The presents of presence: A look at attachment and bonding This Emotional Life - PBS

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Attachment / Blog

    Jessica Zucker, Ph.D.

Jessica Zucker, Ph.D.'s Bio

Dr. Zucker specializes in women’s health, postpartum mood disorders, and early parent-child bonding.

The presents of presence: A look at attachment and bonding


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Early parenting is a whirlwind. Falling in love with your newborn does not necessarily happen over night. Though there may be piles of books about pregnancy, labor and delivery, or parenting forming a tower of knowledge on your bedside table, the early moments of life with your burgeoning family can stir feelings none of the books addressed. Who am I as a woman, a mother, a partner? How do I deeply connect with my child? What kinds of things must I “do” to form a secure attachment with my baby? Are issues lingering from my family life that might be worth attending to now, as I blaze a new path of parenthood? Though these questions might stimulate a variety of complex feelings, the benefits of exploring these emotions during early motherhood can strengthen your core, subsequently engendering a more mindful childhood for your baby.

Bonding and attachment are nebulous concepts. Particularly while sleeplessly traversing the newness of parenthood it can be tempting to want concrete steps that explicate how to connect with your baby. Perhaps this is why culture gets particularly caught up in externally preparing for baby’s arrival, giving new families tangible tasks and checklist determination. However, when it comes to developing a relationship with this new member of your family the path might be more intimate, a little messier, and definitely more circuitous. Understandably, new parents might overwhelmed as they set out to provide their offspring with a home environment optimal for growth, some with the hope of charting new parental territory exceeding their own upbringing. Fueled by expectable anxiety, many of the new parents with whom I work request handouts that will help guide them through the beginning stages of their new life’s work. The anxiety that accompanies new parenthood is ubiquitous, creating feelings of ineptitude or even helplessness. These feelings of vulnerability can actually provide a meaningful springboard for us to delve into what it means specifically for them to provide a secure, safe base for their child.

Though each parent-child dynamic is unique and therefore requires a depthful personal approach, there are some basic practices that can assist in laying the groundwork for successful bonding and attachment. Some elemental tenets of establishing a healthy relationship include: consistency in behavior, predictability in care, relating and responding, creating an atmosphere of protection and safety, engaging in prolonged gazing and smiling, skin to skin gentle touch, cuddling and comforting, and thoughtful, reflective actions that build trust and affection. Transitioning into parenthood means navigating a new relationship with yourself and a brand new relationship with your little one. Remember that building relationships, like the process of pregnancy, takes time to gestate and unfold. Growing increasingly more adept at resting in unknown spaces of interiority may enliven these ever-changing relationships.

Maybe weeks into your child’s life you find yourself rifling through the now smaller pile of books next to your bed with a sincere hope of opening one of the them and finding a pre-prepared, day-to-day “to do” list on how to parent your child from now until the end of time. The bad news is there is no such checklist (or at least not one that I know of). The good news is that through dedicated introspection and a commitment to being present with yourself and your child, the process of attachment and bonding has already begun.