Overcoming Attachment Challenges

While most new parents see the value in a close connection with their baby, the reality is that immediate concerns often override their baby’s emotional development. Every family has issues and hurdles that can impede attachment. The following are a few of the more common challenges that parents face today, along with some strategies to overcome them and to ensure that your baby develops a healthy attachment and a strong emotional foundation.

Mothers working outside the home

When I was taking care of Emi in Japan, people on the subway or in the market would offer a soothing and supportive comment: “Taihen desu, ne?” (“It is challenging and difficult to be a mother, isn’t it?”) This comment shows respect for a revered societal position. When they said this to me, I felt acknowledged and encouraged in my role and in my daily efforts.

Although today’s fathers are sharing more parental responsibilities than fathers of previous generations did, throughout history and across cultures, the biological and emotional instinct for family care has resided predominantly with women. In many cultures, women carry their babies on their backs, and as the children grow, extended family members help with their care.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, globalization and other modern trends have caused a shift in the role of women in society. More and more mothers are leaving their children at home or in child care facilities to return to work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up only 29 percent of the U.S. workforce in 1950. In 2012, women accounted for almost half the workforce, and 57 percent of mothers with infants under the age of one were employed.

If you are a working mother, the combination of working a full day while learning how to care for your new baby, keeping up with other responsibilities, and tending to your relationship with your partner—on very little sleep—can stretch you past your tolerance point. In trying to meet your child’s needs and provide him the best opportunities, you may experience internal conflict and guilt because you feel you are not doing enough. It is also emotionally difficult to leave your little one to the care of others, whether they are family members, nannies, or professionals at a child care center.

You can cope with these feelings by first recognizing them as valid. Working parents across the globe share your experiences. Next, recognize that the other option—staying home with your infant—brings its own set of issues. Many stay-at-home mothers experience bouts of loneliness, stress, boredom, exhaustion, and cravings for social and mental stimulation.

Parenting can always absorb more of you, and the role of a parent is a balancing act through which you, your partner, and your child are learning and growing together.

Taking care of a baby while working is a challenge no matter what your employment circumstances. Whether or not you return to a paid job, do not be shy about asking for help from your family, friends, and community to ensure that you have the physical and emotional support and social stimulation you need. Parenting can always absorb more of you, and the role of a parent is a balancing act through which you, your partner, and your child are learning and growing together.

Lack of sleep

Babies start off with random sleeping patterns, and it takes time for them to adjust to nighttime sleep and daytime wakefulness. Consequently, most new parents suffer from a lack of sleep, which can affect their emotions and mental clarity. You may find yourself easily irritated or frustrated with your child—and this emotional state does not support a secure attachment.

The obvious solution is to get more sleep. Co-sleeping (allowing your baby to sleep in your bed) is a way for everybody to get more sleep while furthering a healthy attachment, but it may not be a comfortable solution for all parents. Other possibilities include asking for help from a partner, family member, or friend, and hiring a mother’s helper, doula, or babysitter.

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is a serious illness that involves more than a simple mood fluctuation after your baby is born. It occurs during the first few months after birth and can last for months. Postpartum depression can make you feel anxious, angry, sad, and guilty. These feelings can overshadow the positive aspects of parenting and transform into experiences of regret, disconnection, hopelessness, and lack of motivation and self-esteem.

If you have a colicky baby, a poor support system, a history of stress, or a physiological tendency toward depression, you may be at risk for postpartum depression. This illness can also be caused by miscarriage, stillbirth, or changes in hormonal levels.

Postpartum depression not only affects the mother, but also puts a family in potential danger. Prolonged and untreated depression creates a barrier to healthy attachment with your baby. Therefore, it is advisable to seek treatment and support at the first signs of postpartum depression.

A doula is a non-medically trained professional who aids pregnant women and new mothers through information, physical assistance, and emotional support. Specifically, postpartum doulas are experts at taking care of newborns and helping with household responsibilities such as cleaning and cooking.

Doula services are typically not overly expensive, and one week or one month of doula care can be a wonderful baby-shower gift. While postpartum doulas can help with post-birth adjustments, prenatal and birth doulas are just as helpful with the stages prior to and during the birth, and many can help with multiple stages.

Some mothers may feel guilty about their negative emotions and too embarrassed to reach out for help. However, postpartum depression is quite common, and there are many resources available for mothers experiencing emotional difficulties. The first steps toward healing are acknowledging your condition and seeking help.

It can be difficult to take these steps, but the rewards on the other side are worth while. As many moms who have overcome postpartum depression will tell you, asking for help is a sign of inner strength, as well as care for both yourself and your baby.

Partner differences

In most parenting scenarios, two people bring together different histories, temperaments, values, and personalities. These differences can make it challenging to agree upon and establish a unified parenting method. For instance, one parent may believe in strong discipline, while the other may be more lenient. Differences like this can play out in many areas.

Inconsistent, unpredictable parenting can cause confusion, insecurity, and behavior problems in children. In addition, spousal conflict about parenting methods can undermine your authority with your child. As he gets older, your child may be tempted to take advantage of a situation in which he does not have firm, clear guidelines.

A cohesive plan for caring for your child, setting rules, and communicating consistently empowers both parents to maintain their independent personalities while presenting a unified voice.

Special needs or other developmental challenges

Premature birth or separation due to a medical condition sometimes interrupts the attachment cycle of a baby and his caregivers. Developmental delays and certain physical and mental conditions can affect both your baby’s ability to respond and your ability to read your baby’s cues. These situations require extra care and attention. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other experts who work in the field of early intervention with developmental disabilities can support you to form the strongest attachment possible with your child.

How have you and your family overcome attachment challenges? Share your experience with other parents and caregivers in the comments below!
Grow Healthy. Grow Happy. Guide
By Grow Healthy. Grow Happy. The Whole Baby Guide. ™

A comprehensive and accessible resource for natural baby care. Nurture your baby with nature's principles for a radiant life. Grow Healthy. Grow Happy. The Whole Baby Guide is a complete resource for parents to give their babies a healthy beginning for the first three years.

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