mothers,” said Dr. Sears, who is celebrating his 40th year of pediatrics practice this year. “That was my first introduction to Attachment Parenting.”

Empowering Parents

“I worry most about the disempowerment of parents,”  said Dr. McKenna.

“We live in a culture of fear,” Hanessian agreed.

API strives to give the power of parenting back to the mother and father, so that they know how to make the best decisions for their children and family despite the sometimes ill-informed and biased advice offered not only by friends and family members but also by medical and other childcare professionals.

“Take back the power,” Parker said. “For far too long, people in the culture have dictated how we should raise our baby, how we should have our baby.”

Gaskin explained how this empowering of parents best happens when advocated for early – at birth. By choosing a midwife, new parents can ensure that the mother and baby can likely be together from labor and delivery forward. By starting as early as possible in keeping parents with their child, their parenting journey pushes forward with connection being considered “normal.”

Parents’ naturally gravitate toward connection, when not influenced by outside forces. What API advocates is for parents to follow that intuition.

“Our fourth child is the one who taught me about intuition,” three decades ago, Martha Sears said, adding that the first three babies were so-called easy babies – or, in other words as McKenna explained, this fourth child would be one of the babies who aren’t as convenient for parents as they wish they would be. This fourth baby required Martha Sears to cosleep in order for her to get some sleep. Although she was following her intuition, it was a scary time for her because the mainstream culture did not support this sleeping arrangement at all. Sears had to learn how to listen to her baby and trust her intuition despite what was popular in parenting advice at the time.

“Thirty years ago! Isn’t that unbelievable that we’re still plagued by that doubt?” Hanessian exclaimed.

What API does is to help parents realize that they are the experts in their child’s care and that, as humans, we are driven toward connection with one another, especially between parent and child. In Western culture, especially, this often means that how they feel toward childrearing doesn’t quite jive with the mainstream advice. API first empowers parents by allowing them the freedom to look beyond mainstream parenting advice to that connection-building that just feels good and right within themselves.

But the key to helping parents pursue this intuitive parenting style is showing the overwhelming research that support AP and API’s Eight Principles of Parenting. Martha Sears agreed, giving an example of the need to show parents the research discrediting cry-it-out sleep training.

Armed with research, API has helped to turn the tide. Parents are now able to find AP resources to support them in their parenting journey. Even in the mainstream culture, more and more experts are saying for parents to listen to their babies.

There are still challenges, though. Western culture is driven by a working population and both parents in most families work outside the home. Dr. Fox recalled a point in her practice when the family dynamic had noticeably changed – when parents were unable to describe the history of their child’s behavioral problems for which Fox had been called to assess and repair, even unable to provide basic childcare facts such as the child’s fears or the potty training technique used. What she found was that the children she most often saw with behavioral issues were those who did not have a consistent caregiver in the early years of life.

That’s why API is so important, Nicholson said – to get these observations, and complementary research, out to parents to show them the long-term effects of nurturing parenting.

This change in parenting practice among the mainstream culture takes time. As Dr. Sears pointed out, parents have been practicing AP for more than 40 years, and while Western culture is incorporating more AP principles into mainstream parenting advice than ever before, AP is still a long ways from widespread acceptance.

Cahill, one of seven women who co-founded La Leche League International 53 years ago, agreed that cultural change does take time. The reason is, parents want to be “good” parents and it can be difficult for a mother or father to sort through the advice they receive from literally every person they encounter, whether the pediatrician, a teacher, a clergyman, a family member or friend, or even by observing what other parents model at the park or grocery store.

“When I had my first baby, I wanted to be the best mother. I wanted to breastfeed,” Cahill said. “And I utterly failed.”

But what she came to realize is that she didn’t fail; instead, society failed her. She didn’t receive any support for breastfeeding. That’s the value of API – a source of support .

Dr. Fox agreed, saying that it’s common for parents to attend childbirth education classes but that they don’t often attend parenting classes until they have a problem they need help with. “Mothers need help with childbirth, but they also need help with [at least] the first year,” she said.

‘Good’ Parenting vs. Good Parenting

That “good” parent myth is also fueled by the voices parents hear in their heads from how their own parents had raised them, Fox said. “We hear our own parents’ voices, and we hear that parent’s voice be critical to us.” Without being aware of the power of those voices, parents will judge how “good” they are by how well they following their own parents’ paths.

“In the beginning, I had to overcome some deficits myself,” Martha Sears explained. Her mother had spanked and practiced other non-AP approaches. She struggled, like many parents must, against that voice in her head that conflicted with her intuition in terms of discipline and communication. In the end – at the point of decision making – all parents either make the choice to do what their parents did with them, or they change through education, support, and often intense emotional work.

Martha Sears said it’s important for parents to keep the future goal in mind: “Remember that you are raising someone else’s future mother or future father. It’s important to get yourself emotionally healthy, so that you can give that gift to your children that keeps on giving.”

Among API’s Eight Principles of Parenting is Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. Through this principle, API is able to empower people early in their parenting journey – which ultimately makes the challenges of raising children, discipline and communication, easier in the long-term, said Martha Sears. “When you can find a solid way to connect with your children early, you have fewer problems [later],” she said.

“This organization [API] is the only one in existence, except La Leche League, where parents can learn that and that teaches this foundation of attachment,” Martha Sears said.

It can be difficult for parents to sort out their own voice from all the other voices they hear. So, how can parents sort out which voices – whether from their own parents or another outside influence, including API – aligns best with their need for connection with their child?

Today’s Western society is the only culture in history that needs to read a book to know how to parent, said Dr. McKenna. Books are wonderful, but the best teachers are other parents – those experienced in AP. Let’s look at what the expert parents said at the Think Tank Event in response to some of the most confusing areas of parenting.

Discipline

Dr. Bill Sears offered a quick reflective question he learned from his wife, Martha, that parents can ask themselves whenever encountered with a tense situation: “If I were my child, how would I want my mother or father to react?”

“Get behind the eyes of your child. Do you yell, do you spank, do you use sarcasm, do you hug? If you ask yourself that question, and answer truthfully, you’ll always get it right.”

Sleep

Someone, at some point, decided that parenting should shut off at night, said Dr. McKenna. Instead of regarding their baby’s cries as a way of communication, they regarded it a non-communicating noise that the baby makes. What makes crying irritating is when parents fail to see the value in it. A crying baby indicates a need and opportunity for attachment-building.

“Does your baby sleep through the night yet?” is among the most frequently asked questions of the newborn period and can make parents feel guilty if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night – as if they are not “good” parents, Dr. McKenna said.

“Sleep is very relational,” Dr. McKenna said. Crying is natural; it’s a sign that attachment exists, that the baby is seeking the parent out and wants the parent close. Dr. McKenna gave this sample reply for the next time someone asks whether Baby is sleeping through the night yet: “Not only does my baby not sleep through the night, he protests and cries loudly when I’m not there – and isn’t that wonderful? He knows when he’s in danger and isn’t afraid to say so!”

If mainstream society regards a baby who wakes and cries during the night as having a sleep problem, the question is why only half the babies have “sleep problems” and not the full 100 percent, Dr. McKenna said. Why  are some of the babies not crying, when crying means there is an attachment bond?

What makes nighttime parenting so difficult is because parents want their sleep and losing sleep is hard. But, “it [parenting] isn’t always going to be easy anyway, because life is like that,” Dr. McKenna said. Even the most informative, well-practiced AP parent can have difficulties in parenting – and infant sleep – if they are caring for a high-needs baby.

Dr. Sears chimed in with a story of a couple who he first saw with their newborn baby and later saw when their baby was three months old. Shorty after birth, the baby was a healthy, happy child and the parents seemed inclined to AP. But, at the three months, the baby wasn’t gaining well and had floppy muscle tone and the parents seemed disconnected.

What had changed? The parents, overwhelmed with their baby’s erratic sleep pattern, had taken a cry-it-out sleep training class. At three months, while the baby was considered “good” in that he slept through the night, the baby’s health was failing in what Dr. Sears refers to as “shut down syndrome” – the baby’s lack of emotional connection with his parents caused him to shut down mentally and physically. It’s a rather common example of the effect that non-AP sleep practices can have on children.

“Beware of baby trainers, because I can tell you, from my practice, it’s a short-term gain by a long-term loss,” Dr. Sears said.

Balance

“This [parenting] is a tough job, and there are a lot of tired moms,” Nicholson said. “What a baby needs is a happy, rested mother.”

Fathers, she said, need to give their wives and partners support – not advice – to ensure that she doesn’t get overwhelmed and is able to find balance between taking care of the child and herself.

But balance is more than self-care; it’s also about healing the emotional wounds left from their own childhoods. “You can’t value someone unless you value yourself,” Dr. McKenna said.

In Utero Bonding

Connection begins even before the baby is born. Nicholson spoke about the importance of parents learning about conscious birth, starting their parenting journey of education and smart choices early. Mothers and babies are not supposed to be separated after birth, Gaskin agreed.

Gaskin recommended that mothers take the time to revel in the baby growing inside them. She suggested mothers focus more on the baby moving and kicking than getting caught up in the technology surrounding pregnancy, such as ultrasounds which unnecessarily distracts some parents.

Consistent and Loving Care

“Babies are ingenious in figuring out who really does what for them,” said Dr. McKenna. Whether this is the mother, father, grandparent, or childcare provider, the baby’s main attachment bond will develop with the primary caregiver. “Our species would not have been successful without significant caregivers,” he added.

That’s why, “what is so important is that mothers have to be there,” said Dr. Fox, who explained that, in all families, one parent should stay at home full-time for the first few years of the child’s life. Often, this is the mother, but more and more, the father is taking on this role in many families. “Fathers can just as well stay home, too,” Dr. McKenna said.

Lately, “fathers are taking more of a role,” Gaskin agreed. “When dads aren’t afraid of babies, I think that’s something very good because that connection is likely to continue.”

Dr. McKenna mentioned the term, “tandem parenting,” in which both the mother and the father share in the care of their child to the point where both are primary attachment figures. This is a new concept, as it has long been thought that a child can only have one primary attachment figure and that the next closest relation would be a secondary attachment figure. The primary attachment preference is based on the father’s behavior toward the baby, not a biological connection.

There is great value in tandem parenting, not only in the benefit to the child who can rely on both parents and to the mother who can take a break here and there, but also to the father himself. When fathers help with their children, their hormone levels fluctuate, Dr. McKenna said. Their oxytocin levels increase and testerone decreases. It’s an actual change in biochemistry.

But, especially with the economic pressures of today’s society, many families are unable to afford one parent to stay at home, so does this mean that they can’t AP? It’s harder for dual-income parents, but certainly possible, Parker said. What they need to do is to focus on reconnecting every day once the parent comes home from work. Hanessian recommended reconnection through cosleeping. Dr. Sears mentioned nursing mothers using breast pumps to be able to continue breastfeeding after they return to work.

“My mother was a single mother juggling two jobs, and what I remember about my mother is that she did the best she could in a less-than-ideal situation,” said Dr. Sears, explaining that while it’s best that a parent is able to stay at home with the children, if it can’t happen, the focus of the parent should be on cultivating that connection as much as possible when together with the child. Children can grow up in situations that are hard but be OK because the memories they have are of happiness and togetherness and connection.

Another way for dual-income parents and single parents is by striving for one, consistent caregiver and being careful about caregiver “roulette,” in which the child’s caregiver is frequently changing. It’s extremely important that a child is able to form a strong, long-lasting primary attachment bond with a caregiver, even if not the parent, and this can only happen with one, consistent caregiver relationship in a childcare situation. Without the formation of a primary attachment bond, as in the case of a child who has many different caregivers, that child will be unable to form healthy attachments and maintain relationships.

Although there are some families who truly cannot afford to have one parent stay at home, Dr. Fox said most families, if they made it a priority, could pull the resources together to do this. More and more jobs are allowing parents to work at home, and the Internet allows parents to more easily start an at-home business, or a family financial budget can help parents adjust to the lifestyle that goes with a lower cost of living.

“You are really needed for the first two years of a baby’s life,” Dr. Fox said. “We go out to borrow money for a house or a car; think about saving that money to stay at home with your baby. It’s not that long.”

What is Good Parenting?

The goal of what mainstream culture considers “good” parenting is how to raise children that won’t embarrass the parents. What API strives to do is to support parents in raising children who grow up connected – that is who are emotionally healthy and able to form strong relationships with others, who want to make good decisions based on their own sense of self and values, and who are empathic and compassionate.

So, how do parents go about doing this?

Dr. Fox explained that AP is based on what is known as the Three Ps:

  1. Protection – that the child feels protected and cared for.
  2. Proximity – that the child is physically and emotionally close with the parent.
  3. Predictability – that the parent is consistent in childcare.

“With protection, proximity, and predictability comes a growing sense of trust and a growing sense of the world’s a pretty good place,” said Dr. Fox.

Dr. McKenna said AP is about parents being conscious of the way they are raising their children. “We tend to think of birth as Independence Day,” he said. “Not that it’s not important, but we’ve overdone it.” Parenting cannot stop at childbirth.

The emphasis placed on childbirth in society needs to spread beyond into childhood; the reason being, babies and children are always developing, always learning. For example, the tastebuds don’t form until the last few weeks of pregnancy, which is why a child tends to like the foods his mother ate during the last part of her pregnancy. And apnea-prone babies can lose up to 70% of their apnea spells by being placed next to teddy bears with a breathing motion. “Every sensory modality that baby has is being regulated by the mother [or father],” said Dr. McKenna.

Dr. Sears said AP is about getting to the basics of relationships in a culture that where the basics can easily be lost in technology. “We’re talking about a low-tech style of parenting in a high-tech world,” Dr. Sears said. He told of a woman in saw in his practice who commented that while she couldn’t afford to buy her son everything that other children had, she could afford to give her son herself.

Dr. Sears also said AP is about parents enjoying parenthood. “Revel in it,” he said.

Highlights from Responses  to Audience Questions

Q: Does AP help autistic children?

Nicholson said that in her research, AP was definitely helpful in building connection between an autistic child and his family members .

Dr. Sears said: “If you were to ask me to write a prescription, I’d write ‘Attachment Parenting,’” because autism is a disorder of the brain and Attachment Parenting directly affects the way the brain develops.

Q: How exactly do you form an attachment bond with your child?

Cahill explained that an attachment is established and maintained by the parent meeting the emotional needs of the child. “All the things you’re doing, it creates this parental antennae,” she said and that antennae – or that sense of knowing what your child needs – develops over time.

Q: How can we change the mainstream perspective on cosleeping?

“Never be afraid to say, this is what you do and that you sleep with your baby,” said Dr. McKenna. “We really need to talk, as individuals, about our choices in positive ways.”

Q: How can we deal with the criticism of babies and toddlers not sleeping through the night?

“Here’s the deal: You’re the best sleep expert in your family,” said Dr. McKenna, adding that there are a number of reasons why young children may not be sleeping through the night but the standard that they should be sleeping through the night is unfounded. Every child is different, and comparing one child to another one isn’t effective in evaluating sleep issues.

Q: What does AP look like in an older child?

“If I had to sum up the long-term effect of Attachment Parenting in one word, it would be: empathy – kids who care,” said Dr. Sears. “If I had to sum up the long-term effect of not doing Attachment Parenting: lack of empathy – kids who don’t care.”

Q: Is there an education approach that is more AP than others?

Nicholson, whose children have homeschooled and attended public school and others, said that API does not endorse any particular education option. However, there is an AP way in selection an education option: “Look at each child and see where are their interests and where are they developmentally?” And, if there is only one option and it doesn’t seem to be a good fit for your child, communicate that you share in her frustration and work to problem-solve to make the situation more ideal.

Bonding Begins in Utero…for Fathers, Too

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Fathers bonding in uteroPregnancy is an amazing time of bonding between a mother and her baby, especially during a first pregnancy. There is no way to describe what hearing the heartbeat or feeling a movement for the first time feels like. Watching her belly grow and grow, the months pass by, perhaps an ultrasound or two giving a glimpse into the womb, and then the transformative power of labor and childbirth – pregnancy is an amazing journey for a new mother.

And for a new father, as he watches his unborn child’s mother’s belly grow, places his hand on her belly, and gets to feel a kick here and there. Childbirth is just as transformative for the father. At one moment, the baby is little more than a dream and, the next, the baby is here! Birth is a joyful event, but it can also be confusing for a new father. He doesn’t have the hormonal drive to attach to the new baby like the mother has, and with so much of the mother’s time wrapped up with caring for the baby, the father can feel a little lost in his role at first.

There are a number of ways fathers can connect with the new baby after birth. What works in a lot of families is asking the father to take on a certain baby care task, such as giving baths, supporting the breastfeeding mother, or filling bottles. But, even then, it can take a while for the father to feel a special connection with this new family member who, at first, only seems to take more and more energy and time without giving much in return.

Fathers who concentrate on bonding with their baby in utero may be able to make the adjustment to fatherhood after the baby’s birth a little easier. Here are a few tips for fathers: Continue reading

The 4 Parenting Styles: What Works and What Doesn’t

By Dr. Maryann Rosenthal, co-author of Be A Parent, Not A Pushover, reprinted with permission from DrMA.com

Parenting stylesI believe it’s that overall style or pattern of action — rather than a specific decision — that will most affect a child’s behavior. Generally, psychologists have found that there are two main components of parenting styles.

One is responsiveness, or how much independence you’re willing to grant. The other, for lack of a better word, is demandingness — how much strict obedience you require. How much obedience parents demand, how much freedom they grant, and how these two behaviors mesh go a long way toward defining the parents’ style.

These parenting styles fall into a generally accepted four broad categories. Though different researchers give different names to them, the styles usually are said to be: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Uninvolved.

Authoritarian

Authoritarian parents are very strict and controlling. They have a strong sense of justice and of the need for obedience. They’re big believers in clearly stated rules. If their kids don’t “see the light” (behave as ordered), then those teens will “feel the heat” (be punished). Such parents take a dim view of being challenged. Give-and-take with their children is discouraged.

Thus, these parents are highly demanding but not very responsive. Researchers believe children of authoritarian parents tend to be timid, have lower self-esteem, lack spontaneity, and rely to an unusual degree on the voice of authority.

Authoritative

While retaining authority and control, these parents are warmer and more communicative than Authoritarian parents. Authoritative parents seek a balance between the teens’ desire for independence and the parents’ desire to be listened to. These parents are demanding and responsive. They’re assertive but not intrusive or restrictive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible and self-regulated as well as cooperative.

The best-adjusted children, researchers have found, often have parents with an Authoritative style. Both the Authoritarian and the Authoritative parents have high expectations for their children, but the Authoritative parent encourages more freedom of expression. So the child more likely develops a sense of independence. Such kids tend to develop into more competent adults than children brought up in the other styles.

Permissive

Permissive parents, while often warm and accepting, make few demands on their children. They’re lenient, avoid confrontation, and allow considerable self-regulation. They may worry about thwarting the child’s creativity and sense of self. They’re much more responsive than they are demanding.

Sometimes the Permissive style is based on confusion. The parents are so out of touch with the pre-adolescent and adolescent world that the best they can do is to try to be a pal to their child. So they tend to give their kids what they ask for and hope that they are loved for their accommodating style.

Other Permissive parents want to compensate for what they themselves lacked as children. Perhaps they grew up in poverty and/or had parents who were overly strict. So as a result, seeing themselves as an ally to their child, these parents bend over backwards to give the child both the freedom and the material goods they lacked. Yet other Permissive parents act conditionally. They view the maturing child as a mini-adult and give him or her what he or she wants, provided the child satisfies certain parental demands. Making good grades, for example, may be linked to freedom and material benefits.

Or, at its most lax extreme, permissiveness may take the form of indifference. The parents are just too busy, poor, troubled, or self-involved to exert much control. They may give material goods and freedom in return for the child’s implicit promise not to demand much from the parent.

Uninvolved

The uninvolved parent demands almost nothing and gives almost nothing in return, except near-absolute freedom. This style is low in both demandingness and responsiveness. At its worst, it can verge into neglect.

How would these parenting styles work in practice? For example, a teen wants to go with a bunch of friends on a weekend outing to Mexico where, the parent suspects, wild partying is on the agenda because of younger drinking-age requirements there:

  • An Authoritarian parent might say: “No way! And if I ever catch you going down there without my OK, you’ll be in big trouble.”
  • An Authoritative parent may respond: “No, I don’t want you to go down there right now with your friends. But let’s you and I go down soon, though, and check it out. If it looks OK, maybe you can go later with your buddies.”
  • A Permissive parent would say: “Sure, go and have fun, but be careful.”
  • An Uninvolved parent may reply: “Whatever.”

Parenting style has been found to predict child well-being in a number of areas, including social skills, academic performance, and the degree of problem behavior. The Authoritarian, Permissive, and Uninvolved styles can carry a high cost:

  • Children of Authoritarian parents, for example, may do well in school and not engage in problem behavior, but they tend to have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression. They may grow up to be highly anxious people who don’t realize their full potential because, figuratively speaking, they’re always looking over their shoulder for that overly-demanding parent.
  • The children of Permissive parents may come to feel entitled to privileges and material goods. If the parents try to regain control, the older child probably will perceive that effort to be a power struggle. He or she may fight back in dangerous ways, including sexual rebellion, unsavory associates, or substance abuse. Thus, they’re more likely to be involved in problem behavior and perform less well in school, though they have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression than Authoritarian children.
  • And Uninvolved parents, of course, can sow a lifetime of havoc by their indifference or inability to deal with their children.

Authoritative parenting, which balances clear, high parental demands with emotional responsiveness and recognition of the child’s need for autonomy, is one of the most consistent predictors of social competence. Thus, the child of Authoritative parents typically does well in school, develops good social skills, and avoids problem behaviors.

Studies show that the benefits of Authoritative parenting and the disadvantages of Uninvolved parenting are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. A recent study of 1,000 teens, for instance, by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse evaluated a “hands-on” (roughly equivalent to the Authoritarian or Authoritative styles) approach versus a “hands-off ” (akin to the Permissive or Uninvolved styles) approach to parenting and found that teens living with “hands-on” parents are at only 25% of the risk for drug abuse than those living in “hands-off ” households. Similarly, 47% of teens in “hands-on” households reported having an excellent relationship with their fathers and 57% an excellent relationship with their mothers. By contrast, 13% of teens with “hands-off” parents reported an excellent relationship with their fathers and 24% with their mothers.

“Moms and dads should be parents to their children, not pals,” said Joseph Califano Jr., former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, in summing up the study. “Mothers and fathers who are parents rather than pals can greatly reduce the risk of children smoking, drinking, and using drugs.”

Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting International advocates a certain approach to parenting in order to develop close, healthy emotional bonds between the parent and child, and this looks different in different families, but it is ideal for attached families to strive toward the science-backed Authoritative parenting style.

America’s Family Crisis: Parental Depression Putting 15 Million U.S. Children at Risk

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

America's Family CrisisDepression is beyond epidemic proportions, not only in the United States but in many societies around the world. People like to blame more recent economic downturns, but these high rates of depression have been an ongoing concern for many years from before the stock markets took a dive.

If depression was the H1N1 Influenza virus (a.k.a. swine flu), no one would venture to the streets or grocery store without a face mask for fear of transmission, schools and businesses would be closed indefinitely, and medical clinics and hospital emergency rooms would be packed with people clamoring for screening and treatment.

But depression isn’t contagious like the flu – although it certainly is more debilitating and has just as much potential to kill. It doesn’t spread by sneezing and coughing, but it is still “contagious” in that people living with a depressed significant attachment figure, whether adult-adult or parent-child, are more likely to develop depression themselves and all that comes with this illness – the hopelessness, the sorrow or anger depending on the person’s response, the suicidal thoughts and possible attempts.

Depression is pervasive in the United States, and it is devastating to families – to marital relationships and to children’s development. We know through attachment research and neuroscience that the way we are parented not only affects the behavior we use in reaction to stressful events but also changes the way our brains work and our genes express brain chemistry reactions to stress. This means that if we are parented in such a way that consistently teaches us to react poorly to stress and conditions our brain to release stress chemicals at high rates, we are literally creating a child who will grow up into an adult who is prone to depression and all that comes with it.

Our families are in crisis.

New Report Brings to Light the Impact of Parental Depression

A new report, Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children: Opportunities to Improve Identification, Treatment, and Prevention, was released by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies last week at a public briefing in Washington, D.C. Attachment Parenting International attended via webcast.

The National Academies consist of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. They are private, nonprofit institutes that provide science, technology, and health policy advice to the United States under a congressional charter.

Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children explores the interaction of depressed parents and their parenting practices, and the impact on children. It also proposes strategies to promote more effective interventions, as well as recommendations for improving the quality of care for depressed parents and their children. The study was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The California Endowment, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Report committee members who attended the briefing included: Chair Mary Jane England, MD, president of Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts; William Beardslee, MD, professor of child psychiatry at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts; Mareasa Isaacs, PhD, executive director of the National Alliance of Multi-Ethnic Behavioral Health Associations in Bethesda, Maryland; and Frank Putnam, MD, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Prevalence of Depression

The briefing opened with an overview of depression in the United States, presented by Isaacs. The exact number of people affected with depression is difficult to pinpoint, but it’s estimated that only one-third of adults with the illness actually receive treatment. In some sample communities, as many as 70% of people with depression go without treatment. Although depression treatment is very effective, there are a number of factors preventing people from seeking help: the stigma of mental illness, lack of transportation, inability to afford services and medication, language and cultural barriers, and lack of providers or at least those with training in identifying and treating depression.

Despite not knowing the full extent of depression, there are several tendencies that Isaacs pointed out:

  • Women have double the rate of depression as men.
  • Caregivers are more likely to have depression.
  • Depression typically first shows in adolescence or young adulthood.
  • Those living in poverty are more likely to have depression.
  • Depression is more common among adults who are separated or divorced than those who are married.
  • Depression rarely appears alone – 75% of people who suffer from depression also suffer from traumatic histories such as sexual abuse or exposure to early childhood violence, substance abuse, a medical condition, or another mental health disorder especially anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The development of depression rests in a combination of genetic susceptibility, environmental factors, and individual vulnerability. Depression is as much the result of other issues in a person’s life, as it is the indicator that there are additional problems.
  • The majority of adults suffering from depression are parents.

The Impact of Parental Depression

It is this last point – that the majority of adults suffering from depression are parents – that is the take-home message. It is estimated that in the United States alone, one in five parents are affected by depression each year, or approximately 7.5 million. Here’s the kicker: 15.6 million children under age 18 live in these households where at least one parent is depressed, Isaacs said. Depending on the age of the child, they can be as much as 40% more likely to develop depression themselves with just one depressed parent in the home, said Putnam said – let alone both parents. “Mothers and fathers are often depressed together,” Beardslee added.

Remember what we know about attachment and how this affects the development of our children. For more than 15 million children in the United States, either their primary attachment figure or a strong secondary attachment figure is depressed and modeling all that comes with it.

“Depression is primarily a family issue,” Isaacs said. “It affects not only the individual but also children and other members of the family. It affects parenting.”

While the majority of research in parental depression has included mothers only, the few studies that have been conducted on fathers shows that the impact of children living with a depressed secondary attachment figure is just as devastating as living in a home with only the primary attachment figure suffering from depression, she said.

“Many people don’t get treatment, and those who do, don’t for years,” said Beardslee. “This makes a great impact on the family.”

Depressed parents tend to raise their children in an emotionally detached, withdrawn parenting style that affects the development of attachment, Putnam said. People with depression use fewer positive parenting approaches and more intrusive handling of children, and the end result is a child who is himself withdrawn.

“Depression causes terrible suffering,” in both parents and children, Beardslee said. Depression effectively destroys the attachment between a parent and child. The inconsistencies in parenting by depressed parents leads to a break in trust between the child and his parent. Long-standing depression causes neglect and often abuse. While depression symptoms manifest themselves differently in each person, women tend to be sad and withdrawn while men tend to be irritable and acting out.

Beardslee told of one mother who described what depression does to her parenting: When she isn’t depressed, she has very positive, emotionally close, and healthy interactions with her 12-year-old son, and when he comes home from school, they go through a routine of talking with, playing, and otherwise spending time with one another. But, when she is depressed, all that positive parenting disappears – she puts her son in front of the television and ignores the routine and his emotional and physical needs.

This break in routine, which is so important especially for older children, greatly affects the mental health of the child, Beardslee said. He feels inadequate, as though he is to be blamed for his mother’s withdrawal. Her depression affects his self esteem and models her poor responses to stress – significantly increasing the risk that he will eventually develop depression himself and unhealthy coping mechanisms expressed through social, behavioral, and other mental problems. He will feel the effects of chronic parental depression long after his mother’s depression is treated.

Not every parent with depression will inadvertently or deliberately cause harm to their children, but parental depression increases the risks for spillover consequences during critical periods of child and adolescent development.

“We’re very concerned about the impact on children,” Putnam said. While there is only a 2-4% risk of a small child developing depression when there is a depressed parent in the home, this risk jumps up to 20-40% in adolescents. “What also comes with this is the risk of substance abuse,” which is predominant among depressed individuals, Putnam added.

“To break the vicious circle of depression, we need to refocus our view of this illness through a broader lens that sees the whole family, not just the individual with depression,” England said. Beardslee added: “We need to think about people who are depressed as parents first, and individuals with depression second.”

This goes beyond postpartum maternal and infant depression – the screening and treatment of which is becoming increasingly more commonplace in the medical care community: “The first few years of life are crucial, but we need to look more into the long term,” Beardslee said.

The Report Committee’s Recommended Solution

Currently, most screening and treatment of depression happens in primary medical care settings, Beardslee said. However, because depression is more typical in families living in poverty and perhaps without the means to see a doctor, there must be more avenues for depressed parents to find help. Because depressed parents are often withdrawn and difficult to engage, more types of service providers outside the mental health system need to be trained to spot the symptoms of depression and to direct those who need help to accessible entries into the health care system.

Once parents seek treatment, the mental health care system must change the way it treats this illness. Because of the impact on children, interventions should adopt a two-generational approach – parent and child – to effectively treat depression in families, Beardslee said.

Putnam listed these critical components to an effective model of family-centered treatment for depression:

  • Integrative – meaning that all factors contributing toward the depression must be identified, whether this includes poverty, marital issues, health problems, etc.
  • Comprehensive – meaning that all co-occurring conditions must be identified and addressed, such as substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
  • Multi-generational – which encompasses screening and treatment for both parents and children by one mental health care provider rather than by separate providers who often don’t know the full extent of depression on the family members.
  • Preventive – which includes teaching parents positive parenting skills and skills to cope better with stress.
  • Developmentally appropriate – any treatment should appropriate to the particular age group of the children involved.
  • Accessible – screening should be available through programs frequently used by at-risk families such as home visitation, Headstart and other school-based programs, federal nutrition programs, etc., and those parents who are identified as depressed should then be assisted in navigating the mental health system to receive treatment. In addition, the financial barriers of at-risk families must be addressed – many may not have insurance or income, and those who are able to afford services may have difficulty paying for services for more than one person in the family. Also, the mental health system must look into ways of delivering services in nontraditional settings to be able to reach at-risk families, including schools, prisons, community programs, and even homes.
  • Culturally sensitive – which includes techniques to overcome language barriers, stigmas, etc.

“There are a number of exciting initiatives with parts of these features, but no program yet has all of these features,” Putnam said. As it is now, “parents with depression are like orphans” in the mental health system, he added.

To jump-start this model, Putnam suggested the mental health system focus first on implementing a two-generational, more comprehensive focus. More health care providers need to receive training specifically in multi-generational depression. Practices should look into ways that would reduce the financial impact on at-risk families such as charging on a sliding scale, combining children and parent charges into one office visit instead of two, and negotiating with insurance companies to provide same-day reimbursements on medical care services. Once programs are in place that effectively treat family depression, they should be included in training models for other providers.

In addition, more research dollars need to be allocated toward studies that look at the impact of parental depression on children as well as the differences between the impact of depression in fathers and mothers, Putnam said.

The report committee said this report represents a call for urgency from the U.S. Surgeon General and the various mental health organizations and agencies – a major mental health concern that needs to have a working plan in place in the next six to eight months.

What is API Doing?

API actively helps parents who are prone to depression or are depressed by teaching parenting skills and providing resources to help parents develop better ways of coping with stress and strong emotions. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, who reviewed the numerous studies on the subject, there is a link between social support and wellness. Support networks are vital not only in preventing depression but also in its treatment. Local API Support Groups provide parents with a way to develop a solid support system that can follow them through their child’s many developmental stages and the challenges that come with them.

And if parents do fall into depression, API Leaders can help direct parents to the treatment they need as well as continue providing support through the local group or personal consultations, free of charge.

Discuss this topic with other API members and parents. Get advice for your parenting challenges, and share your tips with others on the API Forum.

What Attachment Parenting Does for Your Child’s Future

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Attachment as adults

Especially if you’re new to Attachment Parenting, you may be wondering what does parenting have to do with your adult relationships. Quite a lot, if you understand the impact of healthy and unhealthy parent-child attachments on the child. In fact, you could say it has to do with everything about our adult relationships.

The attachment bond you had with your primary caregiver – most likely your mother – is your model for how a relationship should work for the rest of your life. For some of us, that attachment bond was loving and nurturing and we find our adult relationships relatively easy. For many of us, we may have some difficulties in our adult relationships, mainly in trust issues, indicating that there were inconsistencies in the response by our primary caregiver when we were younger. And for some of us, our childhood homes were downright neglectful and abusive and our natural tendency in our adult relationships is not to have a relationship at all.

Because humans are social beings, having close relationships is an essence of life. Without working relationships, we are at risk for depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other unhealthy and risky behaviors that we use to fill a void in our lives left by the needs left unmet in our first loving relationship – that with our parents. The success of this first attachment bond in our lives is what shapes the way our brain works, influencing the way we cope to stress, how we see ourselves, our expectations of others, and our ability to maintain healthy relationships all through our lives. Continue reading