Parents' Call to Arms
Our survival as a human community may depend as
much upon our nurture of love in infancy and childhood as upon
the protection of our society from external threats.
In Defense of Mothering: Every Child's Birthright
Every Child's Birthright: In Defense of Mothering
A mother and father hold their newborn for the ?rst time. As they gaze at his or her little face and body, they are in awe of the miracle of life they have created together. The birth of a baby symbolizes a new beginning, a renewed sense of hope, a sense of life's purpose, and a chance to leave a legacy for family and society. They wonder about the future that will unfold as both they and their baby grow. What kind of parents will they be? What kind of relationship will they have with their child? What kind of adult will their child turn out to be? How do they get there from here?
Parenting is the most important job we will ever have. Yet in our society, it is one for which we are the least prepared and for which we receive the least support. Babies are born without instruction manuals; every baby is unique, and no one book could possibly teach all that you need to know about your particular child. Only your child can teach you about his or her needs and personality.
Unfortunately, today's parents are challenged from all sides by the variety of child-rearing advice now available. Since many new parents rely on the advice they get from others or from reading parenting books, they come to rely less on their own intuitive feelings or understanding of their child. This advice is often con?icting, so it's no wonder that many parents become confused or misdirected. Too often, the most popular parenting advice is based on someone's opinion rather than common sense and sound science. This undermines new parents' con?dence in their own innate knowledge of their children. In some cases, popular advice is harmful to the child as well as to the parent-child relationship.
The Big Picture: How Parenting Affects Society
Parents can't raise children in a vacuum or expect that what they do within the home has no lasting impact. Most of us have experienced the effects of the way we were parented. Ideally, each generation does a little bit better than the generation before. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. As a culture, we seem content to spend billions of dollars trying to ?x problems rather than to prevent them. As you read Chapter 1, it is our hope that you will recognize the endemic disconnect within our society, the root of many of our social ills, and the ways in which you, as a parent, play a role in prevention. We begin by examining the physical and emotional state of children in the United Statesour most precious and vulnerable population.
Violence against and by children is committed in many parts of the world, yet the United States has the largest percentage of violence, mental illness, and incarceration of any modern culture. According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 'The U.S. has less than 5% of the world's population, but over 23% of the world's incarcerated people.' These statistics include the highest rate of incarcerated women in the world.2 Childhelp USA receives more than three million reports of child abuse each year. It is estimated that the actual rate of child abuse is three times this. America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline, a 2007 report from the Children's Defense Fund, states, 'Our 'child and youth problem' is not a child and youth problem; it is a profound adult problem as our children do what they see us adults doing in our personal, professional, and public lives.'3
Parents of delinquent boys use frequent and violent punishment, issue numerous commands, provide little attention, are vague and inconsistent in giving direction, and practice little supervision of peer-group activities outside the home. That is, the parents of delinquents tend to be harsh, authoritarian, and lax in monitoring them, and they do not maintain consistent and high standards.'1
Child and adolescent mental health experts are witnessing ever-rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention de?cit disorders, conduct disorders, suicide, and other serious mental, emotional, behavioral, and even physical health problems in the United States. Since 1995, more than seventeen thousand patients at Kaiser-Permanente Hospitals have participated in a long-term study of the social, emotional, and, more specific, physical effects of childhood trauma: 'Data resulting from their participation continues to be analyzed; it reveals staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.' This groundbreaking study, called ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences, consists of detailed questions related to childhood experiences and trauma. The researchers found that the more adverse experiences a child had, the higher the risk of developing physical and emotional illnesses later in life and the higher the risk for early death.4 According to the National Mental Health Association, six million children currently suffer serious emotional and mental health problems. The diagnosis of bipolar depression has increased 4,000 percent over the last ?ve to seven years, translating into one million children being treated for bipolar disease alone. Something troubling is happening to our children.5
The big question is why? Many experts agree that this crisis is due to children feeling a deep lack of connectedness to their parents and their community. In the Hardwired to Connect report released by the Commission on Children at Risk in 2003, more than thirty researchers, community leaders, and scholars found that this lack of connectedness was of two kinds: 'close connections to people and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.'6 These problems cross all racial, cultural, and economic status barriers. They are not limited to the uneducated or to those living in poverty. They re?ect a more intrinsic kind of povertya poverty of the mind and of the spirit.
This information gives you a small snapshot of the lives of millions of children. While it may seem overwhelming, there is something that each of us can do, and it begins with growing a strong and indissoluble bond with our children.
My mother, a psychotherapist, turned me on to attachment parenting and sent us a Sears bookThe Baby Bookand a note that said, 'I'd have half the patients I have now if everyone was raised with attachment parenting.' And she really believed in it. People in her ?eld talk about it a lot, and the importance of the bond between parent and child, expanding outward to parent and family.
Chris Wink, cocreator of Blue Man Group
Of eighty-six juveniles who were incarcerated for at least one felony, 100 percent had been exposed to signi?cant childhood trauma.7
Hope for the Future
Attached at the Heart is not a typical parenting book. Rather than dictate advice, it calls each of us to look deeper into ourselves and evaluate how we raise our children. It asks that we rethink our perception of children and see the world through their eyes. It sounds the alarm that our children are in trouble and that we, as parents and caregivers, are the only ones in a position to change this spiraling trend. Most of all, it is a book about hope. We can make lasting changes in the world by starting at home and strengthening our loving connections with our children, being more empathetic with them and with ourselves.
Attached at the Heart offers hope that we can actively participate in reversing this dangerous trend, ?rst by awakening our understanding of the emotional and psychological needs of babies and young children. Second, this book offers strategies that de?ne attachment parenting as a way of helping us nurture these needs, to follow our parenting instincts rather than what culture dictates.
When you respond to your children's needs in a sensitive, respectful, and developmentally appropriate way, the parent-child relationshipand the family as a wholeis strengthened. A baby's ?rst lessons of empathy and trust are embedded early on from daily experiences of feeling safe, secure, and protected by his or her parents. Babies need to know that someone will be there for them when they are in need.
Our purpose in writing Attached at the Heart is to inform, support, and empower parents. This book will teach you:
- the importance of being aware of how our own childhood experiences in?uence the way we parent;
- how to become more attuned to your child;
- to feel con?dent that you know your child better than any expert;
- how research supports attachment-parenting practices and the importance of sharing this information with pediatricians and other healthcare providers;
- the importance of making informed decisions about your children without fear of intimidation by others; and how to actively improve your family relationships and communities.
Why Attachment Parenting?
As you read this book, you will learn about those who came before us and pioneered the way for children and families. Numerous scientists and leaders have long believed that the parent-child relationship holds the key to the very survival of humanity; some believe it is the key to world peace. We call the type of parenting these scientists have observed in peaceful cultures around the world attachment parenting.
This style of parenting is designed to stimulate the optimal development of children. It calls for a new consciousness in child rearing and encourages parents to learn to trust their intuitive knowledge of their child in order to build a strong foundation of trust, allowing the child to develop his or her capacities for empathy and compassion for others. Attachment parenting will help you create a strong emotional connection or attachment with your baby, empower you as a parent, and strengthen your family.
Many parents have found that attachment parenting has helped them heal from their own childhood wounds by allowing them to give nurturance to their child that they didn't receive, at the same time educating them about new positive ways of child rearing and communicating. Attachment parenting gives parents permission to fall in love with their baby instead of worrying that they might spoil him or her. When we invest our time in our children's early years, we can take comfort in knowing that strong attachment relationships will positively in?uence the children's future relationships.
The concept of attachment parenting holds tremendous powerin the process of raising our children, we raise ourselves. Gandhi once said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' This sentence can easily be paraphrased to say, 'Become the kind of adult you want your child to be.' Gandhi understood the power of example that we as parents must providethe onus is laid squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. Children will model our behavior before they heed our words.
We want to make it clear, however, that we all are a work in progress, and we do the best we can with what we know and where we are in our parenting journey. Attachment parenting is not a panacea for all problems, but it provides a good start in giving our children the most loving environment possible to achieve their fullest potential. As our children grow, they will make mistakes as part of their process of discovering who they areour job is to maintain the heart connection and be there for them when they need us. It may take a few generations to really see the long-term bene?t of our efforts, especially if there is a family history of dysfunction, depression, or addictions. Genetic in?uences, such as a child's temperament, also play a major role in how he or she experiences the home environment and the powerful forces of the culture.
Each of us has the potential to change the course of our familial inheritance and reveal the hidden potential within ourselves and our children, but we can't and shouldn't do it alone. We are social beings who need to be connected to others; we need an extended family. There is power in parents helping other parents that builds their con?dence and skills. Our goal at Attachment Parenting International (API) is to create a tipping point of change in our society, to transform a world of war and violence into a world of compassion and peace. It can be done, and we hope you will join us.
©2013. Barbara Nicholson, MEd, CEIM and Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE, CEIM. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.