“Our survival as a human community may depend as
much upon our nurture of love in infancy and childhood as upon
the protection of our society from external threats.”
Every Child’s Birthright: In Defense of Mothering
A mother and father hold their newborn for the first time. As they gaze at his little face and body, they are in awe of the miracle of life they have created together. The birth of a baby symbolizes a new beginning, a renewed sense of hope, a sense of life’s purpose, and a chance to leave a legacy for family and society. They wonder about the future that will unfold as both they and their baby grow. What kind of parents will they be? What kind of relationship will they have with their child? What kind of adult will their child turn out to be?
How do they get there from here?
Parenting is the most important job we will ever have. Yet, in our society, it is one for which we are the least prepared and for which we receive the least support. Babies are born without instruction manuals; every baby is unique, and no one book could possibly teach all that you need to know about your particular child. Only your child can teach you about his needs and personality.
Unfortunately, today’s parents are challenged from all sides by the variety of child-rearing advice now available. Since many new parents rely on the advice they get from others or from reading parenting books, they come to rely less on their own intuitive feelings or understanding of their child. This advice is often conflicting, so it’s no wonder that many parents become confused or misdirected. Too often, the most popular parenting advice is based on someone’s opinion rather than common sense and sound science. This undermines new parents’ confidence in their own innate knowledge of their children. In some cases, popular advice is harmful to the child as well as to the parent-child relationship.
The Big Picture: How Parenting Affects Society
Parents can’t raise children in a vacuum or expect that what they do within the home has no lasting impact. Most of us have experienced the effects of the way we were parented. Ideally, each generation does a little bit better than the generation before. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. As a culture, we seem content to spend billions of dollars trying to fix problems rather than to prevent them. As you read Chapter 1, it is our hope that you will recognize the endemic disconnect within our society, the root of many of our social ills, and the ways in which you, as a parent, play a role in prevention. We begin by examining the physical and emotional state of children in the United States—our most precious and vulnerable population.
Violence against and by children is committed in many parts of the world, yet the United States has the largest percentage of violence, mental illness, and incarceration of any modern culture. According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, but over 23% of the world’s incarcerated people.” These statistics include the highest rate of incarcerated women in the world.2 Child help USA receives more than three million reports of child abuse each year. It is estimated that the actual rate of child abuse is three times this. America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline, a 2007 report from the Children’s Defense Fund, states, “Our ‘child and youth problem’ is not a child and youth problem; it is a profound adult problem as our children do what they see us adults doing in our personal, professional, and public lives.”3
Child and adolescent mental health experts are witnessing ever-rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, conduct disorders, suicide, and other serious mental, emotional, behavioral, and even physical health problems in the United States. Since 1995, more than seventeen thousand patients at Kaiser-Permanente Hospitals have participated in a longterm study of the social, emotional, and, more specific, physical effects of childhood trauma: “Data resulting from their participation continues to be analyzed; it reveals staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.” This groundbreaking study, called ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences, consists of detailed questions related to childhood experiences and trauma. The researchers found that the more adverse experiences a child had, the higher the risk of developing physical and emotional illnesses later in life and the higher the risk for early death (for more information on the study’s findings, go to www.cdc.gov/ace /findings.)4
According to the National Mental Health Association, six million children currently suffer serious emotional and mental health problems. The diagnosis of bipolar depression has increased 4,000 percent over the last five to seven years, translating into one million children being treated for bipolar disease alone. Something troubling is happening to our children.5 The big question is why? Many experts agree that this crisis is due to children feeling a deep lack of connectedness to their parents and their community. In the Hardwired to Connect report released by the Commission on Children at Risk in 2003, more than thirty researchers, community leaders, and scholars found that this lack of connectedness was of two kinds: “close connections to people and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.”6 These problems cross all racial, cultural, and economic status barriers. They are not limited to the uneducated or to those living in poverty. They reflect a more intrinsic kind of poverty—a poverty of the mind and of the spirit. This information gives you a small snapshot of the lives of millions of children. While it may seem overwhelming, there is something that each of us can do, and it begins with growing a strong and indissoluble bond with our children.
“My mother, a psychotherapist, turned me on to attachment parenting
and sent us a Sears book—The Baby Book—and a note that said,
‘I’d have half the patients I have now if everyone was raised with
And she really believed in it. People in her field talk about it a lot,
and the importance of the bond between parent and child,
expanding outward to parent and family.
—Chris Wink, cocreator of Blue Man Group
Hope for the Future
Attached at the Heart is not a typical parenting book. Rather than dictate advice, it calls each of us to look deeper into ourselves and evaluate how we raise our children. It asks that we rethink our perception of children and to see the world through their eyes. It sounds the alarm that our children are in trouble and that we, as parents and caregivers, are the only ones in a position to change this spiraling trend. Most of all, it is a book about hope. We can make lasting changes in the world by starting at home and strengthening our loving connections with our children, being more empathic with them and with ourselves. Attached at the Heart offers hope that we can actively participate in reversing this dangerous trend, first by awakening our understanding of the emotional and psychological needs of babies and young children. Second, this book offers strategies that define attachment parenting as a way of helping us nurture these needs, to follow our parenting instincts rather than what culture dictates.
When you respond to your children’s needs in a sensitive, respectful, and developmentally appropriate way, the parent-child relationship—and the family as a whole—is strengthened. A baby’s first lessons of empathy and trust are embedded early on from his daily experiences of feeling safe, secure, and protected by his parents. Babies need to know that someone will be there for them when they are in need.
Our purpose in writing Attached at the Heart is to inform, support, and empower parents. This book will teach you:
• the importance of being aware of how our own childhood experiences influence the way we parent;
• how to become more attuned to your child;
• to feel confident that you know your child better than any expert;
• how research supports attachment parenting practices and the importance of sharing this information with pediatricians and other healthcare providers;
• the importance of making informed decisions about your children without fear of intimidation by others;
• and how to actively improve your family relationships and communities.
Notes to Introduction: Parents’ Call to Arms
1. Weisfeld, Principles of Human Adolescence, 298.
2. Hartney, “US rates of incarceration.”
3. Children’s Defense Fund, America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline Report.
4. See Adverse Childhood Experiences website at www.cdc.gov/ace/findings.htm.
5. “Medicating Kids,” dir. Gaviria; written by Smith.
6. Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect, 3. Pdf is available at www.americanvalues.org/ExSumm-print.pdf.
7. Perry et al., “Relationships between early experiences and long-term functioning.”
Authors are Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson
Lysa Parker is the co-founder of Attachment Parenting International and the author of Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. She has a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, is a Certified Family Life Educator (C.F.L.E.), and is a trained facilitator for the Nurturing Parenting Program. Ms. Parker is the co-founder of API and served as the Executive Director from 1994 to 2007. She managed program development and public relations and continues to speak to various groups and conferences about parenting as a prevention model for societal violence.
With a bachelor’s degree in Education, specializing in special education, she taught in California, Tennessee, and Alabama during her 20-year career, working with children with multiple handicaps and/or learning disabilities. Other experience includes several years of volunteer work with La Leche League International, a nonprofit organization that provides breastfeeding education and support, and as an API Support Group Leader.
She is the mother of two adult sons and an adult stepdaughter and grandmother to twin grandsons. She lives with her husband in Madison, Alabama. Lysa Parker is available for private consultations, personal parent coaching sessions, workshops, and speaking engagements. Visit her web site to learn more!