Podcast

Parents often worry, will my child attach to me? And the answer is almost always – yes! Attachment is less about whether or not a child will form a bond with their primary caregiver, and is more focused on the quality of that relationship and how secure it is.

Today, I am joined by the author of Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey into the Science of Attachment, Bethany Saltman. Bethany will break down what attachment is and more importantly what it isn’t, discuss the importance of cultivating delight, breaking cycles and offer suggestions for allowing attachment theory to help inform the choices parents make in raising their children.

Bethany (00:00):

Until we are really in touch with our own rage, our own despair, our own disappointment, our own sadness, our own depression. To me, the most important thing is creating the space for your child to feel what they feel. They learn that from us.

Dr. Sarah (00:24):

Attachment is not dependent on your child’s temperament, whether you wear your baby, if they’re allowed screen time or not, whether they’re breast or bottle fed or even the parenting style that you use. It’s actually not really a question of will my child attached to me, their primary caregiver. With very few exceptions, all human beings attach. What we’re really focused on is the quality of that relationship. How secure is that attachment? If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you may remember me talking about a book that I had just finished reading called Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey Into The Science Of Attachment by Bethany Saltman. The title, which is taken from Mary Ainsworth’s study of the same name, is a compelling look at the science of attachment, the field of psychology that explores the question of why, from an evolutionary point of view, love exists between parents and children.

Dr. Sarah (01:25):

After finishing the book, I immediately reached out to Bethany and I’m so delighted that she agreed to be on the podcast to talk about it, and about Mary Ainsworth’s research. And to clear up some of the misconceptions of what attachment is and what it isn’t. And some of the big takeaways that helped inform the way she mothered her daughter, that you can incorporate into your own parenting as well. In a culture that often asks, how should I do this? Did I do it right? Bethany will suggest an alternative focus on the permission granting, liberating, and attainable pursuit of delight in your children and in yourself.

Dr. Sarah (02:10):

Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Dr. Sarah (02:44):

Hello. Welcome to the podcast. I am beyond gushing, thrilled to introduce you to our guests today. We have Bethany Saltman on. She is the author of Strange Situation, which is an amazing book. If you are not familiar, it really talks about your journey as a mother in understanding what attachment really is. And frankly, I learned more about attachment from your book than I did in graduate school. Because you go the nuance, the depth that you go into it, like you track down Mary Ainsworth’s scrap paper and like read every single word she’s ever written. And so the thing that’s what I found so amazing about the book was it was like fresh eyes on something that I think gets talked about a lot, but people don’t really, really understand. It gets misunderstood really easily. And I think that misunderstanding leads to actually a lot of pain for parents about their own story and about how they parent their child. And so I was hoping we could pick your brain a little bit about like, okay, what really is when we’re talking about attachment, what are we actually talking about and what are we not talking about?

Bethany (04:07):

Hm, sure. First of all, hi, thanks for having me on and for that lovely gush. So yeah. I really like what you’re saying. And I was just listening to a Dharma talk by a teacher in the lineage where I practice Zen. And he was talking about how the Dharma is so often in fact, usually misunderstood. And, and the crazy part about it, and it’s similar to attachment in the sense that so many people think that they understand it. And in fact, I really believe that most people not only misunderstand it, but like you said, like sorely misunderstand it to the point of really hurting themselves. So I thank you for that. And I agree a hundred percent and yeah, so, gosh yeah, I did spend a long time tracking Mary Ainsworth down. I wish I read every word that she had written.

Bethany (05:07):

I have not, but I would like to. I mean, we’re talking thousands of pages of a PDF in particular for one from one of her research studies. So, but you know, that’s goals for the rest of my life, I guess. So, yeah. What is attachment, and what is it not? Attachment in its simplest form is a full body and mind physiological system in the body, obviously like digestion or respiration that just is. Like, we all are born with the ability to breathe with the ability to digest with the ability, the capacity to attach. Now, you know, just like with those other metaphors, they’re going to be really different in each person. And sometimes they’re even you know, we come to something, we come to our lives with some kind of a detriment. You know, there’s something wrong with our lungs. There’s something wrong with our belly.

Bethany (06:08):

There, isn’t usually something wrong with our heart, which is the organ of our attachment. I dunno if John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth would agree with that specifically, but I’m just going to go there. And so, so the attachment system is something that is constantly functioning and the goal of the attachment system is to keep the infant, the human infant safe. Well, and in fact, that’s true for all mammals and primates. The goal of the attachment system is to keep the the, the vulnerable infant safe. And in the case of human beings to keep us feeling felt. Because from a from a evolutionary point of view, we don’t need just to be safe. We need to actually feel connected. We need to feel like someone is seeing us. I mean, I’m sure you and your listeners have heard of the Tronick still face experiments.

Bethany (07:10):

When an infant’s mother goes blank, doesn’t respond, an infant goes crazy. And, you know, we all know that feeling. Like when someone’s flat or just non-responsive to like basic things. I mean, I find that I often get like really angry when I’m talking on the phone and someone sounds like a robot. I want to like reach through the phone and the shake them. I get like a rage response to that.

Dr. Sarah (07:37):

Yes.

Bethany (07:38):

And that’s, that’s like an evolutionary need to feel mirrored in the world. So the attachment system is that thing that is functioning to help us stay connected to our caregivers. And and for the, our caregivers to help us feel felt. That’s all it is. And the behaviors of the attachment system when you’re an infant are like reaching smiling, clinging nursing there’s one, I forget, I forget all the, all of them, but, you know.

New Speaker (08:14):

Coo-Ing and vocalizing.

Bethany (08:17):

Yeah, exactly. Vocalizing. Like super basic things that, you know, make us think our babies are cute and alert them to the fact that they need us. You know, so that uppy thing is, is an evolutionary shape, you know, babies need to be picked up. And so, you know, and I totally understand from the maternal point of view from the parental point of view, why that’s, that’s not always a good time, but from an attachment point of view, the best way to get the child’s need met is to just pick the baby up. Because if you don’t, they’re going to keep asking, like there will never come a time when they will stop asking. They stop asking that’s something to be concerned about because it’s just a need, you know, and this is where all the different kinds of attachment come in. Now this does not, this isn’t, this has nothing to do with temperament.

Bethany (09:12):

Some babies need more than others. You know, they’re all different kinds of things that come into that, like with the digestion and breathing metaphor, you know, we all have different kinds of lungs. We have different kinds of needs. We have different kinds of guts. So a mom or dad is going to have a different reaction based on their needs and their guts to their baby needing them. But that is, but that’s the, that’s the frame of attachment. What an attachment is not is like the doctor Dr. Sears style checklist of like activities. Attachment has absolutely nothing to do with where your child sleeps, what they eat. You know, if you carry them in a sling, if you put them in a stroller, it doesn’t have anything to do with screen time. It doesn’t have anything to do with junk food. It doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence or, you know, after-school activities or how much you love them, or how much you care for them.

Bethany (10:09):

It has nothing to do with any of those very culturally specific kinds of parenting parenting styles. Certainly, you know, one can look like a textbook attachment parent, with like the nursing on demand and the sling and the co-sleeping and all the rest of it, and be so full of rage or ambivalence or dissociation that they are not creating a secure attachment with that child. Likewise, you can be. And I really like to say this loud and proud is single a poor single mother who works 5,000 jobs and is, you know, never sleeps because she’s so stressed because she’s, she loves her kids so much that she’s working around the clock to provide for them. And she is grumpy. She, you know, gives them junk food. She puts them, gives them screens, but she delights in them and she is there for them. And they know it.

Dr. Sarah (11:12):

That probably was one of the most moving things to me in your book. And just in general, this idea of delight of we all are capable of that. You don’t have to have X, Y, Z, or do X, Y, Z to be able to delight in your child. That’s something you have to find space for that you have to give yourself the permission to do that. But that’s, that’s again, just like attachment is a biological hard wiring. Our capacity to find delight in our child is also somewhat like innately there in us to have that human capacity.

Bethany (11:53):

It’s a human capacity. No, one’s born without the ability to delight.

Dr. Sarah (11:58):

Right. And that doesn’t mean you have to always find your child delightful.

Bethany (12:02):

No, no, no, no, no.

Dr. Sarah (12:04):

Cause we’d be, we’d be a little screwed because that’s not possible.

Bethany (12:08):

No, of course not. But like I talk about all the time. It’s the most important thing is that we learn to find delight in ourselves. You know, it’s like you can’t pour from an empty cup kind of thing, you know? And it sounds so cliche, and we’ve heard this so much, but it’s just totally true if we can’t, if we don’t have delight happening, bubbling up in our own hearts, when our child enters the room, why do we think we’re going to be able to suddenly conjure delight for our kid? It doesn’t work. You know, it’s like, if you, if you aren’t someone who ever cries, you’re not going to cry at a sad movie. It’s that simple. So, the best way, because delight is so important to our attachment. So much more important than any of these external shticks that people really rely on for good reason, because, you know, internal is much more difficult, much less knowable than the external, but it doesn’t mean anything. From my point of view and you know, that that’s obviously educated in the attachment science, but the best thing that we can do is to cultivate our own delight.

Dr. Sarah (13:22):

Right. So like, if you are a parent, I like, so I kind of like in the book you gave this, you described an example from her studies. So just if people aren’t familiar, Mary Ainsworth was like a massive pioneer in like the origin of attachment theory. So John Bowlby started writing about this, started studying it sort of, kind of naming it this. And Mary Ainsworth…

Bethany (13:50):

In the 1940s he started.

Dr. Sarah (13:53):

And then Mary Ainsworth was one of his students?

Bethany (13:56):

No. I’m glad you said that because everybody thinks that. That’s patriarchy at its finest. She was never his student, ever.

Dr. Sarah (14:05):

Interesting.

Bethany (14:07):

She was his colleague. She got a job working at the Tavistock clinic where he put out an ad for a researcher. And she applied for the job and she got the job. She was not his student.

Dr. Sarah (14:20):

So, but she researched with him.

Bethany (14:22):

Yes. On his team. Yup. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (14:27):

But the key thing that Mary offered to the field was this operationalization.

Bethany (14:33):

Yes.

Dr. Sarah (14:33):

Of being able to say, I can find a reliable way to measure this phenomenon.

Bethany (14:39):

Exactly. Exactly.

Dr. Sarah (14:41):

And no one had done that.

Bethany (14:42):

Oh no, no, no. I mean, so when they met it was still a totally controversial idea, this idea of attachment. Meaning that babies bond with their caregiver, not just because they feed them. That was the sort of you know, Skinnerian behaviorist view at the time.

Dr. Sarah (15:02):

Right. That Harry Harlow monkey studies were…

Bethany (15:05):

Well, yeah. But he was Harry Harlow was actually moving toward the attachment. That that’s what his studies were saying that like the babies actually, they they were more interested in the, in the wire monkey with the terrycloth that didn’t feed them.

Dr. Sarah (15:21):

Right. Yes. He was seeing like, he sort of disrupted that idea saying like, no, it’s not just being fed. It’s the comfort and the closeness and the sort of softness. So there was like two monkeys in a cage, two fake monkeys. One was made out of wire, but had the milk. And one was made out of terrycloth and they would take these baby monkeys and put them in the cage, separated from their real mom and just see what they would do. It’s a horrible study. So sad. So, but, a lot of interesting information came out of it because it showed that surprisingly to the belief at the time that the monkeys would go to the wire monkey for food, but they would always go to the comfort and softness of the terrycloth monkey whenever they were scared. So whenever that attachment biological attachment drive was activated,

Bethany (16:14):

Exactly.

Dr. Sarah (16:14):

They would run to the monkey that comforted them, not the monkey that fed them.

Bethany (16:20):

Exactly. And so that was like the, that was a strange situation. So Mary Ainsworth went, you know, she, she met up with Bowlby was on his team, really doubted what he was saying. She wasn’t a believer at the time. And then she ended up going to Uganda because her husband got a job there. And she was like, okay, let me do my own study here and see what I think. And she studied 26 Gonda women and their babies. And she immediately saw that he was right, that these, these were relationships. She was seeing, not just some kind of mechanistic food exchange. And so then she, she she then did the first empirical study of attachment in Uganda. And and so it was then that she started to see the different attachment types, the classifications, which sometimes people call styles, but in the science, it’s usually called patterns.

Bethany (17:14):

I really prefer the word style is just way too easy to bandy about and to misunderstand and to think of something that you can like change or put on, or, you know, it’s like style, it’s just a little too light. But so that’s where she started to see that. And then she went to Baltimore and she re she replicated the study much more intensely and found that she had been correct that there are three different classifications. There’s secure, there’s insecure avoidant, and there’s insecure ambivalent, or sometimes called resistant. And then she was studying 26 suburban white women in Baltimore. She wanted to get the most opposite you know, study group of, you know, control that she could finally, that she could get. And so that’s why she went up. And that’s why she developed with that study with that population.

Bethany (18:10):

And then she found that it was the same that they were she found the same three classifications, but the white babies didn’t have as much of that secure base behavior that you’re talking about with the monkeys. And she figured it might be because they’re not as afraid of me for one thing. We’ve all seen white people before. Unlike the kids in Uganda who had never seen a white person before, so it was a lot of that moving back and forth. And she said let me see what happens if I goose their attachment system a little bit on purpose, maybe that will come to life. And in fact it did, that’s where she constructed the strange situation, a 20 minute laboratory procedure, where a baby and the caregiver go into a room. And there are a series of separations and reunions and a trained observer can see, how does, how does a baby and the parent interact?

Bethany (19:03):

Does the mother, does the parent serve as a secure base for the baby? Can the baby’s stress of being left alone in this strange environment, be soothed by the parent. That’s the primary question of the strange situation. And so that’s why there are these, you know, attachment, so when a child is sick, their attachment system kicks up. We often hear about how kids are so cuddly when they’re sick. You know, we kind of like it when our kids are a little bit sick, cause they’re so snugly. And that’s because their attachment system is online. And it’s really important what we do in those moments.

Dr. Sarah (19:38):

Yeah. And similarly, when like kids are at those developmental stages of separation, anxiety comes out, right? Like they get more clingy and parents are always like, oh my God, all of a sudden, my kids will not let me like go to the bathroom by myself. Like, they’re just all over me. And that’s their attachment system kicking up because for a number of different reasons, but developmentally, there’s so many big shifts in their world. And even like, as they learn and acquire new skills, the world feels different and that can be kind of unmooring for kids. So they become more activated in their attachment needs. And so you see that clingingness, it’s really a sign that your child’s brain is developing.

Bethany (20:21):

Yeah. And their emotions and, you know and if we ourselves have a secure attachment, we can tolerate that better. You know, if we ourselves have an insecure attachment, those kinds of experiences can be really triggering for us. And then we, you know, tend to push off or we avoid. And we don’t, we’re not comfortable with our own feelings around child needing us. And so our child gets the very clear message that we are not available for that. And that’s how the generation, that’s how attachment moves through generations.

Dr. Sarah (21:01):

Right. Because those parents that are maybe telling their child, or who are being activated by their child in that moment. And then shut off a little bit, probably had a parent who did a similar thing with them.

Bethany (21:12):

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And that’s not to say that, you know, one of the things that’s really important to remember is that even if you have an avoidant attachment, you’re still in an organized pattern of attachment, you know, all is not lost. This is not some kind of you know, pathological experience. It’s a really common solution to a problem, which is, well, you know, we are, we are emotionally psychically, physically physiologically overwhelmed. Our systems get totally flooded. And unless we have parents who are managing their own feelings, this is what happens. We learn that like, you know, we don’t learn with our heads. We absorb this quality of, you know, avoidance is, and it’s so subtle. And it’s so profound that it’s, and that’s why the styles thing drives me kind of crazy because it’s so beyond anything you, you’re going to find on a checklist or a self-assessment.

Dr. Sarah (22:14):

Right.

New Speaker (22:15):

I know… So, yeah go ahead.

Dr. Sarah (22:18):

Oh, I was going to say, I also think that, like, tell me what you think of this, I’m really curious to hear your opinion on this. Because I think people talk a lot about, well, I’m securely attached or I’m insecurely attached, meaning like myself, is that where I actually think the attachment style or the attachment patterns really refers to the quality, the attachment quality of that relationship itself. It’s the space in between two people. You can have a secure relationship with one person. You can have a relationship with another person that activates a lot of insecurity within you. You, you’re not bound and gagged by this to be doomed, to repeat it in perpetuity forever. Like you, there are qualities when people feel safe, we tend to feel safe with them and they can activate secure parts to ourselves. Whereas when people make us feel unsafe, they can activate insecure parts of ourselves.

Bethany (23:15):

Absolutely.

Dr. Sarah (23:16):

So there is some fluidity, it’s not this, like, this is who I am 100% of the time, all the, all the always and forever.

Bethany (23:24):

I would say though, in what Mary Ainsworth calls crunch times, that the truth will come out. So in a marriage with a sick child in times of stress, when, you know, push, when relationship push comes to relationship shove, we do have a you know, attend a very strong tendency. Now, none of this is deterministic at all. I mean, you can be the most avoidant, disorganized person in the world and heal. Absolutely. and by the way, for everybody who’s listening, who wants to know what kind of attachment they have, there’s no way of knowing really, other than by looking at your relationships. Are your relationships satisfying? Do you value, attachment? Do you work on the weekends or do you hike with your family? Do you end up arguing a lot with people or are things pretty harmonious? You know, it’s like, that, this is the best way to know, but the, but the, but the truth of the matter for everybody, no matter what kind of attachment you have, or you think you have, we can all become stronger relationship warriors, if you will, by becoming more aware of our own relationship, or our own emotions. Because ultimately a secure attachment gives us the freedom to feel whatever we feel.

Bethany (25:06):

It’s not always going to be that we’re feeling good or happy or connected, but we can feel the darkness. We can feel the shadow, we can feel our disappointment, and then we can work it through. So that’s the real gift of a secure attachment it’s not that were successful or happy all the time. It’s that we can feel when we feel terrible. And do something about it.

Dr. Sarah (25:32):

Yeah. And speaking to that idea of the intergenerational transmission of this is that if you want to help your child develop a secure attachment, one of the best ways you can do that is to allow them to have all the feelings

Bethany (25:44):

Better, even better allow yourself.

Dr. Sarah (25:47):

Yes. Well, one is kind of, you kind of can’t have one without the other.

Bethany (25:51):

Which is why I say start with you.

Dr. Sarah (25:54):

Yes. Which makes me think too, a lot of, so you run these monthly sort of learning circles the, the secret teachings of Mary Ainsworth, where you talk about you, basically, you break down the maternal caregiving and interaction skills, which these are very, like kind of little known documents that you, 

Bethany (26:14):

That Mary wrote.

Dr. Sarah (26:18):

Yes. And I’ve come to a couple of them. And they are like the most wonderful hour. I like loved it. But one of the things that was very profound that you do, that I, that you did in those, in those sessions is basically you do this exercise where you have people in the circle read parts of Mary Ainsworth’s, sort of observations about basically these scales. These scales that are measuring how how a mother is attending to caregiving and attending to like what her attunement is to the child. And measuring out in different ways. And so it’s describing a mother and a child, and sort of what Mary’s looking for when she’s observing an interaction.

Bethany (27:04):

On a scale of one to nine. It’s the most quote, judgemental thing any mother would ever want to read. It’s not for the faint of heart. You have to be brave, but it’s, you know, incredible.

Dr. Sarah (27:18):

Yes, it’s definitely, it’s hard to read it. Cause you’re like, Ooh, gosh. But then what you do is you have, whoever’s reading it, replace the child in this description with myself. And what you’re doing in that moment is helping everybody who’s in that room. Most of us mothers reading this thing saying, oh my God, this is all the things that I’m doing wrong. This is the list of things that I’m doing wrong and saying, no, this is me. And understanding that I have an inner child that has feelings and has experiences and has had needs met and unmet and what that feels like. And so it’s not about being a good or bad parent. It’s about being a human being in the world who sometimes does, and sometimes does not get their needs met and having a lot of compassion for that process. And I just absolutely thought that was so profound.

Bethany (28:10):

Yeah, no, it is super profound. I love doing it so much. It’s free by the way, for your listeners. I really just love doing this. And I love getting Mary’s word out there. And, you know, we only have so much time in a day. And so I know there are so many wonderful teachers and, you know, parenting experts who really talk about allowing that child’s feelings in. But my experience is that I can’t do that unless I’m learning about myself, unless I am, I just wrote a post today. I haven’t posted it yet, but I just started designing it. And, and I wrote – who’s tantrum is it? You know, because it’s like, if I’m totally in my seat as an adult and my daughter has, I mean, she’s 15, she doesn’t have the same kind of tantrums anymore. I have much bigger ones than she does these days.

Bethany (29:04):

You know, when, but when she was little and she would have very occasional tantrum, I mean, she was just doing her thing, her work. Right. But I was so overwhelmed and so dysregulated by what are people going to think? And, oh my God, you know, like I’m the worst mother in the world and just that riff of shame and anxiety. And, and then I would end up, you know, I would, I would either fight flight or freeze and then it was impossible to manage her with kind compassion. So that’s why I like to disrupt that allow your child’s feelings, trope, because yeah, that sounds good. But if people are anything like me, I cannot do that when I’m in the grips of my own tantrum.

Dr. Sarah (29:52):

True. Totally true. And I think when we give parents the tools to say, and again, like, I think a lot of it’s funny, cause I do a lot of work with parents and helping parents understand their kids. But in reality, that work is identical. If you kind of exactly what we’re talking about with the Mary Ainsworth stuff, and the secret teachings that you do. Or when you replace my child with myself. That inner child work, that reparenting oneself, like it’s the same rubric

Bethany (30:23):

It is. And it’s more efficient to try to understand yourself because in understanding your child, I mean, you know, I believe you can only go so far. I mean, it’s great to know kind of developmental stages and what’s appropriate. And yes, we have so much ability to understand and to learn with our minds, like read all the, you know, stuff in the world. But until we are really in touch with our own fever, you know, our own rage, our own despair, our own disappointment, our own sadness, our own depression, you know, whatever it is we’re always going to, you know, to me, the most important thing is creating the space for your child to feel what they feel. And, and because we are fused creatures, they learn that again, not intellectually, but absorption wise from us. And so us doing our own work is going to be, it’s going to be a much more efficient way for us to give our children the love and affection and care and attention that we desire. It’s just be a little more automatic.

Dr. Sarah (31:34):

Right? And I think that the beauty about that is you can do that. You can’t do something to your child. You can’t make your child feel this, or think this, or change this behavior. You, you can, you can scaffold, you can support, you can definitely shape, but you’re not in control of them.

Bethany (31:53):

Exactly.

Dr. Sarah (31:55):

But we are much, not always, but much more likely to be, have access to being in control of ourselves of the way that we interpret things. Or if we have automatic interpretations going back and double checking and saying, hey hold on. I just, my mind went straight to that worst possible case, fear. Is there anything else that it could be, can I go back and just reassess and say, well, what’s a more benign interpretation. Is there anything else that could possibly be? And that shifts, right? Like, I’m thinking of an example of like I was working with a family and they were always talking about how getting out the door in the morning was causing like tremendous agitation and distress and everyone falling apart. And one of the reasons why one of the, and I asked the parent, like, what are the thoughts that are going through your head in this moment when your child will not put their shoes on and the thoughts were, they’re supposed to be able to do this by themselves. And because they’re not, I’m failing, I’m failing at doing my job. And so that was the work wasn’t about getting your kid to put your shoes on at all. It was about changing that thought in the moment and saying, maybe it’s not my job to have my child be able to put their shoes on at all points of the timeline of the day. Like maybe there are times when I accept that, even though this is a skill, my child does possess, they can’t access it. And I am not failing,

Bethany (33:25):

You know, just in terms of that. I remember so well when mornings were tough for us. And I, I do a lot of work with businesses and like mission and values and stuff like that. And I remember thinking to myself, you know what, cause I was seeing all these thoughts. Like she needs to be able to do this. And then like so much mishegoss around like shoulds. And I was like, you know what? I value harmony in the morning more than teaching a lesson, making sure I’m being a good mom. Like I can’t go through this again. So I am going to make every effort to help her get out the door harmoniously for me because I, I want, I value harmony and it can’t be bad for her. Now, if she’s 15 and can’t tie her shoes, then maybe we need to sit down and do a little more work around that.

Bethany (34:22):

But you know, to give ourselves permission, to have desires, to have a feeling of like, I want to have a harmonious morning and I can let myself off the hook for a morning of like being this, you know, 24 7 teach bot, who’s supposed to be like, just teaching less than my husband is a psychotherapist. And he reminds me of this all the time that like teaching a lesson is just like the worst. And I do it all the time, constantly lecturing Azalea, like, ugh. And in those stressful moments, like she’s five minutes late to class. I’m like, well, have you thought about how we got to this place? And she said, uhhh! Who can blame her?

Dr. Sarah (35:04):

Yeah, I would do. I mean, I’ve literally have done that to my own mother. Like I have had that exact same visceral response where it’s like. Uhhh, I don’t want to think or learn right now. I need to just do this on my own.

Bethany (35:19):

I know exactly. Oh my gosh.

Dr. Sarah (35:20):

And I love my mother for the record. We have a very harmonious relationship and still those things happen and that’s important I think to, even going back to the very, very beginning of our conversation. We were talking about like being able to find delight in your child or able to pick them up when they need that connection. You don’t have to pick your child up every single time to still be able to be that safe, secure base for them. And for them to reliably assume you will pick them up most of the time. This is another question I get asked all the time from parents where they’re like my child cries. When I separate from them, are they insecurely attached? And I’m like, no. We want to see that like, you know, we need to be able to say..

Bethany (36:12):

It depends on the age of the child, of course.

Dr. Sarah (36:14):

Right. True.

Bethany (36:15):

And the nature of the separation, I mean, there are many, you know, every separation separation is not the same.

Dr. Sarah (36:21):

Right? No. And it’s a nuanced question because the answer can be, yes, the answer can be, yes, this separation could affect their attachment. That’s certainly true. But typically that’s referring to sort of stark and extreme separations or, or ones that are, you know, chronic and unrepaired. Yeah. That’s I think the piece that’s missing in those, in the things that ended up kind of causing problems, this is not like separating. Like I drop my kid off at school and they cried. Yeah. really the question is when you come pick them up at school, are they able to be comforted by your presence? Right.

Bethany (36:58):

Right. But I would also really veer people away from asking that question. Am I, is my kid secure or not secure business? Becuse it’s not like that. You know? And it’s, and it’s so weaponized, it’s such a classic thing of like something that’s so beautiful being weaponized against women. It’s like, so classic, this is what patriarchy does. So I really want to take this attachment weapon out of the hands of mothers who are just like beating themselves to a pulp about it. It’s just a way of understanding a certain part of our bodies.

Dr. Sarah (37:33):

Yes. And everyone is attached.

Bethany (37:35):

Everyone is attached. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (37:38):

If you are a human being and you are breathing, you are attached.

Bethany (37:43):

Yeah, except for in extreme cases of neglect and torture. I mean, you know, but people you’re dealing with are not there.

Dr. Sarah (37:53):

Right. It’s really about like the quality of that attachment or how comfortable it feels for you to be in that state of attachment. Because a lot of times attachment can feel really uncomfortable to us.

Bethany (38:07):

Or you don’t even recognize that it’s happening. That’s avoidant. When the talks are uncomfortable, the avoidant people are like, what? I’m just going to go back to work.

Dr. Sarah (38:22):

Right. Sort of aloof sort of

Bethany (38:25):

Distant.

Dr. Sarah (38:27):

Yeah. But, if you are avoidantly attached and you are aloof and you’re distant being intensely attuned and connected to a human being can be very uncomfortable. It’s like anything out of the zone of comfort, anything out of that pattern that you are used to, isn’t comfortable. That’s why we stay in that space.

Bethany (38:49):

Totally. And I’m glad you’ve couched in terms of just comfort. You know, this is not some like decrease. Some like holy decree. This is just like comfort. And like, so you’re a little uncomfortable deal with it. If you’re really serious about having, creating the best environment for your child, you’re going to have to deal with your discomfort. And I don’t have patience for people who aren’t willing to do that. You know, you can’t, you can’t say that you’re like, so you know, devoted to this attachment business and be very unwilling to bend. Which has been something that I’ve experienced quite a lot.

Dr. Sarah (39:27):

Yes. But I also think people are afraid to bend because again, it’s like this, it’s like a fun house mirror. It’s like, every time you look, you see the next version of the reflection, it’s like goes all the way. It’s like back and forth and back and forth. But like if yes, we want people to be able to bend to stretch. Right. I talk a lot about when we talk about stretching our distress tolerance, muscles, like anything that can like, do something like a little stretch outside of our comfort zone. But you have to feel safe enough to be able to stretch out of the comfort zone. So when people are rigidly defended against changing that, it’s usually because they’re terrified on the inside. And so that’s where the, I think the real work starts is figuring out why is this so scary? How do we increase safety? And then with that sense of safety, then you can start to try something different. And that’s, I mean, I guess that’s why people go to therapy, right? Like that’s what I do with people.

Bethany (40:32):

Intimacy is terrifying.

Dr. Sarah (40:35):

It is for a lot of people, especially if it’s not the way that your family operated.

Bethany (40:41):

Right. I guess what I would say, and we’re talking to adults obviously listen to the people in your life.

Bethany (40:52):

You know, people ask me all the time. If you, if you feel a little charge is because I get asked this so much is that we really want, and like an external, like silver bullet kind of thing. And as somebody who, you know, I’ve spent 20 years sitting on a meditation cushion or more at this point, you know, studied my buns off to try to understand this. Like I don’t, I’m not saying everybody needs to do what I do, but, but like relationship intimacy is hard, one. And it doesn’t come easy to many of us. And you know, I guess to me it feels like part of our, give it to me now, culture. And and I’m just not into that.

Dr. Sarah (41:38):

And I so respect that because I think that’s kind of a lot of the work I do with people who come to me and they’re like, something’s wrong, we need to fix it. And I say, okay, let’s understand what that even really means because maybe it’s not broken.

Bethany (41:52):

Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (41:52):

Maybe this is just the way you operate in the world, because this is the world. This is the blueprint that you operate on. This is your blueprint. And once we understand the blueprint and how we got there, that’s why I love attachment so much because it’s the first blueprint, right? It’s the first one we make. We edit that blueprint as we go. Of course. And there can be massive edits at different parts in our lives. A really amazing relationship that profoundly changes our sense of safety in the world that edits the blueprint. You know.

Bethany (42:26):

Absolutely. Or a really abusive relationship that destroys you.

Dr. Sarah (42:29):

Edits the blueprint, right? Our blueprint is always evolving as we experience the world. Which means our attachment is also evolving. It’s I think people think of it as like, ah, it’s this fixed thing. It’s this small window. And as parents who are now responsible for the quality of attachment of our child, which again is debatable, I believe. But then there’s a tremendous pressure. It’s like, we have this one little window and if we don’t get it perfect, we are totally setting our child up for a lifetime of hurt. And we are going to be responsible for that. And what a, what a weight. That’s not fair to put on ourselves.

Bethany (43:08):

Yeah. But in another way, it’s easier because that’s sort of that silver bullet mentality. Like I do this, or I do that, like tell me what to do. And it’s not, that’s not the way human. That’s not the way real life operates.

Dr. Sarah (43:21):

No. And so there’s a lot of letting go and leaning in and sitting back and just being like, I’m gonna just see. I’m going to be here.

Bethany (43:30):

Yeah. And the delight thing is so great because it’s like permission granted, like go do something that makes you happy, moms, like martyrs. Little sacrificial lambs. Like no, totally. No, totally. No.

Dr. Sarah (43:48):

No. So if you are listening, if you’ve listened this far hear Bethany and me say out loud with like big neon letters, you have permission to find things that make you happy and that doesn’t have to be your child. It certainly can be, but it doesn’t have to be. And it shouldn’t exclusively be. And if you can do that, if you can find delight, authentic delight, it’s going to likely translate to your relationship with your kid.

Bethany (44:19):

Oh, it will. Not likely it will.

Dr. Sarah (44:22):

Even better.

Bethany (44:23):

We are holograms. We don’t, there’s no real space between us and our kids between us and anybody, you know? I’m a Buddhist. So that’s how I understand the world. You and I are the same thing, but I’m not you and you are not me. What I have in my heart is what you will receive and vice versa. And that’s just the way it is. And so it’s not even that it likely will translate, but we cannot give our children what we do not have. And so if we are filled, if we’re brimming with delight, we will share with our children what we have in our hearts.

Dr. Sarah (45:03):

Yeah.

Bethany (45:03):

The good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. And so the best thing to do, if you have limited time, like I do is to cultivate what’s best in your own heart. And and try to understand our relationships with our children that way through the inside.

Dr. Sarah (45:22):

Yeah. And to leave you with that picture that you painted of like, it’s the mom, who’s doing everything by the book, but is feeling empty while she does it. Versus the mom. Who’s breaking all the rules, but loves every moment of it.

Bethany (45:40):

Or, not every moment.

Dr. Sarah (45:41):

Yes, let’s rephrase.

Bethany (45:44):

Who delights in her child.

Dr. Sarah (45:44):

But is able to delight in her child and not beat herself up for breaking the rules. I’m using air quotes with my rules here. But like, those are two extreme ends of the spectrum. We can live in the middle, but at the end of the day, like being so fixated by the rules is not helpful. Right.

Bethany (46:06):

Absolutely. Or maybe one day we break the rules the next day. We don’t, you know, it’s like, maybe we don’t know what the rules are and we’re going to figure them out.

Dr. Sarah (46:14):

Yes. But that, that requires some confidence on our part to just be present and listen to our kids and not feel like, like you were saying, like not always be looking out to the external places to tell us what we’re supposed to be feeling and doing. It’s a lot more about the, how we’re doing things than what we’re doing. Thank you so much for being here and have a wonderful day.

Bethany (46:38):

Thanks guys.

Dr. Sarah (46:46):

I loved having a conversation with Bethany about attachment. I could’ve talked to her literally all day. It can be challenging, but so rewarding and impactful on our parenting. When we put in the work on ourselves, breaking cycles, identifying triggers and beginning to heal old wounds. This is something that we refer to as reparenting, if you’re interested in hearing more about that topic, make sure to head over to Instagram and follow me @drsarahbren. I’ll be sharing strategies and coping methods along with posts on attachment theory, child development and emotion regulation, and more.

Dr. Sarah (47:21):And go ahead and subscribe to my newsletter, too, so you never miss a thing. If you’re already on Instagram, just click the link in my bio to sign up, or you can head to drsarahbren.com and scroll all the way to the bottom to find the sign up button. Thanks for listening to this episode. And until next time don’t be a stranger

 

 

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