Disentangling Attachment and Attachment Parenting

Last week two diligent readers alerted me to the same article ostensibly about Attachment Parenting, a blog post by a mommy blogger on The Stir over at Cafemom.com who'd written about a recent study in the news.  We'll get to it in a moment but first I've been wanting to feature all of your catches in the media.  So now every Monday I'm going to post your finds, yes, the exaggerations, biased articles, and other assorted inaccuracies from the world of pedia media. 

So what sent two readers into action last week?  First Jen then Lori, so moved she even emailed the author of research to request a copy of the study! You go, girlfriend.  Apparently the author, Jessica Salvatore, had been wondering how the information was being "disseminated" to the public. 

Hmmm.  Let's see...

Thank goodness the LA Times did a good job sussing out the substance of the study.

Your mother may be to blame for your relationship woes (though choosing a better mate could improve matters):
"The strength of the bond you formed with Mom during the first two years of life strongly affects how efficiently you and your partner will move beyond a fight and join forces to accomplish mutual goals, a new study finds."
Well done.  But somehow between the LA Times and The Stir the study got misconstrued. 

How?  Well the study was about attachment (i.e. infant-mother bonding) but not Attachment Parenting.  Most people hear "attachment" and think of Attachment Parenting and the whole Dr. Sears/co-sleeping/baby-wearing crowd.  As did the mommy blogger above, an attachment parenting devotee. 

But psych majors think of infant bonding and Ainsworth's Attachment Styles, a scheme outlining 3 different relationship styles infants exhibit when interacting with their caregivers (secure, resistant, avoidant).  Ainsworth's scheme has been around since the 70s and still pops up in recent studies like the one that prompted the above impassioned blog post.

Here's the actual study published in Psychological Science:

Recovering From Conflict in Romantic Relationships : A Developmental Perspective

Basically, researcher Jessica Salvatore and her team trolled data from a big longitudinal study that tracked children from birth into adulthood, the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation.  The current study showed babies who were "securely attached" to their mothers fared better with their romantic partners some twenty-years later.  It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the basic gist.  

It had nothing to do with Dr. Sears or the families attached at the hip or breast despite whatever claims the attachment doc may make about the bond between momma and baby and their future health and psyches. 


La Mama Loca said...

The mixing up of attachment research and Attachment Parenting is one of my biggest pet peeves. AP just didn't work for me and my mental health, I'm sure there are many people for whom it does work and more power to them. However, I'm really tired of studies that talk about attachment being used to promote the specific AP practices as being better for the baby. You can be attached and responsive to your baby without doing anything the AP way.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hi La Mama! Glad to hear your take on AP and attachment styles. No, you don't have to practice AP a la Dr. Sears or anybody else to have a close and healthy relationship with your children. It's a personal choice not a prerequisite! I hear you on the mental health, the sleep deprivation alone I endured trying to slumber next to the baby still makes me shudder.

BabyShrink said...

Great blog! Thanks for shining a light on this -- a pet peeve of mine, too. I hate how AP proponents have latched their wagons to the decades of credible and important research started by Mahler, Ainsworth, and continuing on now.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Thanks and welcome, Baby Shrink!! "Latched on" to the credible research, love the visual! Attachment parenting, latching, they go so well together. The misuse and misinterpretation of research gets you going too, eh?