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|Hayley Matthews • 4/10/17|
The Short Version: Parents shape a child’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in so many ways. From the moment a mother holds her newborn in her arms, she begins imparting lessons of love and determining how her child will handle relationships throughout his or her life. If you’re unsure how to raise an emotionally secure and healthy child, Attachment Parenting International has a wealth of resources to assist moms and dads. API is a nonprofit that educates and supports parents who believe in nurturing a secure attachment by treating children with love, respect, and kindness. From breastfeeding to practicing positive discipline, these methods emphasize compassionate care to give children a healthy understanding of unconditional love. Parents can join the API’s support groups or training sessions to learn childrearing strategies that foster emotional well-being and healthy connections in a child’s life.
Imago relationship therapy focuses on understanding and overcoming subconscious baggage from childhood as a way of working through relationship issues. Making that emotional connection can be eye-opening for couples. A few years back, Lysa Parker and her husband participated in imago therapy on a weekend retreat, so they could learn how past pains translate into current strife.
As part of an exercise, the couple wrote down the strengths and flaws in their parents as well as the strengths and flaws in each other. The similarities in the lists were incredibly revealing. Lysa and her husband realized their upbringings had shaped the way they dealt with conflict and relationships — and how a compassionate dialogue could help them avoid conflict.
“Where most relationships go wrong is a lack of communication,” Lysa said. “You need to listen to understand what’s triggering you or your partner.”
Parents have enormous influence in the lives of their children, and yet there are very few comprehensive resources to tell them how to get it right. Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson set out to change that with a new perspective on childrearing.
These two mothers founded Attachment Parenting International (API) because they felt parents needed support and education to help them raise well-rounded children. Their nonprofit endorses specific parenting strategies based on attachment theory and supported by academic research. The website covers a variety of topics — from how your marriage impacts a child’s development to how to nurture empathy — relevant to parents with infants, toddlers, and older children.
API’s worldwide community of parents believe in compassion, kindness, and following your heart as a parent. Its motto is “nurturing children for a compassionate world.” If this sounds like a cause you can get behind, find out how you can get involved and advocate for more secure parent-child relationships.
API organizes training sessions and support groups to help parents build a positive network in their communities. The nonprofit’s resources, programs, and events promote hands-on parenting methods geared toward building a secure emotional attachment, which will carry through in the child’s future relationships.
“We’re not perfect parents — we’re intentional parents,” Lysa said. “Attachment parenting feels right in our hearts, but there’s a lot of science to support it now, too. API advocates for parents and informs them on how to protect a child’s emotional health.”
According to the imago relationship theory, people are attracted to partners who represent unfinished business from childhood. That means an infant’s connection with his or her mother affects their long-term ability to love or trust another human being as an adult.
“Those childhood experiences impact us subconsciously,” Lysa said. “The first five years create who you are and what you think of yourself. Your underlying beliefs are formed.”
API’s resources emphasize communicating love to children from an early age so they feel secure in their first and most formative relationship. To attachment parents, nurturing can make a real difference in emotional stability in the long run. By being positive, consistent, and loving, parents give their children a model for how to maintain stable relationships with others.
“Our genes are not our destiny,” Lysa said emphatically. “We actually do have control over our genes, which can be exciting and daunting at the same time. The environment determines the expression of our genes, and a nurturing environment can suppress things like depression.”
“API provides grounded resources and inspiration for families seeking deep connections with their children.” — Lisa494 in a review of Attachment Parenting International
Today API has 20,000 members committed to raising their children with consistent love and respect. You can become a member for free and receive a subscription to its free online magazine, Attached Family, as well as its e-newsletter, Parenting This Week. Members can also join the nonprofit at its annual AP Month celebration in October, which includes a fun auction to raise money and spread awareness about attachment parenting.
Additionally, API offers a training program for parent educators who can teach a 10-class curriculum for parents in their communities. Couples taking this course together come away with a better understanding of how to make their relationships and their families stronger by being emotionally present.
“There’s a lot of work involved,” Lysa told us. “We’re lucky we have an amazing cadre of volunteers who believe in what we’re doing.”
From guiding parents in positive discipline to showing the importance of breastfeeding, API’s parenting tips give moms and dads the online tools to raise emotionally balanced children. However, the nonprofit also offers in-person assistance in case you want to talk out an issue or find solidarity in like-minded groups. API groups meet about once a month in community centers, libraries, churches, or private homes. Accredited leaders run these meetings and offer experienced guidance to empower new parents.
Attachment Parenting International has established 175 parenting group leaders worldwide. Its groups can be found across the US as well as in other countries, including Turkey and Portugal. “Our parent education program travels to teach and raise awareness wherever people are open to this information,” Lysa said. “It’s so important to learn more about parenting.”
After going through this comprehensive learning program, API’s leaders facilitate discussions on parenting topics with parents their communities. This peer-to-peer system offers meaningful and consistent support for moms and dads seeking to raise their children with compassion, respect, and love.
You can meet face to face with parents who believe in nurturing a secure attachment and see what you can learn from their experiences. Find out when a support group near you is meeting by checking out the API events calendar. Can’t find anything near you? No worries! You can join the discussion online in the API forums where hundreds of parents post to ask questions, share concerns, and offer encouragement to one another.
Though attachment parenting has been around for decades, focusing on love over discipline in childrearing is still seen as somewhat controversial in modern society. Parents trying to implement more compassionate care can feel alone and on the fringe without the strong network of peers provided by Attachment Parenting International.
“API supports parents who know in their hearts keeping their baby close and meeting their needs, as they express it, is important to the health and well-being of their baby.” said Karin Frost, Creator and Founder of ERGObaby, in a testimonial about API.
“The Eight Principles of Parenting” developed by API in the ’90s was an expansion of Dr. William Sears‘ the Baby Bs of Parenting and included the multi-disciplinary science behind it. With these principles, API defined specific standards for good parenting. This loving philosophy encouraged parents to respond with sensitivity, use a nurturing touch, and become conscientious, loving role models for their children.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” Lysa told us. “You have to adjust for each parent and child to find what’s best for your family.”
In 2013, Lysa and Barbara co-authored a book entitled “Attached at the Heart” that further developed the principles’ root in multi-disciplinary science and that created a curriculum to train parents and professionals to understand attachment parenting strategies. Their supportive guidelines inspire new mothers and fathers to be a positive force in the lives of their children.
If you’re interested in applying attachment theory to your own relationships, you can take this attachment compatibility quiz to find out your attachment style, your partner’s attachment style, and your compatibility as a couple.
Plus, you can read more about attachment parenting by perusing API’s recommended reads or joining the API Reads Book Club. Attachment Parenting International has many educational tools at your disposal online.
“By informing parents the world over, we can help propagate a clearer version of attachment parenting,” Lysa said, “and create a paradigm shift in how we treat children.”
Our first relationship sets the tone for all future relationships. One’s blueprint for love is written long before awkward pre-teen hand-holding and tentative first dates because a child’s first and most important relationship is with his or her parents.
Our notions about trust, self-worth, and unconditional love are created in those early years when our hearts, eyes, and minds were completely open to the world. A parent can drastically impact their child’s love life during those first formative years, so it’s important to do your research and get it right.
Attachment Parenting International helps parents take intentional steps toward building secure bonds, creating trust, and giving children the respect they deserve. Whether you’re wondering how your divorce will impact your children or how you can facilitate sibling bonding, API has resources to answer your questions with scientific research and firsthand experiences. Through API’s support groups and training programs, modern parents can become experts in raising children with kindness and wisdom.
“By nurturing our children, we’re nurturing ourselves,” Lysa said. “Many parents have said that being able to give their child the love and care they didn’t have growing up was a healing experience for them.”