Parenting from the Inside Out
by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell is a wonderful book. The work I do with parents when they first come in is often focused on the very practical, how to cope or improve specific interactions and try out some potential solutionns to common workaday parenting challenges from dealing with sibling rivalry to problem solving how to chisel out some time and pull off family meals more regularly. Parenting From the Inside Out gets at the deeper level in parenting that in my work with clients often begins a few sessions into our work. Rather than covering ways to handle the daily parenting challenges or even connection strategies, this book gets to the core of our relationships as parents to the bond that we have with our child, attachment.
For those who are less inclined to want to hear a lot about research behind Siegel's work, like he covers in The Developing Mind, Parenting From the Inside Out is a gem of a book to learn about how the attachment between parent and child works and how our attachment with our child is deeply affected by how we've made sense of our own attachment to our parents.
Here is one fascinating fact from the book. We can tell a lot just by hearing what a parent has to say about what their childhood was like with their own parents. Before a child is born, or even conceived, based on how the mother tells the story of her attachment with her parents we can predict with a good deal of accuracy what sort of attachment she will have with her child to be! Here is the clencher. Even if you've had a difficult childhood, a poor attachment with your own parent, that is not what in the end determines how well you'll be able to attach with your child. Instead it is how well you've been able to make sense of the experiences you had as a child that is associated with how well you'll bond with your child.
A couple examples are helpful with this. Parents who form insecure attachments with their children will often dismiss the importance of parent-child relationships, and they tend to have very inaccurate understandings of what their own relationship with their parent was like. One way that this can show up is that when asked about his relationship with his mother, a father might make a sweeping positive statement, "She was a great parent." But when asked for examples of this, he can only make vague statements, or he might even make statements that actually would better support a statement that the relationship was not very close.
Another way of saying all this is that parents who will have secure attachments with their own children are able to tell a coherent story of what their attachment was like with their parent. Parents who do this even if they had a rocky upbringing have worked through and understood what happened. They also value attachment, rather than dismissing its importance in order to cope with the emotional pain of their past. Parents who have done this are prepared to provide secure base emotionally for their own children.
The wonderful thing about Parenting From the Inside Out is that it actually takes you through exercises to help you take stock of your experience as a child. This is work that often takes place in the context of therapy, or even in other close, supportive relationships, but it can also be helped by self-reflection. This book is a tool to help you do some of that on your own, piece by piece.