Where would we be without parents? Obviously, being brought into the world is impossible without our parents, but what is parenting really, and why is it important?
From both classic anthropological and human development perspectives, parenting often is defined as a “primary mechanism of socialization,” that is, a primary means of training and preparing children to meet the demands of their environments and take advantage of opportunities within those environments.”1 Within this framework, we see the idea that the particular and continuing task of parents and other caregivers is to “enculturate children to prepare them for socially accepted physical, economic, and psychological situations that are characteristic of the culture in which they are to survive and thrive.”2
This may seem obvious to most, however, there is far more to being a parent that most people care to contemplate prior to the passion that “makes a baby.” Central to the idea of being a parent is the connection or “attachment” we have with our children. Attachment security is one of the most central and important aspects of development. Plainly, it is a child’s sense of confidence and security that their caregiver(s) is there to meet their needs. Every child develops attachments with their parents/caregivers, but how we interact with our young children, including the extent to which we respond appropriately and consistently to their needs greatly influences no only whether the relationship that develops with them is secure, but also has great impact on their neurological development. Young children who are securely attached to their parents, and who’s parents attend to their emotional needs in addition to their physical needs consistently develop more numerous neuropathways in the brain, and are afforded a solid foundation for the establishment of strong peer relationships including the vital ability to empathize with others.3 Conversely, young children who do not become securely attached with a primary caregiver (e.g., as a result of maltreatment or separation) develop insecure behaviors in childhood and suffer other adverse outcomes over the course of life, including numerous physical health disorders as well as disruption in other social and emotional domains.4
When parental attachment is strong, parents remain the primary influence in a child’s mental and physical development well into adulthood. When parental attachment is weak, other influences, such as relatives, family friends, teachers, peer groups and social institutions contribute more in shaping children’s growth and development. Parenting is fluid and continuous, changing over time as children and parents grow and develop. Parenting is multidimensional. To respond to the varied needs of their children, parents must develop both depth and breadth of knowledge, ranging from being aware of developmental milestones and norms. Attachment is one of these ideas tacit in the role of parenting that is simply to vital to overlook.
See “Resources” page for further information on attachment theory.
1. Bornstein MH. Cultural Approaches to Parenting (The Crosscurrents in Contemporary Psychology Series). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 1991.)
3. Bowlby J. Attachment theory and its therapeutic implications. Adolescent Psychiatry. 1978;6:5–33.
4. Schore AN. Attachment, affect regulation, and the developing right brain: Linking developmental neuroscience to pediatrics. Pediatrics in Review. 2005;26(6):204–217.