A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood
Print Friendly and PDF

You've probably seen this interaction play out in your home many times: You're playing with your baby (about a year old) on the floor and then realize you need to get up and do something in another room. You leave the room briefly and your baby starts to cry—she's missing you.

You may be slightly surprised (or maybe a bit annoyed) that they're so dependent on you. You hurry back to them and all is well within their world once again.

This simple interaction may seem inconsequential to us today, but 50 years ago researchers used a similar scenario (in a lab) to develop what at the time was considered a somewhat revolutionary psychological idea—attachment theory. Attachment theory forever changed how we understand the parent-child relationship.

What founders John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth came to understand that previous behavioral psychologists had not, was that attachment is developed in the context of a responsive relationship, not just through feeding.

Previously, psychologists had thought that as long as a baby's physical needs were met, they would thrive. After seeing the damaging emotional effects of children being separated during hospitalizations and war, Bowlby and Ainsworth began to more closely examine how the psychological bond develops between babies and caregivers in the early years of life.

FEATURED VIDEO

At its essence, attachment theory focuses on the emotional bond between caregiver and baby, not just the physical interaction that occurs through feeding, changing diapers, etc. Ainsworth concluded that the interaction between the parent and child is key to determining what type of attachment is formed.

If the parent is responsive to the child's emotional need for security and safety, the child learns that the parent can be relied upon. In contrast, if the child's needs are met with unresponsiveness from the parent, the child learns that the parent cannot be relied upon and the child may develop means of coping with this such as becoming overly clingy or avoiding the parent.

The subtle interplay of attunement

All this discussion of attachment and responsiveness may have you wondering about your own mothering experience. Am I responsive enough to my baby? What about that time my baby had to wait to be fed because we were driving home?

We've all had experiences in motherhood where we realize our attunement with our baby was a little off. That day you were SO exhausted you could hardly function during the day. That time you misread you baby's signals about being tired and kept them up too long. The beauty of attachment theory is that it allows room for missteps. The research behind it does not presume that mothers are perfect. As preeminent British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott suggests in his description of motherhood:

"The good-enough mother… starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant's needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant's growing ability to deal with her failure..."

In other words, the "good enough mother" is one who establishes an attachment with her baby early on by attending to her every need, even at the sacrifice of her own needs. This establishes a relationship in which the baby knows they are cared for and the parent can be trusted to meet their needs.

However, this level of constant attention and self-sacrifice cannot be continued indefinitely.

At some point, the mother will "fail" in little ways that require the baby to adapt or cope with stress. Here, of course, I am not implying instances of negligence or abuse. Those circumstances fall into a whole other category. The little "failures" are the little instances when mother and baby are not completely attuned—the misread signal of hunger, the delayed nap.

Intrinsic to attachment theory is the idea that these little "failures" or breaks in attunement are actually important to the developing child. Those times when you felt like you "missed the mark" in understanding your baby's needs, are the times that help your child grow in crucial skills.

These little disruptions in attunement, if resolved, help your child slowly learn about coping with stress, and lead to independence. As the years pass, these "failures" help children understand how conflicts in relationships can be resolved peacefully and build trust. Trust, of course, is one foundation of a healthy relationship. Children who have a deep-seated trust are more likely to accept your guidance (even discipline).

Can a baby be too attached?

If you've spent time around folks of an older generation lately, you may have heard a well-meaning elder comment that you "don't need to hold that baby all the time. It will make them spoiled." Now, most of us in this generation of parents know that you really cannot "spoil" a baby. Babies' only means of communicating their needs is through crying and holding a baby a lot is no longer thought to be linked to any later behavioral issues.

However, this does bring up the issue of whether parent and baby can be "too attached." We have all seen the kids who cling to mom or dad's leg in social situations, well beyond the age when they could walk on their own or the baby that fusses anytime anyone but mom holds them. While onlookers often chide the parents that these children are "mama's boys" or "spoiled," research might look at this in another light.

As we have seen, attachment is really about responsiveness—responding to a need, not predicting a need or ensuring that a child never experiences a need. This is where a key distinction comes into play.

If a parent is genuinely responding to a child's need, the likelihood of becoming "overly attached" is usually not an issue. However, there are rare occasions where a parent is preemptively responding to a child out of their need.

This situation becomes one less about attachment and more about over-parenting. If parents are actively interfering with a child's normal desire for exploration or independence (with the exception of safety concerns), then the relationship is no longer a responsive one.

At that point, the parent is not responding to the child's inherent need for exploration. As we saw in the discussion of attunement, if there are never any breakdowns in attunement, a child may not learn the coping skills needed to ultimately face the world.

In an atmosphere of strong attachment, most children will feel safe and secure enough in their parents' care that they will eventually explore on their own. However, that exploration comes on their schedule, not based on other's expectations.

It's important to remember here that we in American culture really value independence. As soon as our toddlers can toddle, many folks expect them to be off and running with the 5-year-olds, playing independently. This is a cultural expectation, but not necessarily a developmental one. Most kids inherently stay fairly close to their parents until their early elementary years.

The role of temperament in attachment

Another key piece is the child's temperament. We are just now beginning to understand the complex interaction between a child's temperament and their attachment style. Temperament is that collection on inherent tendencies your child has toward the world. These tendencies have to do with areas such as activity level, persistence, adaptability or intensity.

If you've been a parent for any length of time, you realize how different kids can be in terms of temperament and it often emerges in infancy. Some babies are "laid back" and do not respond strongly to changes in routine or environment, while others react much more easily.

These normal differences in temperament might influence the attachment of parent and child if the parent comes to interpret the child's behavior as problematic or inconsistent with the family's values.

For example, consider a child who has a more introverted, cautious temperament with a parent who has a more extroverted, outgoing temperament. The parent might interpret the child's cautious behavior as difficult or burdensome due to the fact that it is so different from her own tendency to be outgoing. If the parent starts to encourage the child to be overly friendly or outgoing in situations where the child is uncomfortable doing that, a breakdown in responsiveness could result.

In other words, the role of responsiveness in building attachment has to come from a place of understanding that particular child's needs, not a presumptive understanding of need based on the parent's desires.

In our modern parenting world dominated by tidbits of advice, collections of strategies and no shortage of labels, attachment theory reminds us of one important truth: Parenting is a relationship. It's not a job or a collection of techniques or even something to be mastered.

Parenting, in its best form, is the process of forming a lifelong relationship with your child. Like all relationships, each parent-child attachment relationship is as unique and nuanced as your child.

You might also like:

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

The author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth is an example of the kind of character she seeks to foster in the next generation. As the founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to children's character development, as a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a mom, Duckworth is trying to teach parents to let their kids struggle and that success is a long game.

According to Duckworth, grit is "this combination of passion and perseverance over really long periods. So it's loving what you do and working really hard at it for a very long time."

During the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Duckworth tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety, "One could argue that motherhood requires more grit than anything else because it is such a stamina sport and the grind doesn't always feel like it's working."

As Duckworth explains, mothers can model grit every day by persevering in the face of challenging parenting moments, but we can also instill grit in our children, even very young kids, by encouraging them not to give up. It is so easy to tie a child's shoes for them when we're running late, but if we take a moment to stop and let them work through that challenge on their own we are being gritty and encouraging it.

FEATURED VIDEO

"You let them struggle and you don't solve their problems for them too early," Duckworth tells Tenety, recalling a time when one of her daughters was struggling to open a box of raisins. "When she gave up and like walked away thinking that's too hard, I did worry about her long-term grit. I was like, oh my gosh my daughter's been defeated by a box of SunMaid raisins. But the important thing is that when you see your child struggle, let them struggle a little longer than maybe is comfortable for some of us."

By not rushing to open the box of raisins for her daughter, Duckworth taught her an important lesson in perseverance: If you want something you have to keep working at it yourself because you can't assume people will do things for you. This can be hard for parents because we often want to rush in and fix things for our kids, but Duckworth suggests we force ourselves to wait a beat and give our kids a chance before coming to the rescue.

"If you solve their problems guess what? They will not figure out how to solve their own problems if you make life a frictionless path. Then don't be surprised when they are not very resilient," she explains.

When we don't do everything for our kids they learn that they are capable, and we're cultivating a growth mindset. When we let our kids struggle and persevere, we're teaching them that the ability to get back up and overcome challenges is more important than talent—we're teaching them grit.

To hear more from Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth about grit and growth, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

You might also like:

News

Relocating is one of the most stressful life changes families will experience, even more so when you add kids into the mix. Packing boxes and getting everything ready for your move with toddlers around can seem like an impossible task. You know the scene: You're trying to pack clothing and lift heavy boxes, but they want to play and see everything that's going on. But packing doesn't have to be a chore, mama.

Try these playful interventions whenever you're struggling to keep your little one entertained.

1. Create special time.

Believe it or not, children want to help us. When they feel disconnected to us their behavior can go off-track. That whining, moaning, tantrumming toddler is sending out a red flag that says, ''Help! I need connection!''

So before spending a day packing boxes, be proactive and connect with your child. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and tell your child it's their special time and they can choose whatever they'd like to do with you. As you play, shower your child with attention, so their cup is filled. This helps them to internalize a sense of connection to you, so they are less likely to demand it in challenging ways and get in the way when you need to focus.

2. Host a packing party.

Put on some music and make packing fun! Give your child their own box, and allow them some freedom to pack their own toys themselves—even if you go back and rearrange things later. Don't seal all the boxes so they still have access to toys to play with. And remember that they're bound to get distracted and start playing with every. single. toy. they pack away. Make sure they're occupied so you can continue packing.

FEATURED VIDEO

3. Try giggle parenting.

Giggle parenting is when you get a child to laugh to ease the tension. If you notice your child getting bored, or frustrated, giggle parenting can ease tensions, and give your child mini doses of connection to help their behavior stay on track.

For example, maybe you playfully say, ''I really need to pack this big object,'' then you attempt to place your child in a box and exclaim, ''oh no, that's not an object, that's [insert child's name!]'' Or pick up a dirty sock and say with a playfully inviting tone, ''I really don't want this sock to be packed'' and put it on the floor. Cue your child trying to pack the smelly sock, and you can act playfully annoyed, and retrieve it from the box. Repeat as the long as the giggles keep coming,

It's the perfect antidote to situations where they feel powerless and out of control. Spending 5-10 minutes being playful at various intervals throughout the day can help shift the feeling that something big is happening.

4. Pack with a puppet.

Although toddlers don't always listen well, you will probably find that they are much more likely to respond to a plush toy or puppet. So use a puppet to ask them to pack in a silly voice that gets them laughing. Or have a naughty puppet who removes items from boxes, while you act playfully frustrated. After a few laughs to release tension, your toddler will be more able to listen to you about what needs to be done, or will be more likely to play independently.

5. Use reverse psychology.

Good old-fashioned reverse psychology works wonders when trying to distract little ones. Say to your child in a playful way that you'd really like them to leave their toys on the floor, and not pack them. Then leave the room. They are bound to take this as an opportunity to pack things up, and you can pretend to be upset that they didn't listen.

6. Turn packing into a race.

Older toddlers love to win so why not set up challenges to get them moving and competing? Have a race to see who can pack five things the fastest. Make it a close call but let them win, and act playfully disappointed when you lose. You could also try setting a timer to see how many things can be packed in 5 minutes or how long it can take to pack a whole box.

7. Practice pretend play.

Use a trolley or a toy stroller to act as a delivery service. Ask your child to bring you items to pack. Pretend play gives them a sense of purpose, and a fun, novel way to be involved.

8. Take a break outside.

At some point during a full day of packing or moving, get outside, even if it's just for ten minutes. Have a playful game of chase in your yard, or go to a local park. This can really help shift grumpy moods.

9. Stop for tantrums.

At some point during the day, tears and tantrums may come up. You may be tempted to stop tantrums, but this is counterproductive as it may just postpone the upset. Crying is a healing process for children, a natural way to release stress and tension, so the best thing you can do is listen and empathize. Be the lighthouse guiding your child out of the stormy seas of their emotions, and when they recover they will feel well-connected to you, and be much more willing to help in the process.

10. Remember to relax.

Do something for yourself, mama. Order takeout. End your day with snuggles and bedtime stories. Packing and moving with toddlers can be one of the most challenging jobs you can do, so well, done, you did it.

You might also like:

Learn + Play

Brooklyn based stay-at-home dad Mike Julianelle, also known as Dad and Buried online, shared a brutally honest post on Instagram recently that has gone viral. In it he describes how being a stay-at-home parent is really hard, especially during the summer when the kids need to stay entertained in the long hot days in the city.

The post also goes into something that struck a chord with many stay-at-home parents: not having a choice. Many of the over 500 comments the photo has received touch upon how stressful and draining being the parent at home with the kids all day can be.

The post reads:

"It's day two of my summer as a stay-at-home dad and I've already lost it on my kids.

Actually, I lost it at day 1.5. I'm not cut out for this.

I knew it 6 years ago when I did it for the first time, I knew it a month ago when it was looming again, I knew it yesterday when things were going well, and I definitely knew it today when I yelled at my 8yo and carried him to another room because he wouldn't stop complaining about something he actually wanted to do.

FEATURED VIDEO

I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don't want to have to find ways to fill my kids' days all summer. I don't want to plan, I don't want to pack stuff, I don't want to herd them places, I don't want to go places.

I don't have the temperament, I don't have the patience, I don't have the interest.

I also don't have a choice.

Circumstances being what they are, and summer being what it is, someone has to stay home with my kids all day. Mom and Buried has done it for years, and now she's working and I'm not, so I'm back in the saddle. Reluctance (and unsuitability) aside, I have no choice but to get better at it.

They don't need to know how stressed I am, they don't deserve a dad who's grumpy and frustrated before the day has even begun, and most of all, they don't deserve a boring summer.

Summer is sacred. And it's usually Mom and Buried's territory. But it's on me now.

No, we might not be able to send them to camp or take them on fancy trips, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do. And it's on me to do them. More than that, it's on me to do them with a smile on my face. Or at least without constantly yelling at them.

So far, things aren't going so great. But there's nowhere to go but up!

This is one of the primary challenges of parenting. Not letting your grownup stress impact your kids' childhood innocence. We all have struggles, and sometimes the toll they take is going to manifest itself, often in ways you don't even realize.

I guess the good news is: I do realize it. Which makes it even more crucial that I manage it, and do whatever I can to prevent my kids from catching on.

I've gotta fake it until *they* make it. But what else is new?"

Shout out to this SAHD for his honest, and to all the stay-at-home parents for the hard work they do, all day, everyday.

You might also like:

Life

The sound of my youngest son's wailing filled the air. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. As his screeches pierced my ears and my eyes rested on his angry face, a thought flashed into my mind: I wonder if I will ever reach a sweet spot in parenting.

I like to imagine that somewhere in my future is a magical age where the daily demands of parenting lessen and I will finally have it (mostly) all figured out. It seems I have been waiting for and wishing for this "easy" time since the first few weeks of motherhood.

When my oldest was a newborn and I was fumbling my way through sleep-deprivation, I just knew as soon as he started sleeping through the night, then motherhood would be so much easier.

When he finally did master sleeping longer stretches, he figured out how to roll over. He would roll one way and get stuck. I would flip him back, and he would be good for about five minutes and then get stuck again. I just knew as soon as he was able to roll back over the other way, then motherhood would be so much easier.

After months of nursing, and then pumping, and then bottle-feeding, I just knew that once he was eating solid foods, motherhood would be so much easier because he would sleep better, and I wouldn't have the enormous mountain of pump parts and bottles to clean each night.

FEATURED VIDEO

Then he started to eat solid foods, and meal times were so messy and I quickly grew tired of constantly cleaning his highchair and the floor and the wall. I just knew once he could eat on his own, then motherhood would be so much easier.

I carried him everywhere because he couldn't yet crawl, and my arms and back would ache. I just knew that once he could crawl motherhood would be so much easier.

And then he did start to crawl, and suddenly nothing was off-limits. I just knew once he was older and I wouldn't have to worry about him falling down the stairs or jamming a toy into a light socket, then motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to walk, then run, and I worried about him running away from me in the store, running into a parking lot, or tripping on his wobbly legs and doing a faceplant into the sidewalk. I just knew that when he was older and better able to listen and communicate, motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to talk and protest, and have very strong opinions about everything and the meltdowns began. I just knew as soon as we were done with this age, motherhood would be so much easier.

As my sons have grown, each stage has brought new joys, but also new challenges. Some aspects of parenting have become easier, and others have become harder.

So does this parenting "sweet spot" I have conjured up in my mind even exist?

Do I just have to be patient and it will arrive one day out of the blue when my sons reach a certain age or I gain the perfect amount of parenting wisdom?

I kept thinking about this as my son calmed down and pressed his tired little body into my own. I gazed down onto his tear-streaked cheeks. I brushed the wispy strands of his hair with my fingertips. I paused at that moment to really soak him up as he cuddled on my lap. I let the tension of the previous minutes fade away.

And a new thought entered my mind. "I'm already in a sweet spot, right here and now. I don't need to wait for one."

Parenthood will probably never be "easy." But it is pretty sweet, nonetheless.

You might also like:

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.