Making ‘attachment culture’ a headline subject

By  Andrea Mrozek
  • March 16, 2023

If it’s possible to mourn something you’ve never known, then I’ve been longing for a world in which attachment matters. Why worry about attachment now? It’s not a subject that makes headlines. 

I have Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté’s book, Hold On To Your Kids —Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers on my shelf to re-read periodically. This time, two recent podcasts brought these authors to front of mind. One was Janet Lansbury’s parenting podcast, Unruffled —where Maté got a shout out for his help in understanding how past trauma informs parenting today. The other was the British podcast Triggernometry, and an interview with an American mother recounting her son’s journey out of transgenderism. The mother was describing a key moment in helping her son understand he truly is a boy. As part of this, she added, not without enthusiasm, “I want to plug Gordon Neufeld here…” and I just about fell out of my bus seat. 

Why might these men come up in disparate places in wildly different ways? Because they offer wisdom that has been lost. 

Attachment is a concept I like while simultaneously lacking the vocabulary to explain what it is. Let’s start with this: Right now is a great time to put aside the notion that attachment necessitates co-sleeping with babies and breastfeeding until age five. Attachment culture is something different. It supports children’s growth in deep connection with those who can help them mature and grow, rooted in a history, grounded in secure adult (usually parental) love. 

Neufeld writes attachment is, “most simply stated, a force of attraction pulling two bodies toward each other.” The contrast with our culture is stark. We are oriented only to today, to our peers and lack the security of place that comes from growing up surrounded by an intergenerational community. 

Almost by default, North America must be a detached culture, given we are a place made up of immigrants — people who had to leave family behind. We can’t rely on the wisdom of elders we don’t know and never see. From that extends a near idolization of independence and autonomy. 

There’s plenty of implications of this, and I’ll raise just one around child care. Even in raising the smallest of children, we tend to over-value independence. We’ve struggled mightily to keep our daughter home, physically close to us, until age four, which is not exactly what I’d call a ripe old age. The default, largely for economic reasons, is early daycare. 

Before you jump on me for asserting that daycare is bad, that is precisely not my point. An attachment-friendly culture can have daycares — but these would look different. They would aim to partner with parents in strengthening and encouraging parental authority. Doing so might mean a daycare worker coming into your home first to get to know you and your child — before you drop your child off elsewhere. Valuing attachment would certainly mean that legal ratios of one adult for five infants would not exist. 

If you live thousands of miles from family and struggle to find someone trustworthy to babysit your child; if you wish for a world in which you could have a local bar where everybody knows your name, or a grocery store where the clerk might recognize you — then you might also be mourning a world that values attachment. Religious communities were once a strong source of connection but only 10 per cent of Canadians actually go weekly. And going is no guarantee of finding community. 

As a teenager, I spent six weeks in a small Bavarian town. The summer was filled with festivals. We, the teenaged guests, would go to the biergartens with our “gastfamilien.” The parents and their kids would all hang out together. I still remember my shock that adults came to the party. Replicating an attachment village in modern Canada is a near full time job and nearly impossible. 

Attachment does not make headlines. That’s true if we are talking about attachment theory. But when a roving band of girls murders a man on Toronto streets, we can bet they were not firmly rooted in the knowledge of who they are as beloved daughters of parents who lead them to maturity, in a community that cares. 

Attachment matters — if only in its absence.

(Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.