Around 50 people gathered at St Paul's on Monday 11 July, eagerly anticipating some new parenting input from Dr. Ruth McConnell, as part of the St Paul's Pastoral Care Workshop series.  Ruth, a Counselling Lecturer at Laidlaw with counselling career extending to workshops and her own practice, presented a talk based on the 'Power to Parent' attachment theory coined by canadian psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld.

The key theme of the evening was that a 'child's attachment with the adults responsible for their care provides the context for raising them'. If there is no attachment, there is no context, and therefore no power to parent. To be effective parents, we need to first 'have our children's hearts' - the key is not how attached we are to them, but how attached they are to us.

Ruth kicked off the evening by exploring the 3 R's of raising children - Relationship, Rest and Room for growth. Of particular interest were the six key roots of the attachment tree that must be strong and deep in order for our child's 'tree' to grow and mature. The six key roots - senses, sameness, belonging and loyalty, significance, love and being known - grow sequentially and each need to be fully satiated before progressing to the next one in order to develop full attachment and vulnerability. At our deepest core, we are made to love vulnerably, though many of us, for whatever reason, sadly fail to ever reach this stage of attachment.

Ruth helped us ask questions like 'Are we our children's compass point?', 'Am I misusing my power as a parent'? 'Am I providing everything my child needs and then some?' Can they rest in my love or are they always striving to please me, perform, behave?' She explained that we need to be proactive (not reactive) in providing attention, love, time and attachment in order to effectively keep our children's tanks filled. Similarly we need to be proactive in repairing the relationship when it comes undone - "parenting is for life and so is repairing it."

Somewhat a relief for solo parents, it was great to hear that a child only needs strong attachment to one key adult in their life to be able to develop well. That said, 'matchmaking' our children to other key adults in their world that our children can attach to when we are not around is also very important (ie babysitters, teachers, friends, aunts).

If our children are well connected to their key adult(s), this provides the fertiliser for personal growth, independence, emergence, creativity, adaptation and resilience, uniqueness, individuality and sense of self. Attachment also provides children with a shield against bullying, enabling them to less threatened by others because, deep down, they are safely known and loved. Their key adult(s) become their 'true north', helping children to navigate and resist the thorny ground of peer attachment which is often a source of major wounding - in broad terms, peer groups tend to be fickle and superficial in their attachment and ultimately 'clone' each other, suppressing uniqueness, individuality and coercing each other into sameness (Dr. Neufeld explores the case against peer attachment further in his book 'Hold Onto Your Kids').

Overall, it was an enlightening evening and very refreshing to hear alternative parenting resource delivered in a gracious, wise and non-confrontational way. Read what some of the parents who attended had to say…

"Ruth was the kind of presenter who affirms that parenting really is the most important job in the world. The model of attachment and how children and develop healthy attachments was so insightful. I was struck by how much I am still impacted every day by my own attachment experiences and it was powerful to see how my own daughter is progressing. I really felt affirmed as a parent but also as a teacher in the importance of healthy attachment with authority figures in a child's life. The ultimate attachment is with God and I loved seeing how my faith and a focus on healthy attachment are so entwined." Marion Woodley

"Winnicott, an influential developmental theorist, said "There's no such thing as a baby" as in, there is always a baby and someone else. Attachment is the 'and'. Our society has a huge drive to make our children independent and in our rush I think we often push our children to be disconnected. A baby's cries are her push back and, although harder to see sometimes, so are our children's less desirable behaviours. When we start to see that children need help to master their own emotions and that a loving adult working along side them is the gentlest, most productive way to do this, we will be on our way to growing a more empathic, whole, healing generation. Ruth's extensive knowledge of attachment theory and application of this to children of a range of ages as well as her grounding in theology was fabulous to hear. It was a delight to hear something other than the more superficial behaviourist approaches presented as viable (helpful and healthful) parenting options in a christian setting." Katie Speedy

"Being slightly on the Sears attachment parenting continuum but struggling in some areas with a developmentally advanced nearly three-year- old, this workshop was very timely. Ruth commanded my attention from the start with her gentle, professional and endearing mannerism. I found the content to fit me on all levels but what I loved most was hearing the heart of God weaved through the theory. I came away with a few pearls of wisdom of which, for four days now, I have tried to put into practice. I'm seeing changes in my son and I already. I only wish my husband could have been there too. I think it pays to have both parents (if possible) rowing the same boat, in the same direction…" Michelle Sarkar

"Really enjoyed Ruth. It was refreshing to look at an alternative to the accepted teaching of time-out etc. A great reminder that there is no substitute for quality time with our children and to be intentional in our interactions with them. As someone said to me, the critique of attachment theory is that everything is down to the parents and so can lead to guilt in its extreme. I think Ruth was on a healthy end of the attachment theory spectrum though. It needs a lot of unpacking to put into practice I think... but I really enjoyed it. I've been thinking about it all week." Bex Norris

Note: If you would be interested in attending an 8-week followup course which explores this topic in much more depth, please email Phil with your expression of interest. If we have enough people, we could put together a course later in the year.