This Children’s Day: It’s time to break Watson’s legacy in childrearing norms

By Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, API Cofounders and coauthors of Attached at the Heart

Editor’s note: November 20 is Universal Children’s Day, created by the United Nations in 1954 to improve the well-being of children. As Attachment Parenting International (API) observes Children’s Day today, we want to remember the rights of children to a safe, nurturing home where they can grow and learn with attachment-based care and discipline.

For hundreds of years, the treatment of children in many cultures has been harsh and disturbing. We know that the residuals of some of those abusive practices are still present today. Great strides have been made in the treatment of children, but we still have a long way to go.

Until the evolution of our modern Western culture, children had to grow up fast and get to work, usually on the family farm. By the time they were 8, 9 or 10 years old, their childhoods were over.

The period we call “adolescence” is a stage of development rather newly identified by child development researchers. With the identification of this new stage of development, coupled with new laws in the 20th century to protect children from abusive work practices, children were allowed to enjoy a longer childhood.

All along the way, attitudes about children and parenting practices were largely influenced by strict religious dogma or experts in the fields of psychology and human development. Over the years, thousands of parenting books have been written claiming to have the answer to raising “good,” obedient children — leaving many parents confused, anxious or feeling guilty and many children feeling disconnected from their parents.

John B. WatsonOne classic example comes from the work of psychologist John B. Watson, who admonished parents not to hug, coddle or kiss their infants and young children in order to train them to develop good habits early on. In 1928, Watson published his hugely popular childcare book, Psychological Care of Infant and Child. His parenting advice had negative and devastating effects on children and their families — sometimes for generations.

mariette hartleyIn her book Breaking the Silence, actress and comedian Mariette Hartley writes about the heartbreaking legacy for her family and millions of other families created by the advice of her maternal grandfather, John Watson, or “Big John” as she called him:

“In Big John’s ideal world, children were to be taken from their mothers during their third or fourth week: If not, attachments were bound to develop. He claimed that the reason mothers indulged in baby-loving was sexual. … Children should never be kissed, hugged or allowed to sit on their laps.

My mother’s upbringing was purely intellectual. The only time my mother was ‘kissed on the forehead’ was when she was about 12 and Big John went to war. Although she was reading the newspaper by the time she was 2, there was never any touching, not any at all. Grandfather’s theories infected my mother’s life, my life and the lives of millions.

How do you break a legacy? How do you keep from passing a debilitating inheritance down, generation to generation, like a genetic flaw?”

Suicide and depression have been the legacies left her by her family, having lost her father, an uncle, a cousin and almost her mother. Not without her own emotional “demons,” Mariette was able to break the chain through therapy and raising her awareness about life, love and spirit. She became a loving mother of 2 children and continues to work as a successful actress while donating her time to suicide prevention.

Watson’s legacy, like others’, continues to permeate our cultural psyche in many ways: how we view children, how we speak to them and how we treat them.

In order to discipline children, our culture has accepted numerous ways of keeping kids in line. They are often talked down to or spoken to harshly, hit, humiliated, shamed, ignored and, in some extreme cases, tortured, such as by placing hot sauce on a child’s tongue or forcing a child to stand for long periods of time with his arms straight out.

These culturally accepted forms of discipline — now being recognized by some as “normative abuse” — have been so much a part of our culture that we sometimes don’t think twice about it. We have learned to desensitize ourselves to the actual physical and emotional pain that it causes children. After all, that’s how we were raised, and we turned out OK — right? Maybe we were lucky and turned out well in spite of how we were treated…maybe we still suffer in ways we don’t realize are connected to our early childhood years.

Some of us were lucky enough to have strong, loving families with parents who did the best they could with what they knew then. We can understand that, embrace it and even forgive, because we know that there are no perfect parents and their love far outweighs anything else. But now that we know better, we must try to do better for our children.

Creating secure attachments through parental leave

By Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthor of Attached at the Heart with Lysa Parker

APM 2015 logoEditor’s note: This post was originally published through Parent Compass, an occasional message from API’s cofounders looking in-depth on how Attachment Parenting (AP) intersects with wider society. In celebration of AP Month this October, the latest Parent Compass explores this year’s theme: “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.” Sign up to receive future issues of this API newsletter, and we hope you are inspired this AP Month to continue striving to balance parental presence with work responsibilities.

“We have decades of research that tells us how important it is that a bond is established between parents and young children beginning at birth,” says Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. “The  need for time to form secure attachments is critically important. It’s one of the most important things you can do to build a foundation for a lifetime of healthy development.”

This quote was in reaction to the announcement that Netflix is offering up to 1 year of paid parental leave for its employees who give birth or adopt. Of course we rejoice at such progressive policies, but the sad truth is that few companies currently see the long-term benefit to their employees to instigate such policies.

Dr. Shonkoff went on to say in his remarks: “Babies need a sense of safety, predictability and responsiveness. We know from research that all areas of development — whether it’s cognitive development, emotional well-being or social development — has its foundation in this secure relationships. We do a lousy job as a society supporting parents after the birth of their babies. It’s unconscionable with all the deep scientific understanding we have now. It makes no sense to not offer more of that flexibility and support.”

Because of the overwhelming research, and our advocacy for infants and toddlers, Attachment Parenting International is in full support of strong parental leave policies, similar to those in many countries around the world. Sweden’s policy is probably one of the most generous, with 480 days of paid parental leave.

In the meantime, we are amazed at the creativity and dedication of parents to find solutions that will keep their bond with their children strong. From tag-teaming work schedules to enlisting grandparents and other invested family and friends, and creating cooperative childcare with trusted caregivers, many parents are finding solutions to keep their attachments strong. Some parents obtain loans to stay home longer: Many credit unions and banks will give loans in support of a family need, just like they would finance a car!

Lysa helps a lot with the care of her 2-year-old granddaughter, and I am often on-call for family friends that are juggling young children and work schedules. We feel so much compassion for these children who need consistency and trusting relationships — not a constantly changing cast of caregivers who may love children but who are also looking for higher paying jobs and less stress. We are amazed that even in the best university daycares, there is a large turnover every semester of childcare providers. There is such disconnect with the research and its application!

API Support Groups can be a wonderful resource for parents who do not have extended families nearby. Finding friends that have the same parenting values is another critical component in deciding on a non-parental caregiver.

As we move into another election cycle, we encourage all of you to pay attention to candidates who seem to have a particular understanding and compassion for babies and young children, and strong supportive policies. A strong mayor or city council member can have a tremendous impact on community awareness and progressive policies. Look into your state’s policies, too, as they vary tremendously. You might be pleased to know that your state has stronger leave policies then your place of work, and you can stagger the leave of each parent, allowing for more time at home.

Good luck to all parents who are looking for creative solutions! Talk to your local API Leaders, API Support Group members and Attachment Parenting families from around the world on API’s online Neighborhood forum for ideas, too.

Inspired to better balance parental presence with the busyness of our lives?

e4aee175-1115-4d03-bb68-c3009e6c4d4fAPI announces a special API Live teleseminar event on October 19 at 9:00 pm EST/6:00 pm PST as part of AP Month. Call in from the comfort of your home or while on the go to listen to and learn about Simplicity Parenting from Kim John Payne. Register today! Can’t make it that day? Everyone who signs up gets a recording of the teleseminar to listen to on their own time.

Kim John PayneKim John Payne helps families recognize the importance of parental presence, even more so in this day and age when so many pressures are taking the focus away from connected parenting. Through this teleseminar, you’ll walk away with a renewed focus for yourself and your family. To get a taste of his message, follow along on the API Reads discussion of his book, Simplicity Parenting.api reads logo




partners logo - with WYSH

20 Years of Advocating for Families

By Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, cofounders of Attachment Parenting International and coauthors of Attached at the Heart

We can hardly contain ourselves! Twenty years ago, we had a dream and this anniversary conference at Notre Dame this week is a fulfillment of that dream! This is a rare and exciting opportunity to meet and hear presentations by many of the influential and inspiring pioneers, both past and present, in the fields of attachment, child development and of course Attachment Parenting.

These are the people who influenced us, broadened our vision and helped raise the consciousness of a culture and shape the way we raise our children.

Our conference team has organized a day just for you, and most of the speakers you know and love will present on that day! Here are a few of our personal reflections about some of the speakers and why we know you don’t want to miss them:

  • Martha Sears, Lysa Parker, Bill Sears, Barbara NicholsonDr. William and Martha Sears… parents, authors, legends that wrote some of the first parenting books on Attachment Parenting. We were first introduced to their books as young mothers in La Leche League back in the early 1980s. Martha was a La Leche League Leader and she and Bill spoke at many state and international LLL conferences for many years. Some of their sons are carrying on their work in their pediatric practice and on national television! Bill serves on the API Advisory Board and Martha sits on the API Board of Directors.
  • Dr. Isabelle Fox is a retired child psychologist, student of Dr. John Bowlby, author and tireless advocate for babies and young children. She continues to counsel parents on custody issues, focusing on the preverbal child’s need for consistent, predictable, responsive care. She is a member of the API Advisory Board.
  • Peggy O’Mara is Mothering magazine’s grand dame! Her warm and inspirational writing and articles were a source of great wisdom and comfort to many families for decades. We remember getting our first copies of Mothering when our babies were in arms and devouring each issue like it was manna from heaven! We consider Peggy a dear sister mentoring us from afar… Now her writings will live on in her books, new website and presentations all over the world. She is a member of the API Advisory Board.
  • Dr. Gabor Maté is a co-author with Dr. Gordon Neufeld of the classic book Hold On to Your Kids, a key API Leader applicant text. He is a gifted speaker who will illuminate us in the social and psychological stresses that children face today.
  • Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, author, La Leche League Leader, pioneer researcher in the field of maternal depression. Her experience as a mother and breastfeeding advocate have enriched and influenced her field of research in amazing and insightful ways. She is a member of the API Resource Advisory Council and was the Guest Editor of API’s 2013 Journal of Attachment Parenting.
  • Lu Hanessian, author, educator, TV host, founder of WYSH, is another dear friend and advocate that has served on the API Board of Directors and continues today on the API Advisory Board, now continuing her activism in so many areas, we can’t keep up! As the mother of teenage sons, she’s living in a new world of balancing a very active family and active career. We are blessed to have her moderating all of our panels, as well as contributing from her rich experiences as a true Renaissance woman!
  • Barbara Nicholson, Jim McKenna, Lysa ParkerDr. James McKenna, an anthropologist, researcher, author, professor, speaker and advocate for babies, mothers and fathers. His pioneering work in the field of infant sleep has changed the paradigm for modern parents, helping them understand that our babies come in to this world wired for a safe, protective sleep environment, mandated by the need to be in close proximity to their parents. He is a fearless advocate for truth in research and empowering parents to make their own decisions. He is a member of the API Advisory Board and is the Guest Editor of the 2014 Journal of Attachment Parenting to be released by API later this year.
  • Dr. Wendy Middlemiss, professor of child development and researcher on early infant stress, will share her research and the work she is pioneering at the University of North Texas. She is the coordinator of the API Research Group.
  • Dr. Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology at Notre Dame University, and the catalyst and organizer of this amazing conference, will share her stunning research on the moral development of children and how she discovered Attachment Parenting through her research. She is a member of the API Board of Directors.
  • Michael Mendizza, filmmaker and author, founder of Touch the Future. We have been hearing of Michael’s work for years, especially in relationship to his amazing archives filming such legends as Dr. Ashley Montagu and Joseph Chilton Pearce. (If you don’t know these names, look them up as you’ll be amazed at their contributions to humanity.) When we met Micheal, we knew we had a met a “brother in the cause,” and his insights will be an amazing contribution to the conference.
  • Rebecca Thompson, marriage and family therapist, author, speaker and founder of Consciously Parenting Project Community will share her insights and experiences as a mother and professional in her work with families.
  • Janet Jendron, API Board President! It’s hard to describe the deep friendship and roots we have with Janet that come from our La Leche League (LLL) Leader beginnings. She has always been someone we had hoped and prayed would come on our board, as her experience as a former LLL International board member were invaluable. Her enthusiasm and love for people is an example to us all.
  • Barbara Nicholson, Richard Bowlby, Xenia Bowlby, Lysa ParkerSir Richard Bowlby Bt is the son of the “Father of Attachment Theory,” the late Dr. John Bowlby. He is an excellent speaker and advocate for his father’s legacy as well as an archivist of some of his father’s early writing and films. We first met Sir Richard at the home of Dr. Isabelle Fox in Los Angeles, California, USA, several years ago and he soon joined the API Advisory Board.

And that’s just the speakers! Put on your dancing shoes, because we will also have a live band with the Kennedy’s Kitchen. Plus, great videos of “Mr. Universe” with comedian Jim Gaffigan (an AP dad who may not know it) and “The Milky Way,” a powerful film about the ongoing breastfeeding movement. Not to mention, there will also be great food, exhibitors and poster sessions!

Lysa Parker, Bruce Perry, Barbara NicholsonAfter our day and a half of API celebration and sessions, Dr. Darcia Narvaez’s program will begin with world-renowned academics, including API Advisory Board member Dr. Bruce Perry, founder of the Child Trauma Academy, as the keynote.

For those of you who have always longed to come face-to-face with other professionals and families in this cultural movement to truly “change the world,” this is your opportunity. Join us!

We hope to see many of you at Notre Dame!

Using NVC in the Family

By Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthor of Attached at the Heart

barbara nicholsonNVC-language-for-lifeOver the last several years, I have been reading Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s classic book, Nonviolent Communication, and sharing some of his pearls of wisdom with my adult sons. Oh, how I wish I had this book when they were very young! And how I wish I had the wisdom to model this kind of communication for my children as we were dealing with sibling rivalry and other normal challenges of family life.

When we’re all together eating, playing games, or watching TV, my husband and I are amazed at how the “old tapes” can get played: The same dynamics that you think adults outgrow can rear over such insignificant comments! Four adult children with four very unique temperaments, talents and interests make for interesting combinations, to say the least. But no matter what the issue, it’s affirming to see how well the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) tools work!

There were several times when a simple misunderstanding could have escalated into a full-blown argument; however, reminding ourselves of what the core issue was — the feeling that was felt, the need that was identified — diffused the situation into an opportunity to really see the big picture. So often we don’t want to take the time to dig a little deeper, thinking that it’s too time consuming, yet arguments can linger over the rest of the day, creating a pall over what should be a loving day of connection and respite from our busy lives.

In my ideal world, not only would parents model these communication tools for their children, but teachers would be taught these methods in all training programs. What a gift for a teacher to be able to help her students who are having an argument on the playground to identify their feelings and unmet needs, to see that we have a universal vocabulary of feelings that are web of strength, not a weapon of name calling and division.

If this became our language of connection, we might even be able to change the way we communicate in business and government, changing our whole society in such a way that mediation becomes more the norm than the exception.

When I see my sons using NVC tools, even though it might be a little stiff and even though I usually have to initiate the conversation, I see the potential that all families have to greatly improve their quality of family life. It’s even a great tool to use with grandparents and other family members, especially over the holidays or other events when we’re in close quarters for extended periods of time. It’s a reminder to be a good listener, take the time to go a little deeper in our understanding of each other and truly bring some peace into the home.

Many communities now have NVC practice groups, and I encourage all API Support Groups to look into inviting an NVC-trained group leader to visit and perhaps lead a practice session at a meeting. It is a simple technique that we can use in every relationship, increasing our vocabularies at the same time! As Dr. Rosenberg states, this is a whole new language and essential to creating a more peaceful society. Of course, that — peace — is what we all want in our homes and communities.

Meeting Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker

A few weeks ago I received an exciting phone call from my co-leader Ivana Lombardo for our Northern Virginia chapter of Attachment Parenting International. Her news? Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of API and authors of the new book Attached at the Heart, were coming into town. Barbara and Lysa planned to promote their new book and meet with the U.S. Department of Health to discuss the  attachment parenting lifestyle. Our group had been called on to host them while they were in town; I was psyched to meet API’s founders and was able to help out by making a strawberry and almond salad for an intimate dinner with them. Below are a few photos that I took during our dinner (with alotta help from my half pint assistants Diego and Annabelle).

API founder Barbara Nicholson, who is a mom of four and a wonderful lady. She is so excited that theU.S. Dept. of Health literature is promoting AP principles like breastfeeding, responding with sensitivity to our children, and much more. I have to say that I was a little surprised at her news but am super excited to see that our government is acknowledging that AP parenting works.

You’ll notice that in this photograph of Barbara, there is a bottle. I have to admit that I felt a bit strange meeting the founders of API while bottle feeding my son Levi.  While I know that feeding with love and respect (which I am doing with a bottle) is an AP principle, I remember that once upon a time, this principle was called “breastfeeding.”  I so badly wanted to breastfeed my son Levi and I did for the first month of his life.  I shared my story of experiencing severe postpartum depression and how breastfeeding was something that I needed to let go of for sake of my mental health.  I tell myself, whenever I am feeling bad about not breastfeeding Levi, that at least I am here, functioning and loving him.

Let me tell you: Barbara and Lysa didn’t judge me for how I am feeding my baby and I thank them for that.  Moms need other moms to support them, especially when hard decisions are made.

Lysa Parker cozied up with all of our kids.  Here she is with leader Krystal MacDonald’s son Diego. Both Lysa and Barbara were so warm to our children and to us mammas too. I felt like I had known them both for a long time.

Annabelle took this photograph of Lysa. Isn’t she a beautiful lady?

The infamous Diego, who is a budding violinist and (I think) photographer.  His mamma is homeschooling him.  He is just the sweetest, smartest kid ever.

I let the kids play with Nikon.  Let’s just say that they had a great time having their own photo session:

Annabelle photographed Diego “taking a nap” while they played together upstairs in his room.

and I think she took this photo of Diego’s train mat.

This photograph belongs to either Diego or Annabelle. I loved that they immediately wanted to photograph the toys.

My co-leader Ivana Lombardo and her baby Philip.  Ivana and I gave birth around the same time.  Ivana is such a positive role model and support for our local group.  I look to her for advice since her older son Alec is almost 2 years older than my daughter Annabelle.  I have to say, having our AP support group has made such a difference in my life . . . in how I parent and how I love others too.

At dinner, we invited everyone who could come, including Diego’s tadpoles.

Krystal McDonald opened her home and her heart to all of us.  She is an amazing mom, a La Leche League leader, an API leader, and a good friend too.  I learned everything I know about cloth diapering from her, 🙂

and this beautiful window is nestled in on a stairwell in Krystal’s home.  Just gorgeous, isn’t it?  I think it really speaks to who Krystal and her family are: a connected and loving family.

Meeting Lysa and Barbara was an amazing opportunity to spend the evening with wise, loving women and our children too. I certainly felt honored and learned a lot just from listening to everyone talk about parenting, life, and making changes in the world. Definitely a night I won’t forget.


Jessica Monte is a budding photographer and author of the blog Days of You and Me (once upon known as Green Mamma).  To see what Jessica is up to these days, visit