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.

“Giving the Love that Heals,” an interview with attachment therapist Harville Hendrix

Happy Valentine's DayDear Readers,

Click here to download your free gift from API.

As promised in the Winter 2008-09 Healing Childhood Wounds issue of The Journal of API — as a followup to the article “The 11th Commandment” — this free audio download is the full version of API Co-founder Barbara Nicholson’s interview with Imago Relationship Therapy Founder Harville Hendrix.

The author of Giving the Love that Heals, Harville’s words are inspiring and motivating — a true reminder that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. You do not want to miss this interview!

Happy Valentine’s Day from API…

~ Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family publications

(If you have trouble downloading the file, contact me at

Family Bonding Begins Before Birth for Unmarried Couples

From API’s Communications Team

FamilyA University of Maryland study shows that, more than marriage, involving the father during the prenatal period leads to a stable family life.

The Fragile Families Child Well Being Study, published in the December 2008 Journal of Marriage and Family, found that fathers involved during pregnancy were significantly more likely to remain involved in raising their child at age three.

The study shows that an emotional investment in fatherhood is, not surprisingly, more important than getting married without a sense of real commitment.

To read the entire article go to

Economic Recession is Reshaping Families

From API’s Publications Team

Dad and babyAccording to an article on, “Unemployed Dads Work to Find Their Place at Home,” the economic recession-spurred unemployment rate — expected to hit double digits in the United States — could be accelerating a shift in the breadwinner/stay-at-home roles of the family.

More and more fathers, who are traditionally seen as the family breadwinner, are finding themselves out of a job and in the role of stay-at-home parent. It’s a role that many fathers seem interested in trying out, but there is a societal pressure — an expectation, built over generations, that for a man to be a man, he must provide for his family financially.

And while many mothers feel OK about trying out the stay-at-home dad role in their home, the change is creating stress for many couples. Mothers going back to work at first feel relief and then resentful of their husbands’ unemployment. Fathers staying at home at first feel excited and then emasculated. And this doesn’t include the stress of financial strain and that stay-at-home dads just do things differently than moms.

To make new roles work — which may be a necessity in today’s job environment — parents need to focus on flexibility and communication, and let go of expectations and traditions.

“Instead of having roles, let’s talk about what it takes to make the family work,” said Pepper Schwartz, a relationship expert and sociology professor at the University of Washington.

To read the entire article, go to

The Right Stuff: How AP Changed One Father’s Priorities

By Greg Stone

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

Greg and Sophia
Greg and Sophia

How nice it would be if we didn’t need jobs! Every morning we would wake up saying, “What should we do today? Let’s go have some fun!” But alas, for most of us jobs are a reality if we want to keep a roof over our heads and our bellies full. So we must make the best of it.

I’m an airline pilot, and I consider myself very lucky. Everyone has heard the fascinating stories about pilots who only work four days a month, only fly to exotic destinations, and spend their downtime vacationing at their ski lodges in Aspen. I can assure you that those tales are a stretch.

But being a pilot is, for the most part, a fun career. I have more time off than a normal nine-to-five job offers. I’m fortunate to occasionally travel to some exciting places, and there are times when I can take one week of vacation time and juggle my schedule to turn it into three weeks off. My family and I are able to travel every once in a while, and we do it at very reduced ticket prices. But it’s not all roses. Continue reading The Right Stuff: How AP Changed One Father’s Priorities

The Secondary Attachment: A Look at Bowlby’s Theory

By Sir Richard Bowlby, Bt, member of API’s Advisory Council

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

Father and BabyI remember my father saying to me in 1968, “You know this business about the instinct for a small child to stay close to its mother, and the intimate bond they form? Well, I believe that it’s the same instinct to form close bonds that stays with us all our lives, and we, as adults, suffer the same feelings of loss when a loved one dies, as a child feels who’s lost its mother.”

My father focused mostly on the primary attachment relationship between an infant and the person raising him because the limited data he had at the time pointed toward its greater significance to the long-term mental health outcome of the child than to any other relationship.

But what about other relationships? For instance, what’s the difference between adults who are close friends and adults who have a secondary attachment bond to each other, such as siblings or close relatives? There are several differences, but one is that friends usually share a particular activity or interest that maintains their friendship (work or pleasure), whereas simply being in the company of a secondary attachment figure is usually sufficient in itself for both people to feel content. Continue reading The Secondary Attachment: A Look at Bowlby’s Theory

Living Proof: An Older Father Grows Up

By Dennis Lockard

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

Jack and Dennis
Jack and Dennis

Several months before the birth of our son Jack, my wife Liz started talking about using a sling instead of a stroller, nursing until he was ready to stop (as long as it takes – even three to four years!), and having the baby sleep in our bed. She went on to list a few other parenting ideas, including giving away a perfectly good Pack ‘n Play that we had somehow acquired.

At first, I thought she had lost her mind, but I later learned that among other ideas that she referred to as “natural living,” she was relating the principles of Attachment Parenting (AP), a completely foreign concept to me.

So, not only was I going to be a first-time father at 46 (which was going to be hard enough), but I also had to think about many parenting practices that were counter-intuitive to me. Continue reading Living Proof: An Older Father Grows Up

Small Blessings: A Father Recalls His Preemie Daughter’s Birth

By Mike Brhel

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

Mike and Rachel
Mike and Rachel

My wife and I had always wanted a family. We had tried for a child during the first few years of our marriage, but nothing ever happened. We decided to leave it up to God; He would give us a child when the time was right. That time came in December of 2005, confirmed by those two distinct lines.

I was thrilled to become a father and could hardly contain my excitement. This made it extremely difficult to wait to tell friends and family the good news until we were sure that the pregnancy would go to term. After a slight scare in the first trimester, everything was going as expected.

On the morning of June 6, everything changed. Continue reading Small Blessings: A Father Recalls His Preemie Daughter’s Birth

Seasons of Change: Helping a Child When Work Takes a Parent Away

By Pam Stone, co-leader of API of Merrimack Valley, New Hampshire

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

Pam and Sophia
Pam and Sophia

Our week begins when I first utter the phrase, “Daddy’s coming home this sleep!” to our three-year-old daughter Sophia. Our “weeks” vary in length. Sometimes, they are as short as four days. Other times they are as long as ten days. This variation creates challenges for developing a true “routine,” but each week flows through four “seasons.”

Spring: The Anticipation of Daddy Coming

The family dynamic instantly changes as we smell the first hints of the week’s spring air. I repeat the phrase “Daddy’s coming home this sleep!” often over the next 24 hours, and we play a fun game of words where she’ll ask slyly, “When is Daddy coming home?” just so that I must say it again and we can sing and dance and run happily around the room. She asks me to call him on the phone, and if I can catch him between flights she’ll ask him, “Daddy, when are you coming home?” and then giggle wildly when he says “This sleep!”

It’s hard to settle for bed this night knowing the excitement the next day will bring, and we don’t get nearly enough sleep. If his flight doesn’t arrive until the afternoon, the morning is a difficult struggle to understand why we can’t leave “RIGHT NOW!” and we often leave several hours early for the airport, running every errand I can conjure “on the way.” Continue reading Seasons of Change: Helping a Child When Work Takes a Parent Away

Is Primary Attachment Better than Secondary Attachment?

From API’s Publications Team

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

FatherThe term “secondary attachment” can be interpreted erroneously to mean “less important,” but Attachment Parenting International refutes this definition.

Primary vs. Secondary

According to the API Research Group, the term “secondary attachment” is used to describe those outside the primary figure with whom a person has formed an attachment. This differentiates them from others who are close friends but with whom there is no attachment bond.

The primary attachment bond is formed with the person most involved in rapidly responding to a baby’s cries and who initiates social play during the first seven months of his life. Regular rituals, especially those associated with nighttime parenting, also seem important when establishing the primary attachment bonds. Continue reading Is Primary Attachment Better than Secondary Attachment?

The Changing Role of the New Father

By Nancy Da Silva

Years ago, a new father had little to do with parenting. The traditional view has him in the waiting room, passing out cigars, and then going off to work to earn money to keep a roof over his new baby’s head and provide the infant with food and diapers. That was the extent of his parenting contribution.

Infant care was left to the mother, the primary caregiver. She was the one who took charge of the feedings, changing the diapers, and suffering through the sleepless nights. As the result, the mother had an advantage in the baby-bonding process.

Times have changed. For the most part, society has evolved its picture of the father’s role. New research comes out regularly explaining the importance of fathers taking an active role in raising and nurturing the new baby, right alongside the mother.

Baby Knows Dad’s Voice, Too

The British documentary series “The Human Mind” suggests that a newborn’s brainwaves respond differently to his mother’s voices versus his father’s voice. This, in turn, leads to different responses by the infant to each caregiver. For example, a crying infant will often be comforted more easily in his mother’s arms than in his father’s, leading some experts to believe that, for the most part, the maternal bond is instinctual.

But others, who challenge those findings, assure new dads that bonding is actually a process that can be developed over time.

The Father-Infant Bond can be Just as Strong as the Mother-Infant Bond

Sonia, a 26-year-old mother of one from Toronto, Canada, explained: “I think the first moment that it actually hit [the father] that this was his little baby was when the nurse pulled her from me, wiped her off, and plopped her into his arms. The expression on his face just changed completely, and I could just see that adoration as he watched her. It’s so hard to describe, but in that instant, something happened. She grew in my body and came out of my body, so I always knew she was a part of me, but I think that when he was able to feel her in his arms for the first time, he knew she was a part of him, too.”

If we were to switch the primary care roles where the father is the one who feeds the baby, plays with him, and shows him affection, the bond between them would strengthen to the point where the mother would have the less intense parent-child bond.

The Long-Term Benefits of a Strong Father-Infant Bond

Babies, whose fathers take an active interest in their development, score higher on mental development tests and are shown to handle stressful situations later in life much better than if the father leaves the bonding and care to the mother. Researchers even suggest that a strong fatherly bond leads to higher academic excellence and improved social skills and self esteem.

“In terms of soothing [the baby] when she’s in pain, [the father] would get so frustrated when she preferred me over him that he began to feel inadequate and just stopped trying, because he didn’t see a point,” Sonia said. “Now, if I’m there, she won’t want him to soothe her. If he had stuck with it, it would be a totally different story.”

Society’s Response to the Changing Father’s Role

How is this father-baby bonding supposed to happen when, in most cases, mothers have the advantage of not only the biological bond but the time afforded new mothers by maternity leave? Some companies now offer paternity leave of up to six weeks for new fathers. While California became the first U.S. state to offer paid leave for fathers in 2004, most of North America is slowly following suit with varying degrees of time and levels of pay offered.

Now what are fathers to do with this extra time they’ve been given?

The Father-Infant Bond Can Begin In Utero

They could take advantage of the prenatal months to start bonding with their child. Mothers have that extra nine months before the baby is born to begin bonding with the child, but expecting fathers can also begin their bonding with the baby at this point, too. Helping the mother-to-be with doctor visits, sharing in her experiences, preparing the baby’s room together, and talking to the baby in the womb are all options that can help the baby become familiar with the father’s voice.

In addition, his willingness to be involved in the pregnancy will make the mother more likely to trust him to take over certain baby care tasks once the infant arrives.

The baby will benefit from getting to know each parent separately, and while it is important that the father take the time to build his own unique relationship with his child, it’s only when parents work together, respectful of those separate necessary bonds, that the child can truly grow into a strong, loving, and well-adjusted human being.

“She grew in my body and came out of my body, so I always knew she was a part of me, but I think that when he was able to feel her in his arms for the first time, he knew she was a part of him, too.” ~ Sonia