Parents’ Instincts vs. Expert Advice

Last week, Circle of Security posted a blog on FaceBook that garnered some interesting conversation. “What is a Secure Attachment? And Why Doesn’t ‘Attachment Parenting’ Get You There?” was written by Diana Divecha, Ph.D. and can be found here.

In the blog, the author explains the early history of attachment research, the three functions of a secure attachment, the types of insecure attachments, and brain development and its’ impact on attachment. She also discusses Circle of Security, which follows attachment research, and attachment parenting philosophy, which often does not.

As with many blogs about parenting, there were a few comments about if mothers should just follow their instincts or follow the advice of experts. What a good question!

Circle of Security honors the wisdom of parents. We all have an ancient, hardwired desire (instinct) to do the best for our children. Our bodies, minds and spirits are set up in multiple ways to connect and care for these precious human beings.

At the same time, we also know that all parents get off track. Childhood experiences, attachment styles, trauma and stress can all muddy the water and make parenting more difficult. Decisions we make can feel right, but could also be hurting the relationship.

Let’s look at an example.

Maria is a mother to two children, ages 4 and 9. She has taken a Circle of Security Parenting group and has noticed that she is pretty good at staying in charge in a firm but kind way most of the time. She’s also good at supporting her children as they have adventures in the world, keeping an eye on boundaries for safety while sometimes enjoying the adventures too. Before the class, she would have said she was good at being with her children while they had big emotions. However, halfway through the class, she realizes that when her children become angry at her, she will often dismiss their anger.

At the end of the class, Maria decides to talk to the facilitator about it and realizes that she wasn’t able to express much anger as a child. Additionally, she was in a relationship as a young woman that was controlling and difficult to leave. Both of these events make her feel like any anger is dangerous. When her children get angry, Maria has a hard time staying connected and patient. Sometimes she will change the subject, sometimes she will send the children to their rooms, sometimes she will get angry back at them.

Maria’s instincts around most of her parenting were attuned to her children’s needs. Anger, however, muddied the water. Once she realized this, Maria had more choice over how to parent in those moments. At first, she did the same things as before and only noticed it after she messed it up. After a little while, she could stay calmer and hang in there for longer. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was better than before. Maria talked it over with some of her friends that parent in similar ways and got some good ideas. Over time, she noticed that she was getting better at staying Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind when her children became angry. She still messed it up occasionally, especially if she was stressed out, but it was easier to talk with the children later and let them know she was sorry.

Circle of Security believes that a parent’s natural way of being has an essential, innate wisdom. COS also knows that experts and research can help offer a “roadmap” of sorts to help parents notice when they inevitably get off track. Once a parent is reflective and aware of their strengths and struggles, their innate wisdom gets centered. The parent’s state of mind is open and connected, their instincts are to securely attach and the decisions they make as a parent will be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind.