Attachment: Is There Any Such Thing as Too Much?
By Dr. Linda Folden Palmer
Generations of parents following the advice of the experts who cautioned them not to allow their babies to develop strong attachments to them or to expect comfort from them have come to wonder why their teenagers won’t trust and confide in them.
By withholding parental responsiveness and affection, we have grown generations of adults who are unable to trust and who act out to acquire attention. Many lack the foundation, security and trust required to maintain a lasting relationship with a mate.
By not respecting the feelings of our infants, we raise children who do not respect the feelings of their peers, adolescents who do not respect the feelings of their parents and adults who often can’t respect even their own feelings.
One major facet of the advice given to parents was the counsel that “autonomy” or “independence” must be developed in their infants. Infants, however, are not meant to be independent, and humans are not solitary animals. Out of a totally protective, secure, nutritive, life-sustaining and nurturing womb, we are born, helpless and premature, to adults who are tuned by evolution to provide nutrition, protection and social development during our continued growth. As a reward, this relationship forms the foundation for continued nurturing and guidance and eventually creates a loving, self-sustaining adult.
Not responding to infants’ needs has been shown to often reduce their efforts to have their needs met, sometimes resulting in a less-demanding “good baby.” In others, prolonged periods of crying ensue, unheeded, when baby is hungry or alone in the crib. Either way, the mother and baby have successfully avoided becoming “too attached” to each other, as the standard advice recommends, so that separations will be easy. Withdrawn or crying alone, whichever path the infant takes, she may appear to be more independent, but ultimately the sad fact is that she is merely very much on her own.
The risks of detachment
Countless investigations have revealed the behavioral consequences of these methods: a high risk for behavioral disorders in growing children as well as in the adults they will become. School-aged children may be more outwardly aggressive and less in control of themselves, or sometimes they are quite withdrawn. Parents often have little control over their detached and now very independent teenagers, and these teens often demonstrate a wide variety of antisocial behaviors. Anxiety disorders, depression, intimacy issues and an inability to form stable, lasting bonds are also prominent in adults from insecurely attached beginnings.
To put this issue more simply, when infants’ feelings are consistently ignored, they cannot be expected to confide in their caretakers when they become teenagers. When their needs and desires (which are one and the same at this age) are consistently unmet early on, the resulting teenagers cannot be expected to trust that their parents are the ones to turn to. Furthermore, fear may appear to work well as a behavior control for young children, but this tactic runs out of steam for young adults. Only strong bonding and deeply embedded respect and trust will positively influence behavior at this stage of life and beyond.
Excerpted from Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer.
© Copyright 2002 Dr. Linda Folden Palmer, All rights reserved
Dr. Linda Folden Palmer is an author and consultant on healthy parenting See more about Linda.
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