Page 24 and 25 in the MABM Handbook
Edward Bowlby (1907 – 1990), a British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst is famously known for the research he carried out on early parenting and attachment. He worked with children of all ages and backgrounds, and spent most of his career trying to understand what influences children’s social, emotional and behavioural development.
Bowlby was one of the first to teach us that there is a concrete, measurable link between one generation and the next. In other words, how we were parented is one of the biggest influencers of how we parent.
While developing his theory of attachment, he suggested that babies develop certain behaviours in order to survive, and that these behaviours develop in the context of the relationship a baby has with their carer.
The relationship we have with our parents or carers influences how we behave as a parent…….. and how we behave as a parent influences how our baby behaves!
Mary Ainsworth (1913 – 1999), an American-Canadian developmental psychologist was a colleague of Bowlby’s. She took early parenting research a step further. She designed a test (The Strange Situation) to illustrate that how a parent relates to, and interacts with, their baby affects how the baby behaves, and subsequently how they relate to the world around them. In other words, if we experience an extremely strict, cold type of up-bringing, we may find ourselves re-enacting some of these experiences with our children, unless of course, we make a conscious decision not to. Similarly, if we were generally responded to and encouraged as a child, we are more likely to naturally parent our own children in the same way.
Mary Main (born in 1943) is another American psychologist who worked at the University of California. She designed an interview called the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI: Main, 2000) which asks adults to recall and describe their own relationship with those who cared for them. During this task, Main assessed whether the parent was securely or insecurely attached to their own parent or guardian (whether they were living or deceased).
Similar to Bowlby, Main’s research demonstrates the long-lasting affect which our parents have on us. However, this does not mean that we will turn into our own parents! (Although that is sometimes a risk….). No, her research shows us that our experience of being parented can affect us for the good or the bad… but it is up to us to decide!
The most important thing is to think about our experience of being parented – we need to make sense of it and make peace with it.
When we do this, we protect the connection that we have with our family. This in turn helps us to connect with the next generation – our own children.
This is how we leave unhelpful experiences in the past…. And take helpful ones into the future with us!