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enabling a child’s own desire through entrusting confidence
october 4 / october 17, 2010


So-called “attachment parenting” has features which are well-established aspects of good parenting for good child development, according to parenting specialists (who are heirs to cross-generational mothering wisdom). Physical closeness, sensitivity, and responsiveness—consistent loving care—enables a trusting, confident baby, which leads in part to kids who are healthier and happier due to a trust-in-belonging that welcomes, provides for, and prudently cultivates their individuality.

What interests me presently is that secure attachment (leading to trust in belonging or good bonding) leads to a confidence which releases innate desire for exploratory learning, leading to independence, not dependence. The baby can get a sufficient sense of security, then wants to move on. Attention to the baby’s wants can be sufficient to the baby, then it wants to play and explore.

“...[S]ecurely-attached kids are not overly clingy or helpless. They are the kids who feel confident to explore the world on their own. They can do this because they trust that their parents will be there for them” (Mercer 2006, quoted and cited by Gwen Dewar, PhD).

From the beginning, the little being is naturally given to fascination with play of the surround, and secure attachment releases that natural fascination. But fascination is not induced by bonding or trusting confidence in the surround. Fascination (given satisfaction of need) is innate, due to the nature of our mentability or intelligece. Desire to learn is released and facilitated by satisfaction of need and trusting confidence or belonging.

What especially interests me is that trusting, confident children are more likely to be creative—a theme for later.

Consider attachmental parenting as an interplay of responsiveness and proactiveness:

Sensitive, responsive (baby-centered) mothering includes:

  • breastfeeding on demand and extended breastfeeding
  • being responsive to baby’s cries, but not being suppressive or expressing annoyance through body language
  • appreciative responsiveness (sensitivity) during infant play, oriented by the baby’s interests and needs, rather than one’s own
  • sensitivity to infant distress

Proactiveness includes:

  • nurturing touch (including skin-to-skin “kangaroo care” for infants). Baby-wearing with soft baby carriers is good exercise.
  • High-quality communication: Pretend that the baby can understand the play of talk. At heart, language is a dance of relating—a music of oral interplay. A parent’s music of feeling for the play is easily felt by a baby from the beginning.
  • Learned insight into the child’s mental and emotional states (not projection of one’s own). Shaping the frame of what’s going on for one’s child should be about enabling the child’s actualization of what’s really going on for her/him.

Empirical research (and experience) shows that attachment parenting is strongly associated with:

  • child independence
  • better moods and better emotional coping....higher levels of positive mood, more constructive coping, and better regulation of emotion
  • reduction of child distress
  • fewer behavior problems
  • higher IQ and academic performance... scoring higher on communication, cognitive engagement, and motivation to master new skills

For more on attachment parenting as such, see Gwen Dewar’s research-based view.

A baby is mentally, first of all, an interplay of nonconscious Self and nebulously-present World (familial surround) as so-called consciousness emerges. (I prefer ‘attentiveness’ to ‘consciousness’. Capability for attentiveness or focus develops within a development of mind that looks largely inattentive, but is implicitly rapt in learning). The World is “there” for inattentive Self, raptly-yet-inattentively aborbing experience (which is why understanding seems to magically emerge for a child before s/he can specifically talk). The darling face is, so to speak, a little mask-of-self for the Self raptly developing, relative to overtly inattentive Belonging—which is also an implicitly-growing confidence about experience. A baby’s inattentive mind is an evolutionarily huge Desire to actualize potential, backgrounding little needs and pleasures. Ontogeny is primarily about a background genesis raptly feeling you more deeply than the wandering face shows. We’re born to widely and inattentively listen and watch while we narrowly and attentively play and explore. From birth, a baby is evincing a plural mind, growing far more implicitly than explicitly.

The parental interplay of responsiveness and proactiveness is a dance of mutuality in enabling trust, confidence, imagination, and ownmost desire. Sensitive and proactive parenting empathically anticipates inattentive child needs without being presumptuous. Good parenting is not interventionist. A child who attentively feels its needs before they are reliably satisfied learns to own need as what can be trusted to gain satisfaction, as if the baby and child is, to itself, causing the satisfaction of its needs, thereby empowering confidence toward the surround. Likewise with emergent desire: Owning desire is vital for later identity formation. Presumptuous parenting compromises the child’s enowning of its desire. Yet, parental play with possibilities of child desire is vital for enriching a child’s scale of imagination and aspiration. But it’s the child’s desire that the play is about forming, not inducing the child to adopt a parent’s desire.

Everything I know about parenting continues to let me feel that the “SmartLove” fiction about one’s baby—as if it is deliberately embodying Total Love for you—is profoundly valid. Their approach to being loved “into” happiness doesn’t evidently pose itself overtly in terms of attachment parenting, but it’s a wonderful sense of the baby’s experience of gaining confidence in belonging.

In upcoming discussions, I want to show in more detail how confident belonging over the years—one’s later-implicit sense of being of the world—secures one’s pleasure in owning one’s desires (oneSelf being in the world), which is the basis for developmentally-later identifying with one’s choices, later preferences, then later-presumed values. Yet, the exploratory confidence which emerges from this is also the source of confidence enough to question previous choices and prevailing values, such that redesigning one’s landscape of aspirations, preferences, etc., might be better for one’s life.

Love of questioning, I surmise, is born from the appeal of exploring, born from secure formation of sustained interest in exploratory activity, which (research shows, that I’ll focus on soon) leads to constructive self expansion. Exploratory security finds the world inviting an inquiring mind (or parenting should invite this!) to be in the world one’s ownmost way, beyond being of the world’s presumptions.

Attachmentality is the primal mode of belonging. The autonomy that is initiated from confident belonging leads to confidence in the reliability of the child’s world, thus a later standing (sense of self in the world) that feels open to appreciating difference from oneself, especially in relationships with others, yet generally for a sense of fascination with an exoticness of the world. It’s OK to risk falls or seeming to be a fool, OK to enter dark woods, because that’s integral to making one’s way and part of learning the play of the world, including the difference between real and imagined danger, later between prudishness and enlightened prudence.

The confident belonging of open sensibility can afford emotional availability to others. Gwen Dewar notes that attachment parenting is strongly associated (via experience and empirical research) with later “emotional availability....[re: children who are] more likely to demonstrate emotional availability [to peers].” Emotional availability is about later “being open to discuss emotions, and being ready to respond sensitively and appropriately to the emotions of others.” “[K]ids with more responsive mothers exhibit more empathy and prosocial behavior.”

Being appreciated is an intrinsic value (I’ll later dwell with the notion of intrinsicness), which models, by its repeated gift to the child, their own potential to later appreciate others because feeling appreciation comes to belong as if to the world itself. Trust in the surround (in the world) and confidence in oneself play into a constructive ambiguity of that as trust in oneself and confidence in the world, which thereby looks to belong to others in one’s world who belong and can be trusted.

[This is a claim about the primacy of Self-World sensibility, from which interpersonal sensibility follows. I will later argue against the sociocentric presumption that Self-World sensibility is constituted interpersonally. Furthermore, the intersubjectivity of early childhood (and later intimacy) is not basically interpersonal. Finally, I would claim that early intersubjectivity derives from a primal [inter]Subjectivity that is not yet clearly intersubjective, but which stays with some persons—developing along with intersubjective and interpersonal life. The [inter]Subjectivity of a baby’s experience of parenting is not a distinct intersubjectivity, which the child does gradually discriminate. But the sense of differentiation is not induced or prevalently educed by parenting; it’s accomplished by the child’s mental work.]

I will later argue that a constructive Self-World ambiguity of the locus of trust and confidence is the basis for empathic ethical life, while locally ethical life is the basis for generally moral development. Research is on my side: “Attachment parenting is strongly associated [via experience and empirical research] with a child's moral development,” Dewar writes; “[associated with] more-developed consciences [...at] school age [and with being...] more likely to comply with adult instructions”—from good, child-centered teachers (and parents), I would add.

Confident belonging provides the primal basis of later intimacy in friendship, i.e., capability to feel with others heartfully, if you will. This is the origin of ethical life. (The Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt relies on a concept of “wholeheartedness” in his influential theory of ethical life.) A good sense of intersubjectivity is by no means sufficient for empathic care (another keynote of ethical life), because real empathy appreciates the other’s different situation in its ownmost character (requiring development of good self-other differentiation), which good parenting models over and over through responsive and proactive, child-centered care. But for the child, confident belonging is necessary for later empathy—one side of the coin of securely, thus genuinely, wanting to appreciate different others (genuinely identifying with their difference), because the feeling of being appreciated as oneSelf has become intrinsic to being in the world.

  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis