Attachment Parenting – What’s the Problem?

by Benjamin Fry

a Mother Breastfeeding

An article in the Guardian this week asked why long-term breastfeeding and co-sleeping are parental practices that provoke strong reactions. Here are my thoughts…

When we work with the nervous system (which we do because it affects both mental health and behaviours – so anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD etc.) we are effectively working with natural biological processes, each of which has a rhythm and a natural arc. The stress cycle is one of these. When we are aroused by threat, we go through an activation, and then when we are ok again, we go through a deactivation.

The cause of most common mental illnesses and behavioural disorders is incomplete stress cycles. This happens when we get aroused, and then get overwhelmed, and then freeze… and then never come out again into deactivation. What we are left with is a huge ball of unprocessed energy, which tends to either rumble about in our basement, or explode at inconvenient times; neither of which helps us to live a good or easy life.

So, the freeze is the pathway to all of these problems (or more specifically our inability to come out of it healthily), and whether or not we freeze has something to do with our resilience.   It’s like a fuse in a domestic plug; some are 3 Amps, some 5, some 13. The ones with the higher setting will get blown less frequently. Therefore we obviously want to be 13 Amp plugs rather than 3 Amps if we can help it. So what makes the difference?

One idea about this is attachment parenting. Part of the goal of attachment parenting is to create as few stress cycles in the child as possible until he or she is old enough to manage them (all the way in and out) on their own. Babies can’t handle stress cycles alone; they need the physical proximity of a parent to metabolise their bodies. That’s why we cuddle, hold and sleep with them. So called primitive cultures seem to know this automatically; we’ve forgotten. Attachment parenting appears to be resuscitating this ancient art of baby regulation. Interestingly, it needs a nicely regulated adult to make it work, and this article suggest that far from being mud-flinging bare-breasted maniacs, the mothers who practice this appear to be quite grounded and calm. This make sense from a nervous system point of view.

If you are not a calm nervous system yourself, or were not raised by one, you might wonder what you can do to recover that lost birth right, and to get into the arms (metaphorically) of a good container or metaboliser. The good news is that the new psychotherapies which are being developed and slowly propagated in the UK do exactly this. Khiron House was set up to deliver this work safely and with the most possible expertise. So, the lack of a good-enough mother no longer needs to be terminal!

Benjamin Fry works across a range of services and media using personal, professional and scientific expertise to help people to a baggage-free life. A published author, and a past columnist for The Times and Psychologies magazine, Benjamin is a social activist in mental health. He founded Get Stable in 2010 to get effective treatment paid for by the state and his great passion is to bring treatment, which works, to all levels of society and across all severities of conditions.

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