Keep your life simple
and serenity will follow.
Like a small country
with little need
for supersonic travel,
a simple life has little need
for tension and stress.
Give your children yourself
and the need for things
will be minimal.
from The Tao of Motherhood
Research shows that simply touching, or caressing a newborn is critical to the infant’s sense of security. Infant massage, therefore, becomes an incredibly important art for parents to learn. Usually it is the mother who is the central focus of studies like these, probably because the mother is often the main caregiver, especially in infancy. But a study at the University of Iowa concluded that “being attached to dad is just as helpful as being close to mom.” A similar study in 2012 from the Imperial College London found that fathers were especially important in helping the infant avoid behavioral problems later in life. If the father is remote or distracted, the child is more likely to be aggressive.
What these studies show is the importance of those first few months of life, when a tiny baby is sent on a trajectory that will partly determine success at something as simple—and critical—as getting along with others. Other research shows that simply touching, or caressing, a newborn is critical to the infant’s sense of security.
In another article about these studies, Lauren Jimeson says, “These studies prove that those first few months of your child’s life, when life can be overwhelming and it can be a major adjustment for everyone, are the most critical. It’s important that both parents take the time that they need to really focus on being a parent and showing that immense love to your child. Hold them, cuddle them, rock them to sleep, do whatever you can that makes life happy for you and your baby. It’s this love that will help shape your child’s life forever.”
“A Buddhist View of Attachment Parenting” has an interesting and humorous look at the phenomenon. “Before you have a baby, everyone warns you to kiss sleep goodbye. “Good luck,” they say, with a smile full of schadenfreude. (I wonder why German is the only language with a word that means being happy when other people suffer.) They wish you luck the way someone who has just assembled a piece of IKEA® furniture says good luck. Like, “I suffered beyond imagination to make something so wobbly I have to lean it against the wall, but at least now I can sit back and laugh while you discover this Riktig Ogla is never going to fit into that Grundtal Norrviken. But go ahead. Good luck.” After all the warnings, I was duly scared about the sleep thing. And it’s true. I have not slept more than a few hours in a row for months. But what nobody tells you is how much joy you feel. I just got up to pick up the baby and I realized that all my fears of being exhausted never materialized. Because when you lean into his crib and he sees you, he erupts into a smile like you just told him he won the $80 million Powerball lottery. That happens multiple times a day. His joy is so overwhelming and infectious that it’s impossible to feel tired or beleaguered. It’s like a tractor beam of sunlight hitting you in the face. It’s like drinking fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s like the opening chords of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” It’s like the first day of spring after a long cold winter. And it never gets tired. There is a Buddhist prayer we recite every day, which says, “Regardless of whether conditions seem favorable or unfavorable, inspire me to make a habit of happiness.” The other key teaching of Buddha is to love without being attached. And if you thought avoiding attachment was hard with romantic love, it’s well nigh impossible with a baby.
Non-attachment doesn’t mean being a robot and having no human emotions. It means discerning between the warm, open-hearted side of pure love, and the sticky ego-influenced desire to control another person, a situation, or life in general. That sticky aspect is the glue that binds us to suffering. It causes us to cling and destroys our happiness. So the real challenge of parenthood is to experience these incredible surges of joy without allowing a habit of clinging to immediately follow in equal measure. . . For that, the Buddha prescribed medicine—meditations of various kinds. But meditation works slowly and this tsunami of love and attachment doesn’t knock gently at the front door. It tears the house down.”
With education and learning infant massage, parents often make a choice to bond with their babies in whatever way they can. I’ve had many parents in my classes, instructors too, that had difficult relationships with their parents in childhood. They read Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents, and come to classes and seminars and become acutely aware of their own bonding or lack of it, and are amazed and grateful for the opportunity to turn things around.
The secure attachment bond is the nonverbal emotional relationship between an infant and parent, defined by emotional responses to the baby’s cues, as expressed through movements, gestures, and sounds. The success of this wordless relationship enables a baby to feel secure enough to develop fully, and affects how he or she will interact, communicate, and form relationships throughout life. By understanding how you can better participate in this emotional interaction, you can ensure that your child has the best foundation for life.
The attachment bond is the unique emotional relationship between a baby his or her parent. This interactive emotional exchange draws the two of them together, ensuring that the infant will feel safe and be calm enough to experience optimal development of her nervous system. The attachment bond is a key factor in the way an infant’s brain organizes itself and influences a child’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development.
Skin-to-skin contact lets babies know that they’re safe and protected, building trust between parent and infant. Through the physical contact with adults, strong attachments can be created, thus providing a stable foundation for future relationships. Oxytocin, known as the “bonding” hormone, is released during times of close physical contact such as breastfeeding and infant massage.
The attachment process is both interactive and dynamic. Both a parent and baby exchange nonverbal emotional cues that make the baby feel understood and safe. Even in the first days of life, a baby picks up on parents’ emotional cues—their tone of voice, their gestures, and their emotions—and sends parents signals by crying, cooing, mimicking facial expressions, and eventually smiling, laughing, pointing, and even screeching and yelling. In return, parents watch and listen to a baby’s cries and sounds, and respond to her cues, at the same time as they tend to her need for food, warmth, and affection. Secure attachment grows out of the success of this nonverbal communication process between a parent and baby.
A secure attachment bond teaches a baby to trust the parent, to communicate her feelings, and eventually to trust others as well. As a parent and a baby connect with one another, the baby learns how to have a healthy sense of self and how to be in a loving, empathic relationship.
Secure attachment causes the parts of a baby’s brain responsible for social and emotional development, communication, and relationships to grow and develop in the best way possible. This relationship becomes the foundation of a child’s ability to connect with others in a healthy way. Qualities that one may take for granted in adult relationships—like empathy, understanding, love, and the ability to be responsive to others—are first learned in infancy.