Friday, February 24, 2012

Your Childhood= Your Child's Childhood?

Welcome to February edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month, participants have looked into the topic of “Fostering Healthy Attachment”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!


    "The most natural thing we do is raise our children the way we were raised," explain the founds of API in Attached at the Heart: 8 Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children.  This book and many others that encourage fostering secure attachment with children often discuss the fact that we, as parents, must analyze how we were parented in order to uncover those practices we wish to repeat and those we wish to end.  For this Science Friday post, I explored some of the original studies that led to this advice in order to find out, "How likely are we to have the same attachment relationship with our children as we had/have with our parents?"
(Hopefully!) A securely-attached baby
    First of all, let's look at how these studies were conducted.  Nearly all use the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) as the basis for their research. Developed in the 1980s by Mary Main and her fellow researchers, this interview is a more recent part of the ever-growing field of attachment theory based upon Ainsworth's and Bowlby's original studies on attachment. (For a review- check out this post.)  The AAI asks the interviewee to about his relationship with his parents and for specific memories to support this description.  The interviewee is also asked what about his childhood might have affected his current personality, especially any instances of death, and why his caregivers may have acted they way they did.
     Based upon these interviews, Main and others have uncovered three primary classifications:
  1. Secure-autonomous. Those happy with their childhood experiences who open share their stories.
  2. Insecure-dismissing. These people act as though their early experiences are not important and do not affect their current way of life.  Their rejection of their memories, however, tends to correspond to a rejection of their infants' need to be close to them.
  3. Insecure-pre-occupied. These people are still dealing with issues from their childhood.  They are still trying to win their parents love or approval.  Because they are focused on their own needs, it can be difficult for them to respond to the need of their children.
    After researchers uncovered these classifications, they quickly got to work conducting the Strange Situation with these same interviewees to see if their previous childhood experiences (which some researchers refer to as "representation of attachment") affected their current attachment pattern with their children.  And, the results were a very clear: yes! 
    In the study that I found most interesting (and that I studied during my pregnancy), the AAI was conducted on 100 volunteers over the age of 20 during their last trimester of pregnancy.Volunteers spanned social and racial lines and varied in relationship status to their baby's father. Using these results, the women were classified using one of the above classifications. When their babies were 12 months old, the Strange Situation was conducted.  The correlations between the "maternal representations of attachment" and their baby's attachment pattern were very predictable.  Seventy-five percent of secure-autonomous mothers had securely attached infants, while 73% of dismissing or per-occupied mothers had insecurely attached infants.  Of the 24% of secure-autonomous mothers (14 total mothers in the sample) who had insecurely attached infants, two mothers had experienced the death of a loved one, considered a highly traumatic event, within the infant's first year of life.  It can be assumed that the mothers had not yet been able to handle the emotions associated with these events, giving them feelings similar to those experienced by the insecure-preoccupied classification.
    So, how can you work to be a secure base for your child, no matter your upbringing?  I am certainly not a therapist or psychologist, but I believe that nearly everyone has the ability to foster secure-attachment in their children. First of all, know that you are not alone.  A 2008 study revealed that only 65% of children in the US are considered securely attached.  Given what we now know about the "inter-generational transmission of attachment," this will likely be a difficult statistic to improve.  But, it can be done. Research indicates that is it necessary to acknowledge your early experiences and accept that they have shaped you and will shape how you parent.  If you are really interested and need a place to start, a simple google search will bring up an AAI and even a scoring guide.  Independent reflection through journaling or discussion with your spouse or a friend can also help. Some individuals require the support of therapists or doctors to fully accept and move beyond painful memories in their pasts.  A number of books are available on this topic and can provide more information: Creating the Capacity for Attachment and Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain are two starters.  Additionally, support groups and blogs abound on the topic.
   While it may be natural to raise children how we were raised, if you decide that how you were raised does not support your parenting goals, it is possible to break the cycle of "inter-generational transmission of attachment." 

 Cassidy, J. & Shaver, P.R. (Eds.). (2008).  Handbook of attachment, second edition. NY: Guilford Press.
Crain, W. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications. NY: Prentice Hall.
Nicholson, B. & Parker, L. (2009). Attached at the heart: 8 proven parenting principles for raising connected and compassionate children.  Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Visit Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. I've read about Bowlby before, but never about these experiments - so fascinating, ty for sharing!

  2. Amy, interesting perspective on attachment using research data. I agree with you entirely that being mindful of how we parent and how we wish to parent is the key to raising happy, well-adjusted children, regardless of how we were raised.

    -Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling

  3. What a great collection of material -- I will be sharing this around! I really try to drive home the point in my new book "Parenting for Peace" that becoming more fluent & friendly with our own childhood experience (be it good, bad, or--most common--a hodge-podge of both) is one of the best investments we can make in our children's lifelong well-being, because it translates directly into more healthy, secure attachment... which in turn results in well-mapped brain circuitry, esp. for social intelligence and a robust array of peacemaker capacities: empathy, self-regulation, trust, imagination!

    Marcy Axness, PhD
    author, "Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers"


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