Feminists Support Attachment Parenting



A study found that women who identified as feminists were more likely to support attachment parenting principles. This is a bit counterintuitive and very reassuring.

As we learn more about how the oxytocin response -- the ability to connect, trust and love -- develops in the first few years of life in response to mothering, some of us wonder whether you can do a good enough job of mothering while having a career and/or independent, fulfilled life outside the home.

As reported by Holly Rossi in Parents Magazine blogs,

The study [by Miriam Liss and Mindy J. Erchull] asked mothers and non-mothers–who either did or did not identify themselves as feminists–to rate their level of support of a number of parenting principles, including the length of time children should be breastfed (from not at all to more than 18 months), whether mothers should carry their children in slings or arms as often as possible, and whether parents should co-sleep with their children.

Interestingly, while feminists in general tended to support attachment parenting principles, individual respondents thought that they were probably in the minority for doing so.

By the way, you don't have to spend 24 hours a day with your baby to create solid attachment. For more, read Good-Enough Attachment Parenting.

PHOTO: DerPlau

Life Experience Critical for the Oxytocin Response

As we move toward Mother's Day, science gave us another reminder of how important mothering is -- mothering as the actions of caring for a child no matter what your biological relationship.

Research led by Michael Poulin of the University of Buffalo looked at genes for oxytocin and vasopressin receptors that have been linked to kindness and generosity. They tested subjects to see if they had these genes, and they also asked them about whether they saw the world as threatening or not, and people as good or bad.

Simply having those kindness genes wasn't as important as life experiences that shaped the person's worldview. According to WebMD:

So although DNA may influence behavior, people do not come pre-programmed to be kind or mean or altruistic or selfish, says lead researcher Michael Poulin, PhD, of the University at Buffalo.

"We are not just puppets of our genes," Poulin tells WebMD. "Genes influence niceness in combination with perceptions of social threat, which come from our past and present experiences."

Daddies Get Oxytocin Surges, Too

New research by Ruth Feldman of Yale found that new fathers have higher levels of oxytocin and prolactin. At one time, oxytocin was thought to only play a role in childbirth, while prolactin is still commonly thought to be involved in breastfeeding. (However, prolactin also is responsible for reducing sexual desire in men following intercourse, providing the so-called refractory period when a man's system gets at least a little rest before going at it again.)

According to The Australian,

In one set of experiments, Professor Feldman and her colleagues studied levels of the two hormones in 43 fathers in the six months after the arrival of their first child.

The men were also videotaped while cuddling or playing with their children to see how good they were at communicating with them and understanding their needs.

The researchers found a strong correlation between the levels of the two hormones in the fathers and how good they were at playing and communicating with their babies.

Actually, I wrote about this more than a year ago for Miller-McCune. See Benefits of the Daddy Brain. At that time, no one had actually tested levels of these hormones in fathers, however.

Dr. Fedman used to work at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where she and colleagues showed that fluctuations in oxytocin levels in pregnant women predicted how attached they would be to their babies. 

Her work is important for helping us understand how fathers bond -- and emphasizing how important oxytocin is for men, as well as women.

Family Connection Boosts School Performance

We're beginning to understand more and more about how important early nurturing is for brain development. A secure home environment does more than build a baby's attachment system. It also can set the tone for how a child manages in the school environment.

According to Science Daily, University of Notre Dame professor of psychology Mark Cummings found that a family's relational style affected school behavior. The three styles he describes map to the attachment styles identified by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. They called them secure, anxious and dismissive; Cummings describes families as either cohesive, enmeshed or detached.

According to the article:

"Coming from a cohesive family, in which members tend to be warm and responsive to one another, where problems are resolved, and members cope well, increases the likelihood of children doing well in school," according to Cummings.

Spanking Teaches Kids to Hit

A new study found that spanking toddlers makes for more aggressive kindergartners.

As ABC News reports, three-year-olds who are spanked are more likely to bully, hit and engage in destructive or aggressive behavior.

The article quotes experts who say it's a simple case of modeling behavior: Your kids imitate your actions for better or worse. Digging down to the neurological level, between two and three years old is the time when the hippocampus is undergoing a growth spurt. Among other things, the hippocampus processes memories before they go into deep storage. In the memory store, they act as a sort of data bank that lets the brain compare stimuli coming in through the senses to previous experience in order to react appropriately.

So, it may be as simple as, "Anger? Hit!" Or, the spanking may have made the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal system, which reacts to stress, more reactive, leading to a stronger and more violent response.

Why Dad Should Be in the Delivery Room

Ann Douglas at The Mother of All Parenting Blogs talks about the special challenge of taking her 12-year-old son with Asperger's to the orthodontist.

Her husband was the one who took their son for the dreaded extraction, and Douglas credits the strong father/son bond to the moments right after delivery, when he held the newborn in his arms while she got stitches. 

I strongly disagree with the idea that men should be barred from the delivery room because they'll make the laboring woman too tense.

Pillow Talk for Kids

with Jasvir Singh

Not enough time to nurture your children in the day?  Nurture them in their sleep as well.  

We are not born knowing how to love—the kind of mothering we get shapes our oxytocin response. How many oxytocin receptors the baby brain develops depends on the nurturing, love and intimacy the baby gets in the first months of life. These days, parents are often so busy that it can be difficult to give their child the amount of love they need.

According to Nancy Beck, a good way to nurture a child is through pillow talk—a message you can deliver while you’re child is sleeping.  Beck, BSN, RN, developed a book called "Pillow Talk: Loving Affirmations to Encourage and Guide Your Children," that explains this unique parenting skill. She says that pillow talk is an effective and easy way to infuse children with love while they are asleep.

She explains how to give your child life- and love-affirming messages that will remind him or her that your loving presence is constant.

Beck's concept is not the same as subliminal learning; nor is it a form of brainwashing.  Pillow talk will not override a child’s free will. It shouldn’t be used to convince a child to do anything or alter their thoughts---rather, she says, it is there to support one’s nurturing parenting skills day and night. Pillow talk can help your child develop a strong oxytocin response that allows them to grow up to be more confident, less worried, and connect with others more deeply. You can view Nancy’s article on Pillow Talk and find out about her book on her website, NurseNancyTalk.com.

Sometimes, a hard-working parent can't even get home in time to spend an affectionate hour or two while kids are awake. Nancy's book reminds us that we can  help shape a healthy oxytocin response and build a strong bond with our children at any time of day or night.

A Boy's Choice: Purpose or Aggression

There's an excellent interview with Michael Gurian in Scouting MagazineMichael Gurian is author of many books on parenting boys that are based on brain science. I love his approach, which is to channel a boy's higher levels of testosterone away from violence and toward a higher purpose. Remember, boys' brains produce as much oxytocin as girls' brains do; but testosterone tends to mute oxytocin's bonding and connecting effects.

Here is just one of many interesting nuggets from Gurian's interview with Sean Mitchell.

We’ve heard a lot about the importance of self-esteem, but you write that self-esteem should not be conferred automatically on boys.

It has to be earned. And studies show that boys, after a certain age, don’t trust blanket praise. They want praise based on their achievement. It’s a little different with girls. Girls are so verbal, and their oxytocin level is so high, that if you say to a girl, “You’re great! Great job!” that has a different effect on the female brain than the male brain. It immediately stimulates oxytocin, which is a bonding chemical.

With sons, that doesn’t work as well, in general. They don’t get the same surge.

While we're using science in so many areas of life, parenting is too often left completely to the unconscious desires and attitudes of people who may not have been well-parented themselves. Gurian provides compassionate and wise guidance for parents -- and I think his views could change society for the better.

I had the privilege of interviewing Michael in 2007, as I was writing my book. (His work informs the chapter on adolescent love and lust.)  Read the interview here.

Odent Tells Men to Butt Out of Childbirth -- Again

I really respect Michael Odent for helping to spread the word about the importance of natural childbirth. But I find it hard to accept his reasoning that men shouldn't feel pressured to be present for the birth of their babies.

Odent made these statements more than a year ago, and he's still at it. In advance of an address at the Royal College of Midwives' conference next month, Odent is continuing to say that not only should men not feel that they should be there, they probably shouldn't be there even if they want to.

He told The Observer,

"The ideal birth environment involves no men in general. Having been involved for more than 50 years in childbirths in homes and hospitals in France, England and Africa, the best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife – and no doctor and no husband, nobody else."

Odent also told The Observer's Denis Campbell that seeing a woman in childbirth can ruin the man's sexual attraction for her. This is so disappointing. As we understand the connection between sex, love for a mate, childbirth and love for one's children, we see how oxytocin is central to each of these experiences. Therefore, they're really all part of the same thing, one big wheel of love within the family. Why would you want to leave a father out of part of this?

Certainly, a laboring woman needs to feel secure and safe. And, unfortunately, sometimes we don't feel really safe and secure with our mates. This is tragic, and if you're bringing a baby into this situation, it might be better for the man not to be there. 

But I think Odent goes way too far in saying that men have no place in the labor room.

Mothering and Fathering Influence Bonding in Adult Voles

Larry Young and Todd Ahern of the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory found that "early life nurturing impacts later life relationships."

It's still another data point in the enormous body of evidence showing how important it is for kids to get early nurturing, love and care. Larry Young was one of the second wave of oxytocin researchers working on the monogamous prairie voles. This research showed that oxytocin was crucial for the prairie voles' ability to form pair bonds.

In this experiment, also with prairie voles, Young and Ahern compared prairie vole pups raised by a single mother with those raised by a male and female couple. In the wild, prairie voles mate for life in a system described as social monogamy. That is, the couples live together and cooperate in raising offspring; they may engage in some extra-pair copulation, the rodent version of affairs.

The pups raised by a single mother got a lower level of care than those raised by a cooperating couple.  And when they reached adulthood, they weren't as enthusiastic parents.

According to the press release,

"These results suggest naturalistic variation in social rearing conditions can introduce diversity into adult nurturing and attachment behaviors. S[ingle-mother]-raised pups were slower to make life-long partnerships, and they showed less interest in nurturing pups in their communal families," says Young.