Oh it's so great to be able to post again! Sorry for that little lull — and about not being so responsive to emails and comments as of late. It has been/is a CRAZY time at work and home right now.
I thought I'd extend the conversations that have been started in the comments sections and try to clarify a few ideas on attachment and security in children. I'm thinking of this post as a reflection on your comments; I'll skip actually naming people who left the comments and sent us emails because I'm too disorganized right now, but I hope I can cover some of the concerns that have been raised.
So, the first issue concerns terminology. When developmental psychologists talk about "attachment theory" they are NOT talking about "attachment parenting." To be brief and somewhat blunt, the former is based on decades of theorizing, anthropological research, and tons of empirical studies in psychology. The latter is an approach to parenting that is valid and popular (I have many friends who are AP parents;-)), but not based on scientific, peer reviewed research. Although attachment parenting (AP) advocates often refer to the attachment theory literature, there is no direct link and, to be perfectly honest, the developmental attachment theory folks are freaked out by how some of their principles have been appropriated by the AP supporters. To be clear, I am not at all being disparaging about AP parenting, but I did want to clarify the distinction.
Related, when we talk about "securely attached" children, we're not talking about a child that is constantly ATTACHED (i.e., on the hip, in a sling, co-sleeping, being breastfed on demand). You certainly can be a well-adjusted, secure child that comes from this sort of upbringing, but it is in NO WAY a necessary condition. One of the most ubiquitous findings in the attachment literature is that there are "many roads that lead to Rome": In other words, there are a whole lot of parenting styles, family configurations, work at home/in home situations, etc. that can all lead to well-adjusted, secure children.
I read several comments and emails from parents that can be summarized like this: "My child doesn't seem attached ENOUGH to me. He doesn't get distressed when I leave at all!" Oddly enough, this probably means your child is perfectly, securely "attached" in that he has internalized a safe, secure "home base" and he does not need that home base to be physically connected to him all the time to feel that sense of security. The other set of commenters were worried that their children were "insecure" in that they were tough with transitions, needed to be held by mom all the time, etc. But see… this is the confusing part to get, these children ALSO are probably securely attached, they're just temperamentally more sensitive and you moms who are responding to it are doing your best to shore up your child with everything you've got (or can give, given circumstances). I think underlying all these concerns is the worry that we, the moms, have done something "wrong" (e.g., worked out of the home, left them too early at daycare, payed more attention to another sibling, etc). If there's ONE THING I want to get out of the way in this post is that temperament TRUMPS attachment styles. And developmental transitions can ALSO TRUMP attachment styles (in other words, sometimes your kid will have periods of heightened sensitivity to separations, sometimes she'll be fine). I'd be willing to bet that every single one of the kids of the moms that have commented would be classified by developmentalists as "securely attached" (statistics are on my side here). But all these kids that we're worried about MAY have more sensitive temperament styles, and as parents, all we can do is try to adjust to that as best we can to meet their needs.
One of the coolest things about having fraternal twins is that I sometimes feel like I have my very own little control group in a teeny tiny study. I would be beating myself up a whole lot more about my choices (to work out of the home, to stop nursing before a year, to travel for days away from the kids, and the list goes on) if I didn't see how much of separation sensitivity comes form the child himself, and there's almost nothing I can do about it. Case in point: This morning, I had to leave for work SUPER early, before breakfast. Boy 1's response: Bye-bye mama! What's for breakfast, Papa? Boy 2's response: WAILING, clinging to me, waving pitifully out the window at me (heart's breaking in 1000 pieces AGAIN as I'm writing and reliving it). If I had only Boy 2, I would attribute his distress to my working too much (which still may be true, I'm not totally off the hook here). But having my other one makes me realize that I could be a full-time stay-at-home mom and boy 2 would likely still have more difficulties with separations.
A couple of last points to highlight that were brought up in Tracy's post a bit and her subsequent comments: (1) Attachment styles are not great predictors of future outcomes. They're weak to moderate predictors, with a whole lot of the messy world, different relationships, temperament styles and life circumstances that interfere to wreck our perfect correlations. (2) Attachment styles often CHANGE throughout the lifespan, so nothing's a done deal. (3) The key issue for me is to try to do our best to foster in our children a sense of the world that is predictable (relatively), safe, warm and generally supportive. ESPECIALLY when they are young children. This isn't always easy, but that's all that secure attachment really means in the end. A securely attached adult is simply one that has grown up to feel secure, relatively confident and deserving of love and affection in their relationships.
So… has this clarified anything for people or just convinced you that psychologists are altogether too loose with their terms? Is this making you feel more or less secure as a parent?