Fascinating Attachment Parenting Interview with Dr Faye Snyder – Child Psychologist and Parenting Expert
Intro by Anna Rodgers – Are babies ever born bad? Dr Faye Snyder, child psychologist says no – its always down to how they were parented. I happen to agree 100%.
Dr Faye has also written the BEST parenting book I have ever come across. Read this fascinating interview to find out her own story to how she got to being where she is today.
1.Dr. Faye, how did you become interested in the idea that babies are born good and shaped by their early experiences? What was your inspiration?
Maybe I’m stalling to think, but I have to say first that I am so impressed with this question. I have been waiting to be asked it, and you were the first to ask. It is a question that reflects awareness, either conscious or intuitive, that good theory comes from a sort of love affair with reality. It usually is born of need. Good theory and good questions address cause, motives and ramifications. You have asked me for the underlying cause of my theory as well as my motives in one single question. Bravo!
The answer is not simple, and for sure it’s biographical. My Alabama born mother used to brag to me that she had a Black housekeeper (“nigra maid”) who used to say to her, “Mrs. Means, your baby is crying.” She would respond, “Now, don’t you spoil my baby. You best not pick her up.” My mother told me more than once that she sometimes caught this loving woman (my characterization, not hers) holding me. I actually remember being in my playpen a few years later, probably at about one and one-half, with a bottle propped up for me.
My mother also told me that she thought the worst conversation she ever had to endure was parents talking about their children. She thought it was the most boring of subjects. I didn’t form opinions then about what she said. It just went in. Only now do I know that it hurt. Like children do, I assumed she knew what she was talking about, and at least, my condition as a child wasn’t permanent.
My brother, Philip, who was nine years older than me, adored me, which was a boost to my identity. My younger brother, Jonathan, was her favorite. I believe now it was because she had accidentally dropped him as an infant, causing a concussion, so the doctor told her to keep him still and carry him with her everywhere. Guess what. They bonded. He became her darling, but I can tell you now that she suffocated him in the long run.
My mother was an intellectual, raised on a farm, who worked her way through college. She had been a child laborer and put me to work as well. My younger brother was supposed to help me work, but he was more trouble than help. When I was around twelve, my mother invited two cousins out to visit for the summer to help socialize my brother, who had become a sort of mama’s boy. The girl cousin was three years younger than me, and my mom sort of had to invite her. She resented the child. One night the nine-year-old girl cried because she was homesick, and my mom became enraged. She yelled at her, “I don’t want you here anyway. I invited Gary for Jonathan. You are only here for Faye, and you can go home any time you like.” My young cousin ran outside into a pouring rain and hugged the stucco side of our house crying hysterically. I ran after her and tried to console her, apologizing in earnest for my mom’s bad behavior. It was then that I became clear that my mom didn’t really know what she was doing and that adults can be wrong.
Yet, there are no pure bad guys and no pure good guys. When I was five and some children were teasing me, she taught me to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I sunk my mental teeth into that expression. When I was about eight, she read me a piece of news in the newspaper about four black children being kept from attending a white school by the governor of Alabama, George Wallace. She helped me compose a letter to the governor on behalf of the children.
When I was around twelve, a schoolmate died. I was hit hard and cried for hours in my room. My mom came in with an article by a father, John Dunne, who grieved the loss of his daughter. She read to me about the experience of losing the life of this young girl, a daughter who was cherished, by the way. I remember her saying, “It’s the permanence of death that is so hard to bare.” It was a level of communication that reached inside my soul and gave me more than I needed. She helped me with my loss, and she was a real mother times ten. Today I find it difficult but important to teach parents to have deep conversations with their children. I believe it’s really big. Big.
It was very difficult for me to do school work, but the way to my mother’s heart was through intellectual achievement. I had three eye operations in my childhood. Seeing, reading and writing (because you have to see to write) have always been difficult when not painful. I was always running behind in my reading assignments. I learned to listen well and to pick up a book, review the table of contents, the first and last paragraphs of every chapter, to spot-skim and to figure out what must lie between the covers. In order to do that, I had to conceptualize the purpose of the book. I learned then that to understand anything we have to grasp the cause, motives and ramifications of the message. It was a right brain insight at first when I tried to imagine myself in the writer’s place. Ultimately, it helped me to see from the point of view of others. Eventually it became a formula.
College was very slow for me because of my eyes, and I came to live with migraines, especially triggered by reading. Nevertheless, I was my mother’s daughter and quitting college was not an option. I plugged along at a snail’s pace.
Early in my adulthood, I had a drive to make the world a better place. I fit right into the hippy movement and became quite political, working hard volunteering into exhaustion. Personality or no personality, I fit in. I had purpose. I was opposed to the Viet Nam War. I was a feminist. I fought for gay rights. I fought for blacks and even Black Nationalism with some deep appreciation for Stokeley Carmichael and Malcom X. I truly appreciated how the women’s movement and the black nationalist movement redefined things. I felt for everyone who suffered and I was angry at whoever had authority without scruples. I studied economic theory, specifically historical and dialectical materialism, a formula created by Karl Marx. It meant that development is created by the interaction of opposites, from the inside out. It meant that the configuration or dialectical relationship of matter determines the essence of a thing from within. I treated it like a Zen koan. I wanted to get what it conceptually. My migraines were getting the best of me. I had one that lasted for three years and I ended up on welfare. My younger brother and his wife took me to California, because they didn’t believe I could take care of myself. Shortly before the trip, I had a religious experience or more accurately an enlightenment experience. My Zen koan paid off. I “saw” a chain reaction of interconnectedness all the way back to the Big Bang. The experience was life altering, never seeing things the same after that. I always saw in terms of cause and effect, from one thing to the next to the next, resulting from the interaction of opposites or problems. Unfortunately, it didn’t make me healthier.
As a young adult I had little personality or social skills, but I knew how to toil. With the migraines, a growing fear of pain and my awakening emotional pain of profound emptiness, my search for a therapists lasted sixteen years from the sixties to the early 80s. I saw eleven therapists for at least a year. There were others I saw for shorter times. I read these therapists like I read books, surmising they thought that there was something inherently wrong with me. They didn’t really help me. There was not much interest either in my childhood. They tended to shake their heads and sometimes say, “Hmmm.” They resisted any deep conversation and I felt like I was sort of under a microscope and a projection or opinion about of some sort that I was not free to address. It was eerie to have these one-way conversations, and it made me feel worse. Throughout it all I was convinced that what was wrong with me could be fixed and my problem was not who I was. I just believed I lacked knowledge that would help me. The last nine months of therapy I spent with the therapist who taught me how to turn my life around. I received understanding, but I also learned how healthy people look at the world and respond to it.
After finally experiencing good therapy I wanted to find out how therapists were being trained, so I entered graduate school. I was pissed off that it took so long to get good therapy. I also thought maybe I could be a good one, since I believed I knew first hand what patients do need. Having terminated therapy with honors I was ready to become a grown up, so I added a few other motives for my education. Perhaps I had been too hard on the system and now I would try becoming an insider rather than an outsider. While I was in graduate school I became pregnant with some persistence. I also realized I really wanted to be a mommy. I wanted to give my daughter what I never got.
When I learned I was pregnant with my own child at 39 years of age, I called my mother in Florida and she said, “Oh good! If it’s a boy, you can send him to me. If it’s a girl, you can keep her.” Her self-loathing as a woman and the ongoing rejection didn’t escape me. I so wanted a girl. I wanted to be the mother I never had. I had amniocentesis and my husband asked to be the first to know the results so he could break the news to me if it was a boy. It was. I grieved the little girl I would not have, Shannon Levi Snyder, but one day, while standing in line at a store, I saw a baby with the cutest little boy clothes, and I was instantly ready for my son. As long as I could dress him up, we would be good. I wanted to name him Scott Clifton Snyder for a few reasons including that he would have initials for success and because Clifton was my mother’s maiden name.
I had three showers and exactly 100 presents. I felt enchanted. I never experienced so much attention and well-wishing, but it was a difficult pregnancy and a difficult labor. Scott was born on my husband’s favorite holiday, Halloween, and I recall him looking deeply into my eyes with a bit of a frown. My husband experienced the same thing. He said, “I get the eerie feeling he wants to tell us something, but we have to wait.” I had the feeling that he was wondering if we were going to be any good.
By this time in my life, I was so in the miracle, I couldn’t pay attention to him enough. I didn’t want to miss anything. We never wanted a babysitter, because we didn’t want to miss out on being with him. My husband felt the same way, even though he had to go to work. I became good with a camera, because I wanted to capture everything about him. I playfully thought I had a Mother Mary complex, because I felt like I was raising God. (I am a Zen Buddhist, who believes God is in everyone.) What I really mean by that is that I noticed I was more invested in his point of view than most other mothers I met.
When we came home for the first time, my husband came around to my side of the car and opened the car door for me so I could carry my baby in. He slammed the door and Scott was so startled he threw his arms out in the Moro Reflex and screamed his cry. I soothed him but didn’t leave the side of the car. I asked Ron to go back and close the car door again. We were on the same page. I held Scott close so he could see at least faintly about four feet away and he watched his father open the door and close it (with less force than before). Then he opened it again and closed it a little harder. Then, he opened it one more time and slammed it shut. Scott watched and didn’t make a peep. He got it. I realized that everything was new to him and we could mediate his introduction to the world.
When I spoke to him I watched him. I noticed his responses and noted everything he learned. The more I spoke to him from soul to soul, the more responsive he was. I became fascinated by how well he understood and how easy he was to teach. I saw how important I was. When I did dishes, I put him in his infant seat on the kitchen counter next to the sink and told him about everything I was doing. I didn’t use a lot of words. I would say “Water.” “Turn water on.” “Turn water off.” “Bubbles.” “Make bubbles.” “Wash.” “Wash dishes.” I pointed out everything to him as I did it. All of this was before I ever read how babies learn most of what they will ever learn in the first three years of life. I just saw how he took it in. I saw his curiosity and how quickly every single moment seemed to change him. I noticed other mothers treating their children like they were cute little things to be fed, changed and rocked.
I assumed Scott and I were in a relationship and I watched his aware responses to us. By four months when we took him out to a restaurant we began to hear continuous comments that his eyes seemed so “wise” or so “alert” or so “aware”. I knew that it was because we had engaged him with reverence and joy. On a few occasions I met mothers who were also very attentive, but they believed their child was inherently intelligent, unaware that they were creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It threw me. It was the first time I realized in a big way that mothers didn’t seem to get that they were co-creating their child by every interaction. Most seemed to think that who the child was had already been determined. My urge to help these children become truly seen by their parents grew rapidly.
What led you to create The Causal Theory, write The Manual, and found your Parenting Organization?
A few mothers sought me out for advice, and one mother, Karen Sontag, persuaded me to create a parenting class. She set up the class. I wrote the outline in 1987 and in 1988, we opened shop the same year I graduated with my Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy, opening the Center for Professional Parenting before I became licensed. The outline was formed around eight lectures and it was something the students could follow, allowing them to pay attention without having to take notes. They were the same eight chapters of The Manual. As I taught the class, I began fleshing it out with examples and explanations. Over the years more questions were asked and more answers were needed and I came to name my theory The Causal Theory. I seemed to intuitively know my way and I was picking and choosing theories in graduate school and post-graduate school that made sense to me, fitting together a mega theory of developmental psychology for parents and clinicians alike. It was like creating a patchwork quilt from the best of great thinkers and filling in the obvious holes with my own theory. I also realized that there were conflicting theories abounding, and I chose the ones that fit into the big picture.
I discovered a healing technique along the way that allowed patients to recall early trauma. It’s a technique that requires no hypnotic suggestion, just a lot of work breathing hard for a long time, up to 30 minutes. It seems to temporarily take the left brain off line and leave the client with only right brain awareness supported by body memories, sensations that seem to replicate the traumatic event. Once the patient focuses on the way their body makes them feel, the memories come in vivid flashes, probably from the amygdala, which never forgets. Often they cry; sometimes they rage and sometimes they scream. Sometimes they simply use the recovered memory to make sense of things. When they are done they feel relief and often insight.
Unless I can introduce someone to couchwork and they experience it for themselves, I am normally reluctant to describe the process, because I know I would be super suspicious if I heard about it and had never experienced it myself or witnessed others process their body memories. I have had more than fifty clients remember being in the womb or the birth experience. I would guess I have had more than 200 clients remember trauma from their first year of life. Most of these memories are related to attachment issues. Thus, I have further learned to see the world the way a baby sees. Someday, I would like to introduce the experience to a respected skeptic, who is also an author. Recently I heard about a book, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, which reminds me of couchwork. It’s by a neurologist who experienced a stroke and reported what she experienced from her right brain, comparing herself to an infant and an animal.
The hardest chapter to write was Chapter Two: Preventive Diagnosis. In Chapter Two, I dared to declare what parenting techniques created which types of personalities, especially personality disorders. This endeavor was persuasive to students and seemed to cause them to pay more attention to their child and it helped them identify their own issues more clearly. It was also a resistance buster, too, as fewer clients took to defending their parents and were able to get right down to identifying and addressing their own symptoms. I came up with Preventive Diagnosis by paying attention to adult behaviors and the memories behind them, children’s behaviors and the ways they were treated and by borrowing some observations made by theorists before me, most importantly John Bowlby on attachment and Alice Miller on repression. Freud originally hypothesized the histrionic result of sexual abuse. The paranoid result of physical and emotional abuse is obvious. One day, early in my theorizing about the origins of differing personalities, I was reading some obscure book by an author whose name I regret not remembering, and he wrote of “adhesive identification”. It was a powerful concept to me. This was the impact of personality formation on an infant who was touched versus an infant who suffered insufficient touch. He believed adhesive identification was at the root of Schizophrenia, Schizotypal and Schizoid personalities, easy to remember if you think schi- for skin. He proposed that touch gave personality a sense of skin or a container, a sense of existence and a feeling of having an inside and outside of self. I have located the origins of the term in a dialogue between infant psychologist Ether Bick and child psychiatrist Donald Meltzer.
It was a clear rule at our agency that diagnosis is intended to be a temporary guide to identify symptoms and their origins and never intended to indicate a permanent condition. Students are taught that personality types were learned coping mechanisms, which can be dismantled and replaced with healthy interaction skills. So, as an adjunct to the eight-week course students were offered relationship skills workshops, where they learned to dismantle learned interaction systems and replace them with healthy ones. Further it brought in tons of feedback with which I both modified my hypothesis and confirmed it. Students who took the parenting class seemed to fly through therapy faster, saving at least a year’s time and expense. It also seemed to enable therapists who took the course to strategize their treatment better.
In 1992, after I became a licensed therapist, my organization’s named changed to The Institute for Professional Parenting (TIPP) as we sought non-profit status. I was becoming exhausted being the only teacher and therapist. Over the years supporters and volunteers came and went, but a group of students began coming back again and again. We developed some more nomenclature, the first of which was that anyone who takes the class four times becomes a Master Parent. If they also master relationship skills, they can become a Master Teacher. I discovered that the more the students took the class the faster and deeper they healed. A small number of students decided they wanted to become Causal Therapists, and they did. Now I call them my Dream Team. Finally, I am dispensable, thank God. They theory is on its own, at least to a large extent, yet I want to train 100 therapists before I am done, so I’m in a hurry. With some help, I was able to fine-tune my clinical practice. I wanted therapy to be deep and swift, since I was working with children and their parents. Time was of the essence.
As my theory and practice worked so well, and I depended upon word of mouth alone, I came to believe that parenting was the ultimate revolution.
2.How do you hope to benefit families?
I would like children to feel seen and understood. I want to see parents enjoy their infants and raise their children for greatness. I would like them to know how to set a high bar for their child’s behavior.
I would love to see The Manual in every home, and if not that at every baby shower. I would like to see patients or clients requesting therapists who have read or studied The Manual. I would like to see parents turn to The Manual before seeking to medicate their child. I’d like daycare become a last resort. I would like to see adults study and learn good relationship skills to model for their children. I’d like to see adults begin to take an interest in all children and even check into homes where the children look like they’re in trouble. I’d like to create a small, simplified version of The Manual, called The Pocketbook. I’d also like to finish a book I started on raising my own son, which is a sort of picture book with brief stories for non-intellectuals to read, actually something that would have benefited me.
I believe The Manual could settle arguments between parents on how to handle this or that. I believe it would help judges decide how much bouncing back and forth an infant can handle (none). I believe it would help parents teach discipline and ultimately self-discipline, to include deferred gratification. I would like to see parents practice relationship skills and teach ethics to their children, which would include speaking up and/or stepping away from unethical behavior.
I have heard from people in Europe that they would like to see the book in French and Spanish. I would like to see it in every language, of course. I would love to see it available in the Middle East and all the hot spots of the world. I am hoping it reaches the homes of the wealthy so their children will not be raised by nannies and we raise leaders who care about global warming. Respected and well-bonded children have a good conscience, whereas poorly bonded children tend to have a lack of empathy and a lack of conscience. It seems we are in a race now to save the planet from those driven by greed to ruin it for human habitation.
3.How do you see this as particularly helpful for parents involved in Attachment Parenting? (Read more about the Eight Principles of Parenting, our core, here.)
(1) Prepare. I love your values, beginning with preparation for pregnancy. I would like to think that includes preparing how the mother or father can stay home for the first three years at least.
(2) Feed with Love and Respect. I too believe that breastfeeding is ideal. If one bottle-feeds, they need to provide a tender and conscious experience to include lots of loving smiles and eye contact. I also believe that if one bottle-feeds early on, the child can also learn to like formula so that the father can participate. I became too discouraged learning to pump, so we introduced formula from dad, and it worked. Scott loved his father feeding him. When breastfeeding I think it is important for mothers to stay conscious, because sometimes a mother can squish her boob into the baby’s face, and it can create a fear of suffocation and a life-long aversion to anything too close to her face.
I also believe that cultures have shown us that when breastfeeding is necessary for years of childhood, there develops harsh rites of passage or separation from the mother for boy children, because they become too wimpy. When I was breastfeeding Scott, I knew about these unique cultural rites, and I didn’t know when we would stop. I was just in it until I thought it was time to be out.
One day when Scott was about eight months old, believe it or not, he turned away from the breast, just once. I caught it. Out of respect, I never tried to nurse him again and he never asked again. It was done. Since then, I have noticed that when boys are attached to their mothers for too long they tend to look entitled or wimpy. I have noticed that the majority of these boys that I have seen, and this isn’t a formal survey, have had ruddy faces.
(3) Respond with sensitivity. This is another precious tenant. Unfortunately, responding with sensitivity is not as self-evident to one as it is to another. I have had so many parents get confused as to when to be sensitive and when to show disappointment and draw lines or to hold up a higher bar for their child’s behaviors. However, I believe true sensitivity enables us to discern when for what. If your two-year-old is kissing your six month old roughly, what would you do? I have seen too many parents refrain in the belief that their two-year-old is just trying to be affectionate and hasn’t learned gentleness yet. I have watched the parent show the child “soft, soft, soft” repeatedly, but the toddler will still test. I am here to tell you that the toddler knows what she is doing. She is taking you for a ride, and she is concluding she is smarter than you and stronger than you. When we don’t pick up on our children’s testing or anger, we miss the boat, and a personality begins to with unconscious agendas.
(4) Use nurturing touch. Yes. Yes. Yes. Babies require touch, loving, tender and nurturing touch. The lack of such touch will create mental illness, and an insufficient amount will create skin issues, such as a drive to be touched. I believe it’s why we have an epidemic of Goths, tattoos and severe piercings. The cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was the quintessential untouched child. He was starving for touch so much that he needed to eat flesh. Children who have been sufficiently touched will have a stronger sense of self and probably will be more selective in choosing a future mate, because they are not starving for love.
(5) Safe sleep. Perhaps you have begun to perceive that I diverge from some attachment parenting theory. Here I go again. I do believe that a crying baby under one year of age must be comforted and not left to cry. I know of parents and grow children who experienced parents that hated the sound of a crying child (because they were not allowed to cry) and would spank, shake, scream at, suffocate or ignore a crying baby. Some parents bounce, rock and even drive around the block to quite a crying baby or get him to sleep. Of course all this fuss makes the child anxious and he will cry more. On the other hand, I believe a well-attached baby is ready to sleep by himself at one or even before. I do not believe a child has a need to sleep with their parent if they are well-attached during the day. I actually have no problem with a newborn sleeping in his own crib, if his mother is attentively with him all day. If a child is secure, they benefit from having their independence gradually encouraged. However, if they have no stay-at-home parent or they have suffered a traumatic event, I think it is appropriate and even ideal for the child to sleep with his parents until latency. Again, my primary concern is raising a child who seems entitled. We have a generation of some children who are bored and uninspired. Mostly these children were coddled until the expected to be taken care of, and by expected, I am now referring to long-term personality development. I have known many children of attachment parenting, and most, but not all, of them seem to have been infantilized, and they seem behind schedule, to me. They seem undisciplined. If your child is difficult to discipline, then this is the problem, and you may need to get stronger.
I do not know what is meant by “Keep schedules flexible and minimize stress and fear during short separations.”
(6) Provide consistent and loving care. I would reframe this a bit. First, I believe that “consistent” is huge, perhaps bigger than “loving”. I believe a one-year-old can handle one hour once a week away from their primary caregiver without becoming anxious about being left. I believe a two-year-old can handle two hours twice a week away from a primary caregiver. A three-year-old can handle three hours three times a week away. A four-year-old can handle four hours four days a week and a five-year-old can handle five hours five days a week for Kindergarten. This is the meaning of consistent. No vacations away from the children, either.
I am a little concerned that “consistent loving care” may imply to some parents that they should be loving to a child who is testing limits and daring the parent to stop them from writing on the wall, smashing the flower or hugging her little sister too tight. I hope attachment mom knows that she has to set (personal) boundaries and (property) limits on behavior, and that may include a strong note of disappointment in her voice.
(7) Positive Discipline. Personally, I prefer natural consequences to making nice with misbehaving children. Some of the mothers on Supernanny are practicing attachment parenting and their children are absolutely out of control. If your version positive parenting is creating little monsters, it is not a stage. I strongly recommend you watch Jo Frost and how she implements discipline. The shows are on re-runs, but you can always watch some on the Internet.
(8) Balance. I appreciate the sentiment of this. I never needed time to take care of myself, even though I hear it’s the in thing. If you are having fun parenting, you don’t need this special time away from the child. This sounds like it is written for mothers who had rough childhoods and are not naturally predisposed for attachment parenting. For this endeavor, I absolutely concur. She has to find ways to recover and take care of herself. I have also known parents who find something to do every day, running their child around on errands, to visit mommy’s friends, to go to Mommy and Me Classes, to see grandma, to create playdates, etc. This is out of balance. Or, there are stay-at-home moms that put too much emphasis on housework or try to work from home. This is out of balance and can tear a mother in two. So, I support this concept, as I understand it, as long as we are clear that the search for balance is a remedy not a goal, per se. I say this, because I have heard so much talk lately about balance as a euphemism for getting away from the child. That is a last resort. Getting away now costs us later. Oh, I forgot. I am talking to attachment parents. Silly me.
4.Any closing thoughts?
I believe Attachment Parenting has put mothering back on the map. This organization is breaking ground again, and the earth it’s breaking is hard as a rock. I was so excited to see the article in Time. It is so pro-child. I cannot honor this organization enough, even though I would modify the theory a bit and place the emphasis a little less on nursing, more on ethics for small children, consistent and correctly practiced discipline techniques and ways to read a child’s behavior. I believe we are sisters in the endeavor to reclaim our children.
For a further look at Dr Faye, her book, ‘The Manual’ and her parenting school please visit here: http://www.thecausaltheory.com/