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Professor Alan Sroufe and Shared Parenting - Divorce and Attachment Relationships

Men can't 'nurse'?

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Summary - In his article for Dr McIntoshes Special Edition for the journal Family Law Review on the 'attachment theory' the respected psychologist Alan Sroufe agrees with Bowlby's idea of 'monotropy', that is children should only have one primary carer, and goes on to say men cannot 'nurse'.


SCRIPT - Professor Alan Sroufe and Shared Parenting - Divorce and Attachment Relationships

In a 2011 Special issue of Family Court Review on Attachment Theory, edited by Dr Jennifer McIntosh, the respected psychologist and Professor of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, Alan Sroufe, answers the question,Why a 'primary' attachment figure in the hierarchy? and goes on to explain,

Suppose we were disposed to form two exactly equal attachments, and were out here in the forest and a panther comes along, and we go through a process like this: O.K. Attachment figure #1 is approximately ten metres away, but there is a bush between me and them, I would have to go around that to get to them. Attachment figure #2 is approximately twelve metres away, there is no bush but on the other hand, I would have to go uphill. By the time you go through that process, you would be dead. You do not go through that cognitive process, you just go and you do it: it is automatic.

According to Dr Jennifer McIntosh 'Every day in family law courts and mediation rooms across the world, complex decisions are made about post separation parenting that affect the developmental outcomes of countless children'.

To try and assist these decisions she has brought together multiple conversations with internationally acclaimed attachment theorists and researchers to try and develop a set of guidelines which can be utilized to settle contact and access disputes in family court proceedings.

The drawback with these guidelines is that all the authors are working within a Dr Bowlby tradition including Professor Sroufe who received the 'Bowlby Ainsworth Award' in 2007.

Dr Bowlby believed that attachment behaviours are instinctive and will be activated by any conditions that seem to threaten proximity to the primary attachment figure. He said that a child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure, usually the mother, and he considered this concept to be so important that, to describe it, he invented a new word 'monotropy'. In his article Professor Sroufe also argues, as Dr Bowlby did, that the primary attachment is different from all others.

But Newson (1974) showed that mothering skills are not in any way innate or instinctive. Instead, they are skills, which are acquired through practice in communicating with that particular individual baby. As you get to know a baby, and see it as having human sensibilities and a 'personality', you also become more able to detect and understand that baby's responses. Babies, on their part, learn very fast, and respond more to those people who are sensitive to their actions. They are also, as Schaffer and Emerson (1964) showed, more likely to form attachments with people who respond sensitively to them. The implication here is that interacting with babies is a learned skill; and that fathers can acquire these skills just as mothers do, given motivation and opportunity.

The early study by Schaffer and Emerson also showed that infants could develop multiple attachments - several of the infants in their study were as attached to their fathers as to their mothers. Some, too, had developed an attachment to the father but not to the mother, even though it was the mother who was looking after them most of the time. In such cases, always, it was the father who responded most sensitively to the child.

In the interview with Dr McIntosh described, Professor Sroufe says,

Mothers carried this baby, that is a different deal. We (men) did not, we cannot nurse. It is a different deal. It does not mean fathers are less important. Why would it make you feel less important as a father if you're not a primary attachment figure? Children need way more than that. They need guidance, they need limits, they need role models, they need to believe that they can do things, they need a ton. And frankly I think there are some things that fathers are better at than mothers.

Professor Sroufe argues against Shared Parenting because it is still not the rule, and often the fathers aren't as involved with the infant emotionally as mothers are, and in the early years are not functioning in the same secure-base way as mother is.

But research shows children can attach themselves to fathers as well as mothers even when they are very young. Dr Bowlby's theory of attachment is grounded in the 1950's and today's ever rapidly changing society is not so judgmental and is less inclined to base its decisions on guidelines with stereotypical views of relationships and, unless there is a very good reason to the contrary, children should be allowed to develop their own sense of identity within the framework of both loving parents.

VIDEO - http://youtu.be/dmwRGE535YI

ARTICLE - DIVORCE AND ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS: THE LONGITUDINAL JOURNEY Alan Sroufe and Jennifer McIntosh - http://onlinelibrary.w...744-1617.2011.01384.x/pdf

Last edit: by Kip


Kingsley Miller is the author of 'even Toddlers Need Fathers', a critique of the principle of 'Maternal Deprivation' as applied in family courts, which Professor Sir Michael Rutter described as an, 'interesting and informative guide'. He has also received a letter from Buckingham Palace stating, 'It was thoughtful of you to enclose a copy of your book 'even Toddlers Need Fathers' and Her Majesty has noted your concerns'.
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