Not long after my husband and I brought our newborn son home from the hospital, I was breastfeeding on the couch watching an “Oprah Winfrey Show” segment on the Nobel Prize-winning poetic genius Toni Morrison. She mentioned the importance of loving connections between parents and children by uttering this quote and parenting challenge.
|Jonathan Fitch, FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
It was easy for me to gaze upon my newborn boy with loving, lit up eyes in those early days and months. I was, at the time, blissfully unaware of the complicated hormonal soup we were all swimming in together. Instinctively responsive as I was to my son’s face shape, button nose, and round captivating eyes, I was unaware of how our intense mutual gazes were actually causing endorphin levels to rise in us both. Endorphin release produces feelings of joy, love, and euphoria associated with ensuring healthy development. My son’s eyes rewarded me biochemically and my visual and nurturing motor responses quickly conditioned to his proximity seeking cues (particularly at around eight weeks when visual acuity improves and a critical period of visual cortex development occurs). By three months, my son’s gazes and smiles showed me his interest in play, his cries and disengagement of attention his disinterest.
Bonding with my baby seemed intuitive, if not an overwhelming responsibility to do the whole thing “right.” I was not only led by the zeitgeist at the time “attachment parenting,” but sometimes succumbed to the guilt-inducing messages of some of its followers. I stressed about the family bed, how long to breastfeed, and the impact of my frustration with the fact that my son didn’t sleep through the night until he was three! Still, I’m grateful I trusted my gut, imitated what I knew to be true about a healthy mother-infant bond, and followed the attachment parenting advice that fit. It wasn’t easy, but nothing as worthwhile and important as bonding ever is.
I witness the benefits everyday with my children—as our love for them provides the “secure base” (Bowlby, 1988) from which they confidently and courageously venture out to discover the world…excitedly returning with reports of their discoveries! Parental love also provides the “safe haven” of comfort and support to weather less successful voyages of discovery, and a place to celebrate curiosity with joy and acceptance (Johnson, 2002).
These days, bonding in our family looks more like watching our kids do their various extracurricular activities, watching movies together, or spotting them as we climb an indoor rock wall together. I still frequently hear “Watch me, Mom!” as I now sit on the sidelines of their lives. I also do my best to stop what I’m doing when they storm through the door at the end of their day, lift my gaze to meet theirs, and listen as they eagerly share the news of their day.
We all bond in unique ways…the important thing is that we bond! In upcoming posts you will have the opportunity to read about other parent-child bonding stories. Please continue to post your comments about how you bond, promote courage, and continue to connect with your child/ren!
I’ll leave it to Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha, authors of The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (1992, 2003), to summarize the seven basics (or B’s) of attachment parenting which I subscribed to as a new parent (though I’m glad to see they’ve added “Balance” to the list!):