Paternal Attachment–I created a Professor “oh crap” moment. Sorry :(

I just received a really fantastically awkward response to a question about the absence of fathers in attachment theory.  Anyone who has read a bit of attachment theory quickly realizes that most authors are talking only about mothers.  The pressure is placed on the mother to create a secure attachment, to ensure that they provide the ideal level of boundaries and warmth.  I’m not going to go over all the 4 levels of attachment, but suffice it to say, it is a difficult balance to define and for a woman to enact.  Many parents achieve this with little difficulty (yay for them!)  Psychologists tend to pathologize all everything except secure attachments.  (wiki-link, if you’re curious to want more! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory) In my opinion, children and adults are more adaptable and resilient than we give them credit for.   But even outside of psychology, culture gives mothers the responsibility of creating the early blueprint for attachment.  The relationship with the father is considered tertiary, consequential.  Short of outright abuse, anything the father does is juuuuust fiiiiiiiine.

The field of attachment research focuses almost solely on mothers.  We have a ton of information on how mothers attach to their children and a massive lacking of information about fathers.  A few people have attempted to explore how fathers form bonds with their children, but this collection of research is very, very small.  The field of psychology and relationship science instead assumes that paternal attachment is just the same.  The problem with this is that we simply don’t know.  It is worth exploring but it is not being really explored.

I brought up this issue in class after watching a video clip on corrective attachment therapy. This type of therapy is primarily applied when an infant is diagnosed with Failure to Thrive and no biological/medical base can be identified.  Failure to Thrive occurs when a child and parent have no attachment, are out of tune with one another, the parent is not meeting the child’s need for security.  This failure of relationship result in the child not eating or taking in nutrition or not sleeping.  The child does not grow.  FTT does not occur only in first days/weeks of life, but can appear age 3 or even older.  It creates a great deal of disruption in the entire household, especially if two parents are involved.  The video we watched and every discussion I’ve ever had on this topic throughout multiple classes, revolves around the mother.  Treatment revolves primarily around the mother, teaching the mother how to appropriately respond and build an empathetic connection with the child.

So, in my infinite curiosity, I inquired as to why the fathers were not more involved.  They were obviously involved and equally as disengaged from the child.  At least one of the families featured involved two working parents.  Why is the father’s lack of attachment not emphasized.  I received a very bumbling and unsatisfying answer that mentioned the working father, the importance of the “feeding relationship” (think breast feeding–even though few mothers currently breast feed), the father not wishing to create more tension in the family.  To my prof’s credit, he acknowledged that this was an area that was lacking, but he came back around to excusing that.  At no point did he imply, yeah dads need to be involved!  They can have bad attachments too!  I followed up by stating that it seemed father’s were excused in their Ego-Centric level of awareness with their child, and that it is accepted or expected that fathers relate to their children in this way.  Again, I received more bumbling and nothing resembling a satisfying answer.

Poor guy.  He went out of his way to inject “father” every time he said “mother” and tried to inject some comments about patriarchy for the rest of the lecture.  I felt kind of awkward as he answered the question, as awkward as I was annoyed.  It was a clear moment of “oh crap I have a feminist in my class!  What do I doooooo?”  But the field of psychology and attachment are dripping with misogyny.  Hell when you break it down the whole field was created by men to control and condemn women’s natural impulses and urges.  Fucking Freud.

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3 Responses to Paternal Attachment–I created a Professor “oh crap” moment. Sorry :(

  1. I’m a psych prof and I agree with you, fried indeed. Your prof is out of date, to a degree, too though. Some research has been done with fathers and of course infants CAN form different attachment patterns with fathers and mothers, or with both their fathers, or with both their mothers, whatever their family structure may be. I don’t know what one Earth he meant by the feeding relationship either– that comment there was handled by Harlow for goodness sake– attachment and feeding are most certainly not the same thing. Sorry to hear you had to sit through such a poor presentation.

  2. Thanks cognitioneducation. I’ve been disappointed in how out-dated information continues to be taught under the guise of “traditional models/theories.” Smart prof, but not up on current research.

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