Love and Attachment – All You Need is Love
By Ronnie Biemans, Dec 16 2016 05:26PM
“There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown, nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy. All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.” - Lyrics from All You Need is Love by The Beatles
The Love Dance
In 1967, the Beatles wrote these catchy, compelling lyrics. They were not speaking of romantic love but of a far greater truth. The most profound love experience many of us will ever have is the love we have for our children.
Those of you who are experienced parents undoubtedly remember the love dance. That little bouncing, dancing, or rocking motion that you do with a young infant to keep them content. You see it everywhere: in grocery stores, restaurants, airports, and private homes. Wherever there are babies, there is the dance. How wonderful that so many of us figure this out with little if any coaching. The motion is instinctive. What we don’t know instinctively, our babies teach us by giving us signals: calming down, cooing, smiling or sleeping. Aaaaah. There is nothing more satisfying to a parent then to have their baby positively respond to our touch. This mutual learning process, this circular dance of attuned communication, is the foundation for attachment.
My husband and I discovered the “cuddle connection” with our first-born without having ever read a book on attachment or attachment parenting. Although I read all the baby books popular at the time and as a mental health professional knew the basics of child development, much of what we did was instinctive and in the moment. We were nervous with our newborn as are most first-time parents. What a tremendous responsibility we had to take care of this little person. Listening to every little cough and hiccup, fearful that he would stop breathing. His life seemed so delicate and precious. He was a low-birth weight baby, weighing in at only 4 pounds 9 ounces when we took him home from the hospital. In our bedroom we set him up in a small, cozy wooden cradle right next to our bed for his first 4 months. In time, as I became a bit crazed from sleep deprivation, I became more confident about simply bringing him in to bed with me while I nursed him. I was relieved to know he was less likely to fall out of my lap if I nodded off. So despite some lingering fears that I would somehow suffocate him in the middle of the night, we and he survived. We were practicing co-sleeping without knowing it. Then when I returned to work, I cuddled and nursed him before work and after work and all day as needed on the weekends. We cuddled, sang and rocked him to sleep, not putting him down until he was asleep in our arms. Later we introduced bath time and bedtime rituals that included singing, and reading oftentimes, one parent ended up asleep in his bed as we were so exhausted. Apparently, many of the practices recommended by experts such as William Sears the attachment parenting guru; occur by instinct, happenstance, or sheer luck. A part of parenting is intuitive and involves a unique dance between parent and child. Sears advocates certain practices such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing to optimally support the parent–child relationship and assure an emotionally healthy child. However, if you read his writings carefully, he is not rigid or rabid in his beliefs and always leaves the door open to adjust for what the best fit is for both the parent and the child. Do what you can the best that you can. Nearly all infants become attached.
Attachment is an emotional bond to another person that involves a desire for regular contact with that person and the experience of distress during separation from that person. In the 1950’s and 60’s British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, the first attachment theorist, described attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." He believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. His work suggested that attachment serves to keep the infant close to the mother, a key factor in ensuring a child's chances of survival. Bowlby’s work evolved, and he eventually partnered with American-Canadian developmental psychologist and researcher Mary Ainsworth, best known for conducting the classic “strange situation” studies that defined secure (and insecure) attachment. Bowlby’s beliefs were later supported by further attachment research as well as neuroscience.
The central theme of attachment theory is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant's needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to explore the world. We have come to understand through observation and research that a child forms a secure attachment to his primary caregiver through sensitive, responsive, consistent caregiving. In his book The Developing Mind, Daniel Siegel, renowned child psychiatrist, describes attachment as, “an inborn system in the brain that evolves in ways that influence and organize motivational, emotional, and memory processes with respect to significant caregiving figures. The attachment system motivates an infant to seek proximity to parents (and other primary caregivers) and to establish communication with them.” While this description is not poetic, it is this science that has substantiated the innate drive that babies and parents feel to bond. Attachment is essential to survival. It is powerful, driven by both biological and emotional processes. Researchers in early childhood attachment and more recently in interpersonal biology and brain science have uncovered processes in attachment that are essential to brain development and in forming the foundation for relationships through the life span. These early interpersonal relationships directly affect the development of the brain.
Special Needs Children – Creative Connection
For special needs babies, the love dance and cuddle connection alone may not be the best or only approaches. Yet many parents can and do find unique ways to recognize and meet the needs of their special needs children by doing the mutual dance of resonance and recognition. Love is at the core of it all and tuning in to your child as well as paying attention to their signals. The co-regulation process may require more perseverance and creativity as well as support from medical, educational, and developmental experts and therapists.
In the last few final paragraphs of his book The Boy in the Moon, Ian Brown eloquently describes the essence of parental loving attachment that is big, primal, and deeply binding. All parents know it. Ian Brown is a journalist and the father of Walker, who was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder that resulted in global developmental delays. Walker cannot speak, eat solid food, toilet himself, or get around on his own. Brown has learned to read his son’s sometimes perplexing communications and needs by sheer force of will and loving dedication. For the first time, Walker has a seizure. Brown describes the knowledge and bond forged by a parenting journey the likes of which many of us could not imagine. “I knew what to do. I knew to cradle his wan body in my strong body, wait with him while the shuddering passed, be there when his twitchy eyes found me again. Two minutes went by. It was unlike any other thing. A random and uncontrolled firing of neurons: that is the medical explanation of a seizure. But it wasn’t that which filled my mind. I held him in my arms as quietly as I could, and I thought: this is what it would be like if he dies. It will be like this. There was nothing much to do. I didn’t fear it. I was already as close as I could be to him; there was no space between my son and me, no gap or air, no expectation or disappointment, no failure or success: only what he was, a swooned boy, my silent sometimes laughing companion, and my son. I knew I loved him, and I knew he knew it. I held that sweetness in my arms and waited for whatever was going to happen next. We did that together.”
Parenting from the Inside Out
How do our own childhood experiences affect the way we parent and form a loving relationship with our children? Are we doomed to repeat our parent’s mistakes? If we can act with some degree of awareness in our actions as parents, our choices in taking care of ourselves need not be at the expense of our baby’s well-being. If we pay attention to our emotional responses to our baby’s needs and demands we will likely learn a lot about ourselves. Sometimes what arises has to do with our own childhood experiences, sometimes it has more to do with our self-perceptions, and sometimes we simply need to take steps to take care of our own needs for sleep or food in order to be able to parent effectively and lovingly. We may feel we are failures because our efforts do not calm our howling baby and judge ourselves harshly. At other times we may be sleep deprived and irritable. Perhaps our baby is colicky and we take it personally, as if this baby won’t calm down just to spite us or to wield a power of some sort. In their book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn offer the following thoughts for parents: “In the end you have to do what feels right to you. Something may be “good” for your child in theory but if you are feeling conflicted how “good” can it be? It’s important for both parents to keep asking themselves and each other what is in their child’s best interest and work together to find solutions to problems that come up. Sharing insights, examining emotionally charged reactions, trying to see things from the child’s point of view, and each other’s point of view, are all useful.”
Thoughts and Suggestions
For New Parents
• Allow time for discover. Try to imagine the world from your baby/child’s perspective. Imagine how you are perceived by your child.
• Explore your own emotional responses to your baby. Be open to discovering the source of your emotions. Seek the help of a professional if the emotions are overwhelming.
• Be mindful of your expectations for your child. How are they influenced by your own childhood experiences?
• Believe in your ability to learn about your baby and yourself. You will find your own way. Have faith in yourself while being open to what you may read in books or hear from other parents.
• Ask for help when you need it.
• Seek out friends, family, caregivers, and non-judgmental role models to support you as you raise your child.
• Take in the joy when it arises.
For Family and Friends of New Parents
• Listen and offer support.
• Offer practical support. Bring by a meal. Offer to look after the baby while mama takes a shower. Offer to do laundry or bring in some groceries.
• Offer advice when asked and zip your lips the rest of the time.
• Share in the joy.
• Avoid judging the new parents early attempts at caregiving.
Sources and Resources:
Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed.
The Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
From Neurons to Neighborhoods National Research Council Institute of Medicine
The Baby Book by William Sears MD, Martha Sears RN, Robert Sears, MD, and James Sears, MD
The Boy in the Moon (A Father’s Journey to Understand his Extraordinary Son) by Ian Brown
About the Author:
Informed by over 25 years of professional training and work experience as well as her many years of meditation and yoga practice, Ronnie Biemans, M.A., L.C.P.C., is guided by a core philosophy to focus on strengths, not deficits or pathology. By discovering, restoring and optimizing each person’s unique ability to thrive and meet the demands, of today’s fast-paced, stressful world, those who have encountered physical and emotional health challenges can discover ways to improve their lives and well being. Operating from her home office and in other community settings, Ronnie provides guidance and support to individuals, families and groups seeking to live healthy, balanced lives.