So let’s get the conversation rolling.
I’m here at the 2014 Attachment Parenting International conference, “Pathways to Child Flourishing,” at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, USA. It is amazing and humbling to be in the presence, the audience, of these speakers. It’s mind blowing.
In the first session, this morning, we heard from Lu Hanessian, author, educator and founder of WYSH; Darcia Narvaez, psychology researcher at Notre Dame and co-coordinator for this conference; Kathy Kendall-Tackett, psychologist and founder of Praeclarus Press; and Lysa Parker, founder of API. Peggy O’Mara, longtime editor of Mothering, founder of Mothering.com and founder of PeggyOMara.com, was unable to come due to the widespread flight cancellations yesterday.
Darcia opened this first session, “Life Giving: Mindful Beginnings,” with a very interesting introduction to her new book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality, particularly the early body-mind co-construction of the infant by caregivers.
She talked about how the human infant is born really 9-18 months too early, compared to other animals. And that for most of our time on earth, secure attachment has been essential to our survival as mankind.
Those survival tools have been: nurturing touch, sensitive response, breastfeeding through toddlerhood, alloparenting (raising children in a community with multiple trusted caregivers), free play (especially with multi-age peer group), positive social support (the feeling of being wanted) and soothing perinatal experiences.
Through these experiences, children developed not only secure attachment and healthy family relationships, but also exceptional right brain development. Well, I shouldn’t say “exceptional,” because in reality, the results of Attachment Parenting are normal.
What is the right brain responsible for? Self-regulation, introsubjectivity and social pleasure, emotional intelligence, empathy beingness, self trancendance, higher consciousness.
And in normal human development, these right-brain features are able to control our brain’s survival systems, which include stress response. For many in Western society, however, as infants, they are exposed to toxic stress such as long-term mother-baby separation or insensitive response. As a response, the brain’s stress response takes over the mind.
“What you’re left with is this very self-protected, easily stressed brain. It changes development,” Darcia continued.
And it changes culture. It’s a closed loop, actually, so that our childrearing practices dictates culture and our culture dictates childrearing. And that’s why much of the Western culture is competitive, self-contained, autonomous and disconnected rather than the connected communities that healthy right brain development promotes.
That’s what Attachment Parenting International is trying to do — to change culture from one that ignores the critical importance of attachment to one that embraces the normality of healthy family relationships, securely attached children and connected communities.
“We’re all trying to get back on track,” as Darcia concluded.
Yes, we are — one family at a time.