Click here to listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Secure attachment is not that fragile! After all, it’s biologically hardwired in our children to connect with us to ensure their greatest likelihood of survival—we have to actively work against our children’s and our own biology to mess it up.

 In this episode, Dr. Emily Upshur is back to help answer a listener’s concern about maintaining a secure attachment bond with her baby once she goes back to work. We’ll discuss the basics of attachment theory, dispel the myth that you need to be a martyr to be a working parent, offer tips for finding small moments of connection and attunement throughout your day and help you distinguish the difference between your child’s feelings versus the feelings you may be projecting onto them.


Dr. Sarah (00:00):

You do not need to be present with your child 24/7 to create a secure attachment with them. It’s when you are with them, it’s the quality of those times and how much you can fill them up, let them feel seen, let them feel safe, getting it close to right most of the time.

Dr. Sarah (00:22):

While it’s natural to worry about so many things as a parent, often things you never even dreamed you’d be worrying about before you had kids. There is one thing that I can hopefully cross off your list. Secure attachment is not fragile. It’s actually somewhat hard to mess it up. After all it’s biologically hardwired in our children to connect with us, to ensure their greatest likelihood of survival. We as parents have to actively work against our children’s and our own biology to mess it up. In general, we wanna use attachment theory to guide and influence our parenting choices, allowing us to make informed decisions by factoring in our child’s motivations and drives. We don’t want it to be a scare tactic that guilts us into worrying that one wrong move will ruin the whole thing. Joining me today is Dr. Emily Upshur, my partner from our joint group practice Upshur Bren Psychology Group. We’re tackling a listener question, and honestly, I get some version of this one a lot. This mom is worried about maintaining a secure attachment bond with her baby when she has to go back to work once her maternity leave ends. Emily and I have both been there multiple times each. So we can relate to this one on a personal level as well as a professional one. Whether or not you’re planning to go back to work, this episode is chalk full of the psychological and real world applications of attachment theory, attunement, transitions, and separation anxiety. So there’s something here for everyone.

Dr. Sarah (02:04):

Do you sometimes feel that while you love parenthood, it’s also overwhelming, messy, confusing, and not always exactly what you thought it would be? Do you wish that you could stop worrying if you’re doing it right, and just feel confident, trusting yourself? Let me clue you in to one of the best kept secrets that I have discovered through my own clinical practice and my years as a mother. When you understand the basics of child development, psychology, and neurobiology, you are able to work with your child’s brain and body rather than fight against it. You develop a true of confidence and you feel in control knowing that you’re prepared to navigate whatever challenge parenthood might throw your way. And that is exactly why I created The Authentic Parent: Finding your confidence in your child’s first year. Whether you are a brand new parent, or maybe you’re thinking about how to approach a second or third child with a different set of skills. This six week course will arm you with all the knowledge you need to feel grounded and confident in your parenting journey. Enrollment is limited, so make sure to sign up for the waitlist now. Go to my website, drsarahbren.com/tap to sign up and learn more. Let’s increase your confidence and help you create a strong parent-child relationship to use as your parenting compass. Don’t miss your chance to take part in The Authentic Parent and learn to confidently move through parenthood during your child’s first year.

Dr. Sarah (03:44):

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 and confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Dr. Sarah (04:17):

Hello, Emily. Welcome back to the podcast.

Dr. Emily (04:20):

Hi, everyone.

Dr. Sarah (04:21):

So nice to have you. We are here to do a Q&A. We had someone ask a question: How do you keep a secure attachment with baby when you have to go back to work? So many thoughts on that one.

Dr. Emily (04:34):

So many and so familiar, right? I think most importantly your child is likely pretty attached already, right? Like I think there’s like, how do you keep that attachment is really important, but I think your child has, you know, knows who you are at this point. Hopefully you’ve been home a like enough a few months, right. Couple months, and knowing, getting to know your kid. But I think it’s really important to figure out, you know, how you feel going back. And so, you know, your baby is gonna be resilient by nature. Kids are very resilient by nature. So how can we be resilient and not project our worries about going back to work onto our little person, our new little person.

Dr. Sarah (05:17):

Yes, yes. I think we should talk all about that. I also think, I also think we should talk about out the fact that, you know, I think sometimes parents, when they go back to work and they have to separate from their kid, they see separation anxiety in their child.

Dr. Emily (05:31):


Dr. Sarah (05:32):

And I think sometimes misperceived that as a sign that their child’s not securely attached to them. And so maybe we could even also break apart the difference between separation anxiety and secure versus insecure attachment styles. That could be kind of a, I think that could address this question too.

Dr. Emily (05:47):

Yeah. I mean, look, I think some you know, separation anxiety is developmentally appropriate. Right? In fact, we look for that as our child grows within the first year, we look for that. They know other people that they’re realize their surroundings, right. That they know it’s, you know, that they, they know you’re handing them off to a babysitter versus a mom. Because they notice that therefore an expression is often crying or fussing. But that doesn’t mean a it’s a bad thing. Right. We actually hope for them to understand those differences and separation anxiety is completely appropriate and the direction we want to see kids go in, but we can’t get overly panicked about that.

Dr. Sarah (06:29):

Right. So I think, okay, so let’s start. Well, I wanna get into both of those kinds of ideas, but first let’s start off talking just a little bit about out what attachment, if you’re regular listener on this podcast, you probably have heard me talk about attachment theory before, but let’s give people a little primer. Like what does attachment theory say is going on? And what is it when we talk about secure attachment? What are we talking about?

Dr. Emily (06:51):

Yeah. I mean, look, when we talk about secure attachment, we’re talking about that you’re that you’re attuned with your child, that you, your child knows that, right? That when you look at your child, you’re sort of reflecting their experience, what you imagine, think, or feel is going on for them. And the examples I always give are, okay, so your baby’s fussy and the securely attached parent-child relationship, dyadic relationship is, the parents searching for the answer of that fussy. Are you hungry? Hmm. And you’re trying a bottle and that’s not working. Are you tired? Okay. Let me try to put you down for a nap and oh, I don’t know what’s going on and oh, maybe I’ll change your diaper. Oh, it was your diaper. I’m gonna change your diaper. And then you say, oh, it was your diaper. Look at that. And you’re sort of reflecting back to the baby, a version of themselves. Right. You’re trying to show them themselves.

Dr. Sarah (07:39):

And you’re getting right. Most of the time. Not all the time. Cause I love how, in your example, you’re talking about, well, you fed them the bottle first. Oops. That was not, that was a misattunement. Oh, you, you, I forget what your other example was, but you did something else wrong and that, oh, got it wrong. And then you landed it right. You got it right. That it was the diaper. And it’s this idea that like, you don’t have to get it all the time. It’s this process of saying I’m paying attention to you. I’m following you. I’m reflecting back. What’s happening to you. It’s like, we’re, we’re in sync right now. I don’t have to fix your, I don’t have to get it right every time for you to have that sense of being in sync.

Dr. Emily (08:14):

And well, and in fact, and that’s not the goal, right? So what I say to new moms all the time is, you know, the famous “good enough mothering,” right. But I always say that that’s the goal. And some, for a lot of us overachiever out there you know, that’s not, that’s not a goal. That’s not good. That’s not what we’re aiming for. We’re not aiming for good enough, but we actually are. Right. Because we don’t wanna be there to know every need immediately. And for the child to learn that relationships work can require a little bit of a dance or a little bit of getting to know each other. And we wanna be able to demonstrate that and it’s okay. Right? Like that’s an okay thing to do.

Dr. Sarah (08:52):

Yes. So our kids are born. They’re biologically hardwired to form unattachment with us. No child is unattached. What we’re talking about when we talk about security is when we’re looking at that attachment, how secure is that attachment relationship? How much does that child reliably expect to have their needs met by their primary caretaker most of the time, and feel like they get filled up by that person. They’re safe with that person reliably. So that’s secure attachment the other sort of types of attachment there’s other types of less secure, we call it insecure attachment styles are as a result of a child, not exactly being a hundred percent certain that they are actually going to be able to rely on that caregiver to meet their needs most of the time. And so they create defensive structures within themselves to protect themselves from feeling that misattunement and having, or, and, or not surviving. Right. So and we’re not gonna get so into the different types of insecure attachment styles in this episode, you can go back to my episode on attachment theory 101 to really get into that. But really what we’re talking about, I think what this mom is asking, is I’m going to work. I’m gonna be separated from my kid. Will I not be able to create the secure attachment if I’m separated from them during the day while I’m at work?

Dr. Emily (10:25):

I mean, I think that’s a really good point, Sarah. And I would just add to, and not, I know that you went into this earlier, but I, I would just add that secure attachment is also not just, are they safe and reliable, but are they seen? And I think that’s the piece that the working mom really can do, even if it’s within less time. Right? Yeah. Like even if it’s not within the hours of work hours. You’re showing the child that you see them for who they are. Right. Like, you’re like, oh, it’s the diaper. Oh, you just had a dirty diaper and you’re reflecting back to them who they are. And, you know, giving them reinforcement that they’re feeling is validated and, oh, that makes sense. And you know, those types of attunements are really, really valuable for children to feel a secure sense of self. And that can happen in the hour before bed. Right. That can happen and be filled up enough in the bath, you know? Oh, you’re, you know, you’re playing with, you’re reflecting back to them who they are and that you’re in this attuned matching sort of dynamic with them where you can play with that a little bit. And that working parents can do in the 20 minutes before they head out the door, you know, they’re, it’s not a time limit. It’s more of a quality over quantity type thing.

Dr. Sarah (11:37):

Yeah. And I think that’s really validating for working parents to know, like, you do not need to be present with your child 24/7 to create a secure attachment with them. It’s when you are with them. And I imagine that even working parents are with their children some of the time, it’s the quality of those times and how much can you really fill them up? Let them feel seen, let them feel safe, let them trust that you will be there most of the time, getting it close to right most of the time. 80/20, you know. Being that good enough parent, it doesn’t need to be 24/7 for it to be, for it to land.

Dr. Emily (12:20):

Yeah. And, and one thing I think is important is, you know, when you go back to work it can be so overwhelming for working parents, right. And there’s, there’s a lot, it’s, you’re managing multiple things, right. Your job, as well as your relationship with your baby and potentially your household. And I think the biggest recommendation I give to parents who are like, what do I need to know when I go back to work is, you gotta take a little time for yourself too. Like that transition home is really important. You know, being able to, you know, I used to very much utilize just the five minute walk from my transportation to my house to like regroup, reconnect separate from my day. So that when I do walk in the door, right, I can do that attunement that we’re talking about. How can I execute that most fully given that I have a little less time, but I want it to be good quality. Like I wanna do the best I can during that time. And that’s not to say you’re gonna do that every time. But it is important as you transition back to work, to be mindful of like, oh, I need to take care of myself too. Like I need to, you know, calm my nervous system before I walk in the door or refocus my attention or slow down a little bit. And that can be an important piece of like how to maintain that healthy attachment.

Dr. Sarah (13:35):

Yes. I love the phrase, this is a phrase I often tell parents when they’re walking back in the door or when they’re walking in to be with their kids after having a time away is, or anytime they’re shifting roles, is to say, what is my role and what is my goal? It’s kind of like a little reset grounding mantra to kind of remind you like, okay, right now I’m walking in to be, I’m gonna be mom. And my goal is to spend 30 minutes of sort of quality connected, fill time with my kid right now. If I can just even check in with myself as I’m walking in the door or in my case, you know, now, or in COVID times walking up the stairs from the basement, like we don’t have these commutes anymore. We don’t have these like concrete transition markers we have to kind of now it’s even harder.

Dr. Sarah (14:24):

We have to make them for ourselves in a more, we have to make something concrete. That’s not concrete right now. And that’s why I think now, now more than ever, I use that. I actually use that thought. I say, what is my role? What is my goal? Can I take my phone and leave it in my downstairs office for the next half hour and not bring it up with me? Can I, you know, remind myself that for the next 30 minutes I wanna fill up, I want, I wanna fill my kids up and I want my kids to fill me up. And that’s my goal for the next 30 minutes as that first entry back into being mom from being, you know, Dr. Sarah that I think is really helpful because it’s a, it’s a good, it’s an easy reminder.

Dr. Emily (15:10):

Yeah. And I think this comes up a lot, actually with a lot of my mom patients is, you know, what you’re doing? Isn’t so important. You know, I get a lot of parents that are like, I’m so exhausted when I get home. I want to do bath, but I don’t wanna do bath. You know, I’m so tired. And I, you know, so one of the things I give a lot of mom permission to do is that you don’t have to have face time in some of these things because you’re sitter or your husband or someone else bathes your child, right. That doesn’t maybe that’s the best use of your reset time. Like maybe then you get to do snuggles and books and you don’t feel exhausted by having grinded out a workday and a bath and a mealtime and a book and a bed. Right.

Dr. Emily (15:53):

And I, I always give mom’s permission to say like, you don’t have to do face time, you know, it’s really okay to try to pick and choose if you have that ability, you know, what is gonna allow you to be most present, right? What is your, what is gonna allow you to do this my role and my goal, right. Is my goal to be, you know, connected with my child, or is, is my goal to give them a bath, right. Maybe bath time is when you do that, I don’t wanna take that away. You know, that’s not, it’s just an example of, you know, some, sometimes you can give a little in order to get what you need.

Dr. Sarah (16:25):

Yes. Yes. And I think that’s another thing that I, I think working moms really struggle with, and there’s kind of this, like maybe guilt or pressure that we put on ourselves that like, because I’m away during the day from the second I’m done working till the second my kids go to bed, I better be full on mommying. And I owe it to my children and I it’s my job. And that’s my responsibility. And I’m, if I don’t enjoy that or, or it doesn’t matter if I enjoy it, I that’s, my, you know, that’s important and think, you know, I don’t necessarily think that that is critical. I think your kids will benefit far more if like what you said, you have somebody who can help you out with some of the tasks so that you can also, if you’ve been working a full day, you might want a little moment to like, you know.

Dr. Emily (17:11):

Change your clothes.

Dr. Sarah (17:12):

Go for a walk. Change your clothes. Do something for yourself. Catch up on a phone call, like whatever. And then you can really enter in and really be present. Like, I think one hour of really connected time is worth way more than three hours of like scattered harried end of the day, get everything done with your kids time

Dr. Emily (17:36):

A hundred percent. And I think that also leads into another really important concept, which is healthy attachment means your child could be attached to more than just you. Right. And that doesn’t take away from how valuably attached they are to you as the parent. So if you’re, and in fact, I would argue that it’s healthier even to have more loving attachment figures, right? Like if my child knows that I’m not the only one that can do things in a way that feels safe and confident and good, then you know, it’s, it’s more ideal if they understand that, right. That they know that it’s not just me, that they have many people that are, have that safety in them, you know?

Dr. Sarah (18:16):

Yeah. And I think it’s also helpful for parents to know that it’s not a zero sum game either. Like it’s, like, I think a lot of times moms who go back to work and they, you know, they’re having their child have a care provider or spend time with their dad or spend time with an in-law while they’re at work worry, are they gonna become more attached to them than me because they’re spending so much more time with them? And I think the reality is, is a child bond with their person, right? Their mother or their father, or their primary caregiver is always going to be something a little bit more special and more intimate than with the other people in their life. Even if they’re securely attached with these people, even if they spend more time with these people.

Dr. Sarah (19:05):

And it’s not, it’s not like your child only has so much attachment to give, and if you us out on it, you won’t get it. I think if you are able, like we were talking about earlier to, to make sure that you’re really doing that work of, attuning to your child and filling them up when you’re with them and having really meaningful quality time with them when you are with them in a way that you have the bandwidth to do, because you’re protecting your, you know, your own needs too, you are, you’re on the very, very solid track of creating a beautifully secure relationship with your child, and no relationship with a care provider or another, you know, family member is gonna undo or undermine that.

Dr. Emily (19:49):

A hundred percent. And I think that’s super important to keep in mind specifically for this person’s question, because listen, when you walk in that door again, or you walk upstairs, you know, as it may be your child, they might need a little transition time. Right. They might not run screaming. Oh, mommy. So glad you’re home, you know, or that type of thing, they might be a little slow to warm up and that’s, and like ease back into you. Even from a day. Right. And that’s actually doesn’t mean they’re less attached to you. That doesn’t mean that it’s back to what you’re saying. It’s not a zero sum game. It just means they’re transitioning. Right. They’re transitioning back into your relationship. And that’s, I think that’s really important. Cause I, that happens with some that sometimes can happen as people transition back to work or the, you know, your child goes to the babysitter when they fall down and get hurt. And, you know, there’s, there’s all of these sort of examples where parents can feel undermined, but, but that’s not about it being an insecure attachment. You can still be very attached to your, to your child and your child can be very securely attached to your, to you. But these other sort of behavioral things come up that that actually are make sense to me and are developmentally appropriate, but that we, as parents can be like, ugh, that that one really hurt. You know? So I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s even if you’re doing all these things right. You know, and you’re really attuned and you’re really attached, you know, it can sometimes feel a little rough.

Dr. Sarah (21:18):

Yeah. That reminds me of the episode you and I recorded about when a child prefers another parent and like, you know, I want mommy to do everything for me, or I want the babysitter to do everything for me, Mommy, don’t touch that when you get home from work. Like, I think that, that if you’re having that go back and listen to that episode, cause it’s very relevant.

Dr. Emily (21:36):

Yeah. And I think our, I think it’s so important in those moments for us to remind ourselves that we do have a securely attached child. Right. Because in those moments saying, I got this it’s okay. Go to your yes. Have your dad give you a bath. Yes. It’s okay. If you want your babysitter to put the bandaid on, right. That only demonstrates like our own confidence that it’s okay. It’s okay. We feel like we’re really, our bond is so strong. That’s nothing is gonna get in the way of that. And sort of, you know, that, that kind of confidence, it translates into our relationship as well.

Dr. Sarah (22:11):

Right. It’s funny. It’s like, it’s almost like how you respond in those moments reinforces how securely attached the relationship becomes. Because if you are saying like, I’m so shaken by this, wait, no, come back. I need you gimme more, wait, stop, give, no, you have to do me. And I’m only, you know, then we’re creating that insecurity, right? That’s that where our need in that moment is seeping into the relationship with our child in that moment, which can actually, you know, create a little insecurity. Right? That’s sort of moving away from that attunement that seeing a child, ah, you want daddy right now. That makes sense. That’s okay. Yeah. I can be me and you can be you and you can want daddy and still love me. And I can hold space for all of that. That is what, ultimately, these are the kinds of little drops of water that fill up that secure attachment bucket over time, right?

Dr. Sarah (23:07):

Like, yep. It’s all these little drops, right? These moments where we see our child and we reflect accurately back to them who they are and what they need and that we can respect that. That’s what builds that security. Right? So it’s, you know, yes, our child are hardwired from birth to form an attachment to us. That’s biological. It’s just gonna happen. The quality of that attachment is, is impacted by the way we respond to our kid and the way we show up in the world with them and to ourselves, frankly, because how, you know, our own attachment styles kind of determine in many ways how attached our, our children’s attachment styles are like, if we can be secure knowing my child can want somebody else right now to do this. And I know that they love me and I’m secure in our bond, then that relaxed, confident attitude is going to communicate such safety to our child, that they too will feel secure and solid and know that they, that we’ve got them. They don’t need us to give them a bath to feel securely attached to us.

Dr. Emily (24:16):

Definitely. I think that’s totally it. And one thing I talk a lot about is, you know, with new moms is like, can we grab moments of attunement? They can be, I call them micro moments, right? It can be that you’re, you’re feeling crazy and you’re fielding a work call and your kids on the changing table. And you just pause for a second and look at them and, you know, acknowledge them. And then you can go back to everything else you’re doing, right? Like that really does have an impact, right? Where you say you found your, your feet, that’s amazing. Look at you. And then you redirect your attention somewhere else because that’s what attunement is. Right. And then the child makes another sound and then you reorient yourself back to them again, and you show them that you’re listening, but then you carry on your conversation with your husband or, you know, so these little micro moments or you divert your attention and your attention goes back and you divert your attention and your attention goes back. Those all fill up that bucket too. Right. Those are the drops. And those are sort of some of the ways I think even when you’re a tired, new working mom, balancing act kind of person, those little micro moments, micro interventions are super valuable.

Dr. Sarah (25:28):

Yeah. And I think they’re super accessible. Like it’s a lot easier to know as a parent. Okay. A two second smile has value. And then if that’s all I can do, as I’m running out the door in the morning, do it. Like I can do that. Okay. Sometimes I think, we think it’s like these massive, big commitments. Like I need to give up, you know, an entire day of work to be with my child or you know, when it’s like these small things are really accessible and they really move the needle, they’re important. They’re frankly the most important.

Dr. Emily (26:07):

Yeah. And I think, you know, we’ve, we’ve talked a little bit about like, not having to do the grinding out type of things in order to be attached, but I also, it goes the other way, you know, you can also find moments of attunement in the rough parts of parenting. Right. You know, that that’s important too. So, you know, making a meal and just slowing down for a second, you know, preparing bottles and in like slowing down and taking in that the, when you’re feeding or, you know, there are ways that it’s hard. There’s a lot going on. And, and as you know, there’s a lot of tasks of parenting, but you can insert these little more attuned moments into even the grind.

Dr. Sarah (26:44):

Yes. I actually think the grind is the best time because you’re doing it, right. A lot of parents are like, well, I only, I don’t have time to do these caregiving. You know, these moments of attunement because I’m busy, changing diapers and feeding bottles and changing clothes and doing bath time. And it’s like, those are the times use what you’ve got, like you already are changing the diaper and putting on the onesie. Right. So while you’re changing the diaper and putting on the onesie, make that the time that you slow down, you tune in, you make it a little playful, you stay really emotionally connected to your child. Don’t rush through the job to get to the attunement part. Right? Do the attunement during the task, because that allows you to sort of one double duty. And also that’s like the most intimate time of your day when you’re changing your child’s diaper. Gosh, could it be more intimate? Like that’s beautiful. That’s a time for this kind of attunement and slow hands and gentle and, you know, soft facial features. Like, you know, if we are thinking I have to rush through this diaper change so that I can get to the time when I like am with my kid. Then the time that we’re physically manipulating our child’s body is rushed. And they feel that. Like the imagine being an, a, a baby on a changing table and having the difference between hurried hands and slow, calm, soft, easy hands, like even that helps with secure attachment, right? Like being how we handle our child, physically manipulate their bodies when we’re doing these caregiving tasks, these are perfect moments for attunement and safety building and connection that’s going, and, and you’re, and I guarantee you, whether you work or not, you’re still doing this stuff. Like you are definitely changing your child’s diaper and putting their pajamas on, or, you know, giving them a bottle. Like those are the most those are the, that’s the richest moments to be really tuned into your kid. And that’s, I think where the real secure attachment gets built up. So I think sometimes parents think they have to rush through that to get to the part where they’re connecting and then you’re just, you’re always kind of rushing.

Dr. Emily (29:08):

No, I always say relationships are built in the mundane.

Dr. Sarah (29:11):

Yeah. I love that.

Dr. Emily (29:12):

And so you really have to value those mundane moments and see, you know, how we get in there to be, it’s not, let’s see and glamorous, but it really does lay the foundation for security.

Dr. Sarah (29:25):

Yep. I love that. So even if we go to work and, you know, Emily and I are working moms, we’ve been there, we’ve done it. We’ve separated from our kids. My, my oldest went to day. Both my kids went to daycare at five months. And I was lucky that I was able to get five months home with them. Like we could do a whole episode and I’m sure we will on paid family leave and you know, how, how it’s, you know, that’s a whole other conversation for another day. But the reality is I was very lucky to be able to have five months. And even then separating from my kids at five months was really hard for me. It was hard for them, but it was really hard for me. And I think that’s another thing we were talking about earlier is like, we have a tendency as parents, as human beings, to project our emotions onto others, onto our children. And so I have this anxiety about separating from my kid, which is by the way, super healthy and normal and a sign of a secure attachment. And I am understandably projecting that anxiety onto my child. And you know what, in fact, maybe, maybe they do feel, I don’t think kids feel anxious about the separation like we do, because they don’t know it’s coming, cuz they’re that this is new to them. So a lot of times I think parents who separate for the very first, after they go back to work for the first time, all that build up that anticipatory anxiety of separating from our kids, we project a lot of that onto our child and it’s not accurate. And then I think when our child’s a little bit older, they do start to have pretty strong responses to us leaving and separating. We think we’re that we inadvertently validate that that was our fear. Our fear was correct. That this is terrible and super hard for them. But I actually think like, what do you think about, about how to, how to reframe some of that?

Dr. Emily (31:13):

Yeah I mean, I also think that a child who has a quote unquote difficult time separating does not mean that their poor they’re insecurely it’s attached. Right. And I think this goes back to what we were just saying, which is the more security you have in that, right? The, the better it sort of plays out, you know we had the same, I had a very similar thing. I have a child who literally screamed and cried. Every single drop off was also in daycare from six months, at least six months. I can’t remember. Now we’re talking about my third, but my first at time this child, my first child screamed and cried hysterically torn out of arms for the entire four years. He attended this daycare. He loved this daycare. He loved, you know, everything about this place. And as a mom, I knew he was okay, but it was a rough way to start my day.

Dr. Emily (32:10):

Right. Yeah. And I think that, you know, I think that reassuring parents that that child is still very securely attached. And that I still feel confident in my attachment with them, even though temperamentally, this child is just, that was him. That was his personality, you know? And it’s okay. You know? Cause I knew he was okay and I had confidence that he was gonna be okay and would recover. But I think, I think I could, otherwise I’ve been worried, you know, what am I doing to my child? Am I ruining my relationship with them? And that’s not true, right? This is a child that’s healthy and very attached and, and still cried every single time. He’s separated.

Dr. Sarah (32:51):

And a lot of that, like you’re saying it’s personality or it’s temperament. Like some kids are very, very sensitive to transitions and that is just who they are. Secure or regardless of their attachment style, they can have a temperament that is, that struggles with transitions. Just like you could have a child whose temperament is slow to warm up. And therefore when you reunite with them, they might not be running to you. Screaming. Mommy, mommy, mommy. I’m so glad. Let me tell you all about my day. They’re like, I need a moment and I, and that’s how, and eventually I come and go in for those cuddles, but I don’t do it immediately. And I think parents can be like, oh God, they don’t love me. I’ve destroyed our relationship. I think we have to be very careful about not attributing what might be due to temperament or personality and saying, this is the, a sign of secure insecure attachment.

Dr. Emily (33:47):

Definitely. I think that’s exactly right. I think, you know, actually, this question comes up a lot for parents who use babysitters at night. Right. Cause you’re choosing to go out, which is a little bit of a different spin off of the going back to work. But similar in that parents are like, should I not go out? This child has the worst time when I leave or you know, and I think that from very young age there, that might just be that’s okay. That transition is hard for your kid, but that doesn’t mean not doing it is, is better. Right. Yeah. And it doesn’t mean if your child has a difficult time separating, you shouldn’t go to work. Right. You shouldn’t go back to work, you know? And I think we…

Dr. Sarah (34:27):

Or you shouldn’t go out to dinner. I think it’s, I think a lot of parents are like, okay, obviously I have to go to work, but I don’t have to go to dinner. And it’s like, you know what, actually, sometimes you do have to go to dinner because that’s actually taking care of your relationship with your partner, with your own mental health, with your own needs, you’re filling up your own cup. Like don’t discount the fact that sometimes it’s important that you get a night off.

Dr. Emily (34:49):

Right. And again, it doesn’t mean your child’s not securely attached just cause they hate the babysitter. It’s okay. You know, you, a child might just be a child that tortures babysitters it’s okay. You know, those things happen, it doesn’t mean that they’re traumatized or that they’re not securely attached. That’s part of this. Right. And so I really am, I wanna be careful to not dissuade people that if their children have a hard time that it means something terrible. Right. It doesn’t.

Dr. Sarah (35:16):

Yeah. Or they have to give up this thing.

Dr. Emily (35:20):

Right. Or you made the wrong choice. I shouldn’t have gone. Oh, should I have not gone back to work? Oh, is it too soon? Well, there’s really no right or wrong answer to that. Right. But your child’s behavior shouldn’t dictate that we have, you have a secure attachment to your child. Your child is securely attached to you. They’re just having a reaction, which, you know, honestly, I would expect, I think that’s healthy. Right, right. It’s a healthy reaction for them to react to a separation or a transition.

Dr. Sarah (35:47):

Right? Yes. And I think that’s important when we talk about separation anxiety, which is that separation anxiety is not a pathological situation. That’s not, separation anxiety is not the same thing as anxiety at a clinical level, like, you know, the kind of anxiety that Emily and I treat, right. Separation anxiety is actually a developmentally appropriate response to separating from someone who you don’t want to separate from. And obviously there can be extreme versions of it, but that really is no longer separation anxiety that is now a sign of a different, more of like an anxiety issue that we, you know, you can reach out to a, a therapist to help you work on. But the presence of separation anxiety in and of itself is kind of just part of life.

Dr. Emily (36:34):

Normative. Yeah. And it, and it really, I think it’s healthy and expected. And so, you know, and, and as we’ve discussed, some kids will demonstrate it more and some kids will demonstrate it less, but that doesn’t dictate our attachment.

Dr. Sarah (36:50):

And you know, there are going to be times where we’re gonna rush through a diaper change or where we’re gonna be. We’re not gonna be able to hold in our wound when our kid rejects us and we’re gonna like, you know, emote all over them. And that’s, you know, that’s not going to mess anything up. It’s not gonna like, make your kid insecurely attached. Again like this is like, I always say parenting is what happens in the aggregate. It’s how all these moments add up. And as long as you are balancing this out to some degree to favor the more contained responses and the more, you know, calm, attuned moments, you’re, you’re in the, you’re in the good zone.

Dr. Emily (37:27):

Yeah. And I, and I also think it’s that even if you know, it’s okay, it can still feel rough, right?

Dr. Sarah (37:33):

Oh yeah.

Dr. Emily (37:33):

Even if you know, it’s okay, if your child prefers the babysitter to feed them, you know, and you’ve just gotten home and you’re so excited to see your child, even if you know, it’s okay. And you’re really well attuned and you’re well regulated. It could still hurt, you know, and that’s, and that’s normative. That’s not, it’s not okay. But you know, that is, that doesn’t mean something bigger is wrong. It just means like, oof, this says what it’s like when I have many people loving my child, you know, taking care of my child and having secure attachments. And, and so that’s an important thing to note.

Dr. Sarah (38:08):

Yes. Give ourselves permission to feel the pain, but then process it as much as we can on our own.

Dr. Emily (38:14):


Dr. Sarah (38:15):

And not necessarily requiring our child to soothe that part of ourselves. I think that’s another important piece about attachment security is that boundary of, I am me. You are you, your feelings are your feelings. My feelings are my feelings. Really. Neither of us are responsible for each other’s feelings. As a parent, we are a bit more responsible for containing and soothing our child’s feelings. That is a not, that’s a one way, part of our relationship. It’s not our child’s job to manage our emotions. It doesn’t mean we can’t have emotions in front of our children. We’re just not asking them to solve them for us or to take them away for us.

Dr. Emily (38:52):

Yeah. And that, and that can be tricky in these types of moments. Cause you’re so looking forward to it, you know? And, and, and so it’s important to take that in and self-regulate, and not make that something bigger than it is.

Dr. Sarah (39:08):

Yeah. Which is hard. It’s hard. We won’t get it right all the time.

Dr. Emily (39:11):

Yep. Certainly not.

Dr. Sarah (39:13):

No, I hope this, this helps this mom who is feeling a little hesitant about going back to work. I mean, as a mom who went back to work, I feel you, I feel you on this. It’s hard. And it’s interesting. I’m like, cuz you’re saying like the, the child of yours who had the hardest time happened to be your first. So you were also like that new mom, right? That’s I’m sure that was jarring.

Dr. Emily (39:40):

It was awful. I remember starting my day in, my day in tears, you know, several times. And I think as a mom and a psychologist and a researcher, you know, it is reassuring, you know, we didn’t touch upon this totally. But it is reassuring to know there’s been so many studies about this, as you can imagine. And none of them say that working parents are less securely attached to their children than stay at home parents. So there’s really like zero evidence to back up our worries in that manner. And that’s quite the opposite. And so, you know, I think that’s reassuring and I, and I hope that other parents can find some reassurance and it’s really the quality of your relationship than the quantity.

Dr. Sarah (40:18):

Yes. And I think that means that you have within your power, as a working parent, as a stay-at-home parent, as a, it doesn’t really matter what kind of parent you are as a parent, you have within your power to create these opportunities for attunement and connection and seeing your child, reflecting them back to themselves and creating that safety. You can do that 10 minutes a day. If that’s all you’ve got, you can do it in more, obviously if you’ve got more time, but like it’s that it’s, it’s exactly what Emily is saying. It’s the, how you are with your kid, not how much you are with your kid. So thank you so much for coming on, we’ll have to do some more Q&As soon.

Dr. Emily (41:00):

Sounds great.

Dr. Sarah (41:03):

All right, bye.

Dr. Sarah (41:11):

Thanks for listening. If you wanna hear more about the basics of attachment theory, check out episode two of this podcast where I do a deep dive on the subject. And if you’re interested in tailoring the principles of attachment theory, child development and neurobiology to your own unique family, to help you be a more confident and calm parent, check out my digital course, The Authentic Parent: Finding your confidence in your child’s first year. In this six week course, I’ll help you learn how to calmly and confidently respond to any problem that arises, connect authentically with your child and truly enjoy parenting. Spoiler alert: It’s based heavily on integrating a knowledge of attachment theory into the ways that you show up as a parent. And I have seen firsthand how powerful that can be for parents over and over and over again. To learn more about The Authentic Parent and to sign up for the waitlist, go to drsarahbren.com/tap that’s, drsarahbren.com/tap. Space is limited. So add your name to the list today and be one of the first to get access to register for my February session. Thanks for listening. And don’t be a stranger.

 Want to get more from Dr. Sarah Bren? 

Follow Dr. Sarah on Instagram

Click here to join the weekly newsletter 

And check out her website for more free parenting resources

32. Going back to work after baby: Maintaining a healthy and secure attachment bond Q&A with Dr. Emily Upshur