Episode 156: Attachment and Natural Parenting with API
GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks about attachment and natural parenting concepts and resources with Attachment Parenting International (API) founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, who also co-authored the upcoming book "Attached at the Heart".
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Hey, everyone. This is Sean Daily with GreenTalk Radio. Welcome to today’s program. We’re going to be talking today about attachment parenting. One of the most fundamental, important and often stressful decisions that we make in our adult lives is regarding parenting, and specifically how to parent. What’s the right way? What’s the wrong way? How will I not screw my children up [laughs] later on?
Questions like this are fundamental and important. The attachment parenting theory revolved around a phrase that was coined first by pediatrician William Sears, which is attachment parenting itself. That’s a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology.
According to that theory, a strong emotional bond with parents during childhood, known as a secure attachment, is a precursor of secure empathic relationships in adulthood. At least that’s how the theory goes. It states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness to another person and feels secure when that person is present.
My guests today to talk about this topic are Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, co-founders of Attachment Parenting International, an education and support organization for parents and professionals.
API, whose website can be found at AttachmentParenting.org helps parents with every aspect of childrearing from preconception through the teen years by providing the latest information and research on parenting practices that strengthen parent-child relationships in families.
API began in 1994 with their principle goal being to heighten global awareness of the profound significance of secure attachment and to help produce and ultimately prevent emotional and physical mistreatment of children, addiction, crime, behavioral disorders, mental illness and other outcomes of early, unhealthy attachment.
They believe that the best way to change society is to empower, support, educate parents to create a loving, connected family environment. First of all Barbara and Lysa, welcome to the program.
Barbara Nicholson: Thank you.
Lysa Parker: Thank you.
Sean Daily: I think the first question that we should start off with is, what exactly is attachment parenting? Barbara, I’m going to direct it to you.
Barbara Nicholson: Attachment parenting is a philosophy of parenting that’s really been around since the [laughs] beginning of time. It’s really about parents listening to their heart, listening to their intuition, and responding to their children in a sensitive way that creates a strong connection based on trust. It’s a loving, patient, empathic type of parenting.
Sean Daily: What is the alternative to attachment parenting? I know that “cry it out” gets a lot of airplay. [laughs]
Barbara Nicholson: Absolutely.
Sean Daily: How do you encompass that?
Barbara Nicholson: That would probably be the antithesis. Being unconnected to your children would be the philosophy of letting them cry for long periods of time, strict scheduling of children, a baby for their feedings, and just anything that would not create a strong connection with your child.
Sean Daily: It sounds like this is really a combination of both more active loving and nurturing versus a more hard-line approach towards parenting. But it also sounds like your talking about more intuitive parenting. Is that correct?
Barbara Nicholson: Absolutely. As I said, we often are confused about our intuition, thinking that we have to read a book or we have to get a scientific study before we can pick up our baby. We’re just saying to parents, if you have a strong feeling of what to do, then 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be the correct response.
Sean Daily: Lysa, I’m going to direct this to you. I’m just curious. Are you aware of any studies that have compared the results for parents out there that are interested in this, either parents-to-be perhaps or parents considering [laughs] being parents-to-be, of the results of attachment-style parenting versus a tough-love style of parenting for lack of a better term?
Lysa Parker: Right. That’s one of the key things that we wanted to make sure we included in our new book, which is coming out January ’09, called Attached at the Heart. That was to include the latest research on what provides children with the optimal development. So when we first started doing our own investigative research about what’s best for children, we learned about attachment theory and discovered that the research has been around for 50 plus years.
We were just appalled that this research was not getting into the hands of parents. It wasn’t getting into the popular parenting books. So we made sure that this information was in our books so that parents would know the truth and would be able to make informed decisions.
Now in terms of specific research on attachment parenting, we don’t have a wealth of studies on that. But we’re hoping through our book and through our organization that we will start inspiring more researchers to pay attention to what attachment parents are doing with their children.
What we have done is we’ve taken the eight principles of attachment parenting we’re calling the Eight Principles of Parenting basically, from preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting, all the way to positive discipline, providing consistent care, and balance in your personal and family life.
Each one of those principles, we even included the research to go along with those, individually we have the research. But as a collective, we don’t have the research for attachment parenting per se. But we do have attachment research, which is a critical key here.
Sean Daily: Now taking us back a little bit to the beginning, tell us about, and I’ll direct this to Lysa, why, when and how did you first start API? What was the seed event or inspiration there for you? And when did that happen?
Lysa Parker: It began, I suppose, when we started having our children. We both have backgrounds in education. We were both Special Ed teachers. We worked with children with learning disabilities and physical handicaps. We thought we had a pretty good education in terms of child development, but then when we had children we realized we didn’t know anything.
Even though we were reading books, and those books were very helpful, we still felt like we needed support. Barbara and I met at a La Leche League meeting. I was living in Nashville. She had just moved to Nashville and was what they call a leader applicant. I was just a new mom with a six-month-old baby and just really stumbling my way along.
We latched onto each other because we had a lot in common, and it was through our experience with La Leche League. For the listeners who may not know what that is, that’s an international organization that provides education and support for breastfeeding mothers.
Also, at each local meeting they’ll have a lending library. We started reading Dr. Sears’ books and started reading about attachment parenting, which was just really starting to get going in the eighties. I really was unsure if this was the right way because it was so different than the way I was raised and what I’d been taught in school.
But we were able to watch, to witness, more experienced moms be so kind and respectful with their children. Their children were, in turn, very kind and respectful and gentle. It really intrigued us. Just having the support of other mothers was immensely helpful to us.
Then I stayed out of work for a while. Then I went back to teaching and was really dismayed by what I was seeing in older children. About that time, there were headlines in the paper almost on a daily basis about increased violence among children against their parents and against other children. It just seemed like the world was going crazy. I was seeing this in my classroom, too.
Barbara and I started talking. I had moved away. I live in north Alabama. I moved away, and she and I started talking. We just felt like we really wanted to do something. We felt like attachment parenting was the answer to so many social ills. What parents really needed was just some education and guidance in how to nurture their children.
This is the most simple, cost-effective way to really help our families, communities, and society at large. We just started with that passion. We read a book called High Risk: Children Without A Conscience by Ken Magid and Carole McKelvey. That was just the impetus that got us going. It was the first time we heard about attachment theory, and we just took it from there.
We just had to form an organization that had parent support groups somewhat similar to La Leche League, and we knew fathers wanted to be involved. We thought we’ll follow the La Leche League model of mother-to-mother support, but invite both parents: mothers and fathers.
So it just took off, and we built a website. People started finding us from all over the world, and it’s just taken off since then. We’re just really thrilled that so many parents find the support they need, which builds their confidence as parents.
Sean Daily: Have a lot of fathers gotten involved in the organization?
Lysa Parker: Yes. At one point we had one group back east. I can’t think of the state, but there were five husband and wife couples who went through the leader accreditation program. In Nashville we have a very active support group, and one of our leaders is a dad.
There are a lot of fathers that go to that group. Barbara, you may have more to speak about that. It’s just heartwarming for us to see how involved dads really want to be and how nurturing they are.
Sean Daily: I know that you have a former guest of this program and a good friend of the show. Derek Markham is a writer for your blog. So I want to make a cross-reference to anybody who’s interested in that perspective, the natural fatherhood perspective, and attachment parenting perspective from the father’s side.
He’s an excellent writer and blogger and writes at the AttachmentParenting.org site under the blog link. You can look there, which is /blog. I wanted to direct a question to Barbara. What are some of the bigger challenges that exist for parents today that are trying to put into practice these principles?
Barbara Nicholson: I’m glad you asked that question because I was going to piggyback onto what Lysa was saying about another book that was a profound influence on us, called For Your Own Good by Dr. Alice Miller. She’s a Swiss psychiatrist who really opened our eyes to societal influence on families.
To change a society, again, really has to come from the grass roots. It really has to be parents being more conscious of the society’s belief, and does that really resonate with what you want to do with your own children? There again, having a support group is absolutely vital to change a culture because our culture tends to be very punitive.
The most common form of punishment is shaming our children or removing them from the family or even spanking and yelling at our children. So when you have that kind of a cultural overlay, it’s a huge challenge.
I know from my own experience as a parent, and Lysa, too, that when our children were very small and we’re coming from that culture, if we didn’t spank them or get rough with them, [laughs] if we were in public or something and didn’t show stern punitive behavior, we felt like everyone was going to think we were a bad parent.
To change that paradigm in your own family takes a lot of courage sometimes, depending on the culture that you’re in.
Sean Daily: I think that’s absolutely true. I have a good friend who’s actually writing a book on this topic. He talks about passing on the pain, and that from an anthropological perspective, we are culturally and genetically hard-wired to pass on all aspects of what was given to us from our parents. That includes good things and bad things.
Some people like to think, “Well, we just pass on the good.” But actually what we do is, and this is his thesis in the book, we’re passing on painful things as well because we’re hard-wired in our lizard brain, or wherever it is in our makeup, to pass on all of that as a preservation of our culture.
Barbara Nicholson: The exciting research from the anthropological point of view is looking at cultures that are more peaceful and more nonviolent in their approach. What I think is affirming to that is, like you’re saying, whatever is modeled is what the children naturally do. But it’s also exciting to see that we’re not necessarily genetically programmed to be violent, that a lot of that is learned behavior.
So really a mixture of nature and nurture is what we’re seeing. That potential there for being nonviolent is just as much of a capacity in human nature as to be violent. When we treat each other with empathy, and we can change the culture and definitely monitor what our children witness.
We could be kind and loving all day long. But if we’re putting them in front of violent videogames or they’re being so desensitized by our culture, it’s a huge challenge for parents.
Sean Daily: Absolutely. I want to talk more about that when we come back. We’re going to take a quick break. Then we’ll be back. My guests are Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. They’re the co-founders of Attachment Parenting International, an education and support organization for parents and professionals. We’ll be right back on GreenTalk Radio. Thanks everybody.
Sean Daily: And we’re back on GreenTalk Radio. We’re talking today on attachment parenting and natural parenting. My guests on that topic are Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. They’re the co-founders of Attachment Parenting International, or API, an education and support organization for parents and professionals.
Barbara and Lysa, we were talking before the break about what really attachment parenting is, how you started the organization, and some of the basic, fundamental principles around attachment parenting.
I wanted to talk a little bit. I’m going to direct this to you, Lysa. In your view, what exact and specific roles does attachment parenting play in the idea of advancing an overall healthier lifestyle for all of us and ultimately preserving our planet, as some people believe that this ultimately leads to?
Lysa Parker: I think the underlying principle is the Golden Rule of treating our children with respect, the way we would want to be treated, to respect them as human beings, and showing them empathy. By showing them empathy, they learn empathy. They learn to be empathic towards others, and that includes our planet. That includes every living creature.
This is a trickle down or trickle up effect of you tend to treat people the way you were treated. We’re hoping generation by generation. We do not only hope, but we believe that this will happen in time, that as we change the cycles of dysfunction within our families that our children will be more empathic than we were. Then their children will be a little more empathic than our children, and so it will go.
When children are treated with respect and compassion, they’re certainly not going to be disrespectful to other living things. We definitely see that as an important part and an important role in improving our planet, not only in a social way but in an environmental way.
Sean Daily: How much of the alternative philosophies do you feel are driven by, for example, this idea of spare the rod and spoil the child? I think a lot of people read those words and they believe in a literal interpretation, or that that’s important because it was written in the Bible, so therefore this needs to be a foundation of parenting.
How much of that do you feel is involved in this with people that are struggling against that in terms of the disciplinary side of this?
Lysa Parker: It’s probably at least half the population if not more. We know from past surveys that clearly 80% or so of parents do use corporal punishment. Not all of that is due to religious reasons. It could be handed down. That’s the way they were parented, as you were talking about earlier. It certainly does have a strong role in people’s belief systems.
But we also see that there’s a large segment of the Christian population that don’t believe in spanking, that believe that it was a misinterpretation of the Bible, and that the rod was actually a symbol for teaching. For instance, they didn’t use a rod to beat the sheep; they used a rod to guide the sheep.
Sean Daily: Interesting.
Lysa Parker: So it’s more of a metaphor for guiding our children. The root word of discipline is disciple. It’s to follow another’s teachings. We want our children to follow our teaching. We do that by being examples. Barbara, you can help me with that quote that Albert Schweitzer said. The three most important things for a parent to do is be a good example.
Barbara Nicholson: Number one is be a good example. Number two is be a good example.
Lysa Parker: And number three is be a good example.
Sean Daily: It’s so true, really. It’s that “do as I say and not as I do” conundrum that exists, where it’s not even really a conundrum. It’s a hypocrisy that we somehow believe that we educate with words and not action. I am personally of the belief that we are hard-wired as human beings to learn by that example more than anything else.
Though the linguistic aspect of teaching and passing on information is certainly important, we’re literally modeling behavior. It’s reasonable to expect that whatever behavior is modeled is going to be carried forward in large degrees. At least that makes sense to me just intuitively.
Barbara, I wanted to ask you a question about the book. I know that you’re covering this topic on the site as well. I know the book is an in-depth look at parenting and also the roots of violence in society. Are there practical tips in there for parents as well as all of that, that you can take away as it were?
Barbara Nicholson: Oh, yes. We’re really proud of that. We feel like it’s a pretty balanced book in the sense that we do have the background. We have the overview. We give the big picture in the first chapter. Then the next eight chapters are the Eight Principles of Parenting. We give parents a background, but also just many, many practical tips and excellent resources.
To really flesh out this topic would have been like an encyclopedia. [laughs] So we wanted parents to look at these eight principles and get the overview. If any one of these was a particular hot button, you feel like, “I think I’ve got the nurturing down for the infant but getting into toddler discipline is a real issue for me.”
Or maybe the parents have issues from their own childhood that they want to look at, and they want a therapeutic approach. So who can I turn to? Who will understand these principles of attachment parenting?
We have wonderful resources, books, websites, and DVDs. We just feel like this is really giving a parent a wonderful tool to use and to even take to their pediatrician. For instance, we talk about how to safely sleep with your baby. This is a big topic with parents now. They have a lot of misinformation and fears about things like SIDS, or will I suffocate my baby if I sleep with my baby?
As breastfeeding counselors, we knew that mothers who scooped their baby up at night and slept safely with their baby really enhanced the breastfeeding relationship. The key is how do you do this safely? How do you create a safe sleep environment? What are things that you need to watch for? And never have a baby in bed with you if these risky behaviors are going on in your family.
So we are really proud of the information that we’re giving parents and the tools we’re giving them to not only read themselves but to share with their medical professionals or their families and friends.
Sean Daily: I’d like to leave listeners with some resources, so I’ll put this out to both of you and you can answer as you wish in order here. Where can people that are out there that are interested, either parents-to-be or current parents, go to learn more information about attachment parenting and API? I know there’s the website AttachmentParenting.org. How about things like finding support groups, books, and things like that? Can you share anything along those lines?
Lysa Parker: All of those things are available on our website. If they want to find a support group in their community, they can go to our website, clink on the link that says Support Groups, and then there’s another link that’s Find a Support Group. You can hopefully find one in your area. If not, they might consider becoming a support group leader, and there’s a link for that. They can check out what it means to be a leader and what the requirements are.
We have books, and we have family law. You’ll get a lot of questions and a lot of emails from parents going through divorce or custody situations, and they don’t want to interrupt the attachment process with their children. How do they do it? That’s a huge thing, but we have a lot of very interesting resources.
As Barbara was saying, too, about safe sleep, we are launching a safe sleep campaign so parents will be able to download a beautifully designed brochure with safe co-sleeping tips on it. Even professionals, such as people who are investigating co-sleeping deaths, and investigative reporters will be able to access a questionnaire so that it will help them in their investigations. We’re trying to be more proactive.
It is a website for parents and professionals. We’re trying to get this message out about the importance of attachment and the principles that we have developed, thanks to the Sears. They started off with the Baby B’s. They are the pioneers in attachment parenting. We have taken those Baby B’s and expanded them to become principles, so we do have a lot of information on our website about that.
Sean Daily: Great. Well, I want to thank both of you for the great work that you’re doing with your organization and the website. I certainly wish you much success with the upcoming book. It’s very important work. It’s a critical topic in my view for humanity in general. Not just about parenting, ultimately I think the world at large. I want to thank you, and thank you, also, for being on the program with us today and sharing all the information.
Barbara Nicholson: Thank you, Sean.
Lysa Parker: Thank you, Sean. It was wonderful. We really appreciate it.
Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember, for more free on-demand podcasts, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions. Send us an email at [email protected]
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