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What every parent should know about attachment theory

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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.

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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.

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

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

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For decades, doctors have prescribed progesterone, one of the key hormones your body needs during pregnancy, to prevent a miscarriage. The hormone, produced by the ovaries, is necessary to prepare the body for implantation. As the pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces progesterone, which suppresses uterine contractions and early labor.

But a new study out of the UK finds that administering progesterone to women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester does not result in dramatically more successful births than a placebo. Yet, for a small group of mothers-to-be who had experienced "previous recurrent miscarriages," the numbers showed promise.

The study, conducted at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research at the University of Birmingham in the UK, is the largest of its kind, involving 4,153 pregnant women who were experiencing bleeding in those risky (and nerve-wracking) early weeks. The women were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving 400 milligrams of progesterone via a vaginal suppository, and the other receiving a placebo of the same amount. Both groups were given the suppositories through their 16th week of pregnancy.

Of the group given progesterone, 75% went on to have a successful, full-term birth, compared to 72% for the placebo.

As the study notes, for most women, the administration of progesterone "did not result in a significantly higher incidence of live births than placebo." But for women who had experienced one or two previous miscarriages, the result was a 4% increase in the number of successful births. And for women who had experienced three or more recurrent miscarriages, the number jumped to a 15% increase.

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Dr. Arri Coomarasamy, Professor of Gynecology at the University of Birmingham and Director of Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, said the implications for that group are "huge." "Our finding that women who are at risk of a miscarriage because of current pregnancy bleeding and a history of a previous miscarriage could benefit from progesterone treatment has huge implications for practice," he said.

It's estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And while even a spot of blood no doubt increases the fear in every expectant mother's mind, bleeding is actually a very common occurrence during pregnancy, Coomarasamy said. Still, first trimester bleeding is particularly risky, with a third of women who experience it going on to miscarry.

So for women who have been through it multiple times, Coomarasamy's findings are an important avenue to explore. "This treatment could save thousands of babies who may have otherwise been lost to a miscarriage," he added.

The study is among a number of recent groundbreaking discoveries made by doctors looking to further understand what causes miscarriages and what can be done to prevent them. While about 70% of miscarriages are attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, doctors recently learned that certain genetic abnormalities, which exist in a small group of parents-to-be, could be discovered by testing the mother and father, as well as the embryo.

Doctors have also discovered that even knowing the sex of your baby could predict the complications a mother may face, thus helping medical professionals to assist in keeping the pregnancy viable.

But while there is no sweeping solution to stop miscarriages, for some couples, the use of progesterone does offer a glimmer of hope. "The results from this study are important for parents who have experienced miscarriage," Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's said. "They now have a robust and effective treatment option which will save many lives and prevent much heartache."

Brewin added that studies like this one are imperative to our understanding of how the creation of life, which remains both a miracle and a mystery, truly works. "It gives us confidence to believe that further research will yield more treatments and ultimately make many more miscarriages preventable," she said.

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It's never easy to give up a career and launch a whole new one, but when I decided to end my time as an opera singer and move into the field of sales, I knew I could do it. After all, I had the perfect role model: my mom.

When I was growing up, she worked as a dental hygienist, but when I started college, she took some courses in sales. She was single with two kids in college, which was a driving force to make more money. But above that, she truly had a passion for sales. In no time, she got jobs and excelled at them, ultimately earning her the title of Vendor Representative of the Year at her electronics company.

When I entered the field of sales, an unusual and unexpected twist followed. Several years into my career, I was hired by a different electronics company. My mom and I ended up selling similar products to some of the same businesses. (Neither of our companies realized this, and we have different last names.)

But rather than feeling uncomfortable, I saw this as a great opportunity. She and I were both committed to doing our best. More often than not, she beat me when we went after the same piece of business. But in the process, I learned so much from her. I was able to see how her work ethic, commitment and style drove her success. I had even more to emulate.

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Here are some of the biggest business lessons I learned from my working mom:

1. Use your existing skill set to differentiate yourself.

As a dental hygienist, my mom knew how to talk to people and make them feel comfortable. She had also served as a youth leader at three different churches where my dad preached. In each town, she found at-risk kids, brought them together and developed programs for them. She had learned how to help people improve themselves and make their lives better.

In sales, she did the same thing, focusing on how the products or services she was selling could genuinely make a difference in the lives of her customers. Those skills translated seamlessly into her new career.

2. Start strong from day one—don't wait for permission to launch your full potential.

From day one at a job, my mom showed up with energy and vigor to get going. She didn't take time to be tentative. Instead, she leaned into her tasks—the equivalent of blasting out of the gate in a race. Having seen how well this worked for her, I strive to do the same.

3. Have empathy, it's essential.

Many women have been falsely accused of being "too emotional" in business. However, empathy is a necessity and drives better results. As a businesswoman, my mom set herself apart by demonstrating genuine empathy for her clients and her colleagues. She loves getting to know people's stories. That understanding is a key component in her finalizing deals and helping her company reach higher levels of success.

4. Learn often—you're never done building your skill set.

My mom is the reason I spend at least three months out of each year getting a new certification or learning a new skill. She's always working to improve, harness new technologies or develop new competencies—and she's passed on that eagerness to learn to me. She knows that to stay on top, you have to keep learning.

5. Bring on the charm.

By nature, I'm analytical. I like to present the numbers to clients, showing the data to help sway their decisions. And that has its place, but charm is universal. Being someone people want to do business with makes a huge difference. If I had a nickel for every time a prospect told me, "I love your mother," I could retire now! Business, especially sales, is about the connections you make as much as the value you bring.

Our paths have taken our careers in different directions, but along the way, I've done my best to incorporate all these skills. Thank you, mom, for teaching me all this, and much more.

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Every mom has her own list of character traits each of she hopes to instill in her children, but there is one that stands out as a big priority for the majority of millennial mothers.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that kindness is incredibly important to today's moms. It is the number one trait we want to cultivate in our children, and according to stats from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this emphasis on kindness couldn't come at a better time.

In recent years kids and parents have been straying from kindness, but these Ivy League experts have some great ideas about how today's moms can get the next generation back on track so they can become the caring adults of tomorrow.

Between 2013 and 2014, as part of Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students across the nation. They found that no matter what race, class or culture the kids identified with, the majority of the students surveyed valued their own personal success and happiness way more than that of others.

Why do kids value their own success so much more than things like caring and fairness? Well, apparently, mom and dad told them to.

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Eighty percent of the 10,000 students said their parents taught them that their own happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for others. (So much for sharing is caring.)

The folks at Harvard say that valuing your own ambition is obviously a good thing (in moderation) in today's competitive world, but prioritizing it so much more than ethical values like kindness, caring and fairness makes kids more likely to be cruel, disrespectful and dishonest.

So how do we fix this? Here's Harvard's four-step plan for raising kinder kids.

1. Help them practice being nice

Giving kids daily opportunities to practice caring and kind acts helps make ethical behavior second nature. They could help you with chores, help a friend with homework or work on a project to help homelessness.

All those tasks would help a child flex their empathy muscles. The key is to increase the challenges over time so your child can develop a stronger capacity for caregiving as they grow.

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

The researchers want kids to “zoom in" and listen closely to the people around them, but also see the bigger picture. “By zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or the school custodian), young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society," the study's authors' wrote.

3. Model kindness

Our kids are watching, so if we want them to be kinder, it's something we should try to cultivate in ourselves. The Harvard team suggests parents make an effort to widen our circles of concern and deepen our understanding of issues of fairness and justice.

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

According to the researchers, the ability to care about others can be overwhelmed by a kid's feelings of anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. They suggest we teach our kids teach that while all feelings are okay to feel, some ways of dealing with them are not helpful, or kind (for example, “Hitting your classmate might make you happy, but it won't make them happy and isn't very kind. Counting to 10 and talking about why you're mad is more productive than hitting.")

While the folks at Harvard are concerned that so many kids are being taught to value their own happiness above all, they were also encouraged by the students who do prioritize caring and kindness. One of the students surveyed wrote, “People should always put others before themselves and focus on contributing something to the world that will improve life for future generations."

If we follow the advice of Harvard researchers, the world will see more kids that think like that, and that's what future generations need.

[A version of this post was originally published November 8, 2017. It has been updated.]

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These days more women are having babies into their 40s, but the idea that women are facing down the biological clock is pretty pervasive—once you're over 35, you automatically receive that "advanced maternal age" classification, while your male partner's age may never even be mentioned. The pressure on older moms is unfair, because according to new research from Rutgers University, men may face age-related fertility decline too and America's dads are getting older.

It's a new idea, but this finding actually takes 40 years worth of research into account—which, coincidentally, is around the age male fertility may start to decline. According to Rutgers researchers, the medical community hasn't quite pinpointed the onset of advanced age, but it hovers somewhere between ages 35 and 45.

The study which appears in the journal Maturitas, finds that a father's age may not just affect his fertility, but also the health of his partner and offspring.

Based on previously conducted research, the team behind this study found evidence that men over 45 could put their partners at greater risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Babies born to older fathers also have an increased likelihood of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birthweight, newborn seizures and more. The risks appear to exist later in life, too: Research suggests children of older fathers have greater risk of childhood cancers, cognitive issues and autism.

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There's been plenty of studies surrounding advanced maternal age, but research on advanced paternal age is pretty slim—scientists don't quite understand how age correlates to these factors at this point. But researchers from Rutgers believe that age-related decline in testosterone and sperm quality degradation may be to blame. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explains in a release for this news.

As we've previously reported, more and more men are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a 2017 Stanford study, children born to fathers over 40 represent 9% of U.S. births, and the average age of first-time fathers has climbed by three-and-a-half years over the past four decades —so this research matters now more than ever, and it may represent the first step towards setting certain standards in place for men who choose to delay parenthood.

The biggest thing to come out of this research may be the need for more awareness surrounding advanced paternal age. This particular study's authors believe doctors should be starting to have conversations with their male patients, possibly even encouraging them to consider banking sperm if they're considering parenthood later in life.

Women certainly tend to be aware of the age-related risks to their fertility, and many regularly hear that they should freeze their eggs if they're not ready for motherhood. And while it's still too early to say whether we'll ever examine paternal age this closely, this research may set a whole new conversation in motion.

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