In this episode of the My Sleeping Baby podcast, I interviewed Dr. Sarah Bren who is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in trauma and attachment. Dr. Bren shared her valuable insights on attachment as it relates to parenting and sleep training from a perspective that’s evidence-based and trauma informed.
In this episode, we discuss:
– Why mothers in this generation are more stressed and anxious than previous generations about their parenting decisions
– Why you REALLY don’t need to get everything “right” all the time as a parent
– The ONE thing you need to know about how your little one feels when he’s distressed (it might not be what you think)
– How you can teach your little one to tolerate separation at bedtime while ensuring they feel safe and secured
If you are a parent who is navigating sleep training and is interested in learning more about the role it plays (or doesn’t play!) in healthy attachment from a true expert, this episode is for you!
Have a listen!
Want to get your little one consistently sleeping 11-12 hours at night so you can be a functioning human? Join my FREE training HERE: https://mysleepingbaby.ac-page.com/registration-page-v-2
Listen to her podcast here https://drsarahbren.
Hey there, you’re listening to the My Sleeping Baby podcast, which is all about baby and child sleep. I’m so excited to teach you how you can get your little ones sleeping so that you can sleep too and enjoy parenthood to its fullest. I’m Eva Klein, your resident’s sleep expert, mom of three, founder of the Sleep Bible online coaching program, and lover of all things sleep and motherhood. If you’re looking for tangible solutions for your little one sleep woes or you simply want to learn more, this podcast is for you. For more information, check out mysleepingbaby.com and you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook @mysleepingbaby, and you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook at My Sleeping Baby.
All right, Dr. Sarah Brennan, thank you so much for being here today on the My Sleeping Baby Podcast.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Awesome. All right, so before we delve in, don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself, what you do and how you got into your field.
Yeah, so I’m a clinical psychologist. I’m also a mom of two. Um, and when I had my son, actually, so my background is in working with like adults with like chronic childhood attachment disruptions or traumas and kind of helping that sort of adult trauma work. And when I had my son five years ago, I started really getting into like the science of parenting and learning more about it. And I was like, wow, like how I’m choosing to like kind of be intentional about parenting my child, um, and understanding their emotional world and helping them regulate and helping them build this secure attachment with me, which was informed by like my work as a psychologist, but also, you know, what I was learning in as a parent, just being that parent with my kid, was that like if I could help parents understand some of what I was doing kind of in my clinical work, like kind of unpacking a childhood mm-hmm.
<affirmative> with an adult and reverse engineering it a bit and helping them kind of heal those attachment wounds. If I could help parents understand the science of attachment and understand how to use parenting as a tool to sort of support that healthy child development, um, then it would be more preventative, right? Like people wouldn’t be needing to see me at 30 or 40 years old if their parents kind of could understand this stuff and support their, their healthy mental mental health and development from the beginning. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I sort of pivoted into the parenting work, um, all through this attachment lens mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And now in my, you know, I have a, a group practice in Pelham, New York where we work with families kind of at all points on the parenting timeline. So like pre and postpartum parents of really young kids, child and adolescent therapy and family therapy throughout the lifespan. So it all kind of pivoted really seamlessly over to working kind of in this sort of working with the family system and parents in particular.
Amazing. And it, and it seems like you got into, you know, you specialized in attachment and a and looking at everything through an attachment lens early on, um, which I think is really great for the world that we live in right now, considering how much of a buzzword it is. Um, not that there’s obviously good things and not such such good things about, um, therapeutic terms becoming buzzwords mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I guess what it really means is that we need to be hearing from people like you who really understand attachment at its core, what the science really does say versus what we see in a headline on the news or in a really cute looking real on Instagram. Right. Because I know before we started recording, we were talking about how it just seems like moms in particular nowadays are probably so much more worried and anxious than in previous generations about things that our moms and moms, I would even say 15, 20 years ago, were really not worried about. Would, do you agree first of all with the premise of that statement from what you’ve seen?
I mean, I think in certain ways absolutely right. I think that the perceived pressure on parents, like parents feeling as though there is pressure on them to parent in a certain way, um, whether that’s coming from within, like I am learning more about parenting and I’m seeing all of this information coming at me and I’m getting all of this like input and I’m aware that I want a parent in a way that might be different from the way I was parented. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and, and just feeling pressure to break a cycle because we understand more about sort of the intergenerational transmission of these, of these, you know, of, of parenting styles, of attachment styles, um, of trauma. We, it gets passed down and we are becoming more aware, I think that we want to, that, that this is something we can change mm-hmm. <affirmative> and there’s lots of prescriptions on how to change it.
That’s a problem, right? Like there’s so much competing information. You go on Instagram and there’s like 50 different things being told to you about how to, you know, what to do, what not to do, and the, all those things contradict one another, which is confusing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So there’s both the internal pressure to like shift the way we parent, um, and process all of this competing information and do it sort of quote, right? Or, you know, correctly mm-hmm. <affirmative> and truthfully there’s a lot of variance to what’s right or correct for any given family. Um, but then also I think there’s external PR pressure coming in and create like, it, like for example, sorry, let me just start that piece over cuz I’m like a little Lila. Um, and then I think there’s like external pressure that we’re perceiving, like feeling as though people are judging our parenting choices in the moment.
Feeling as though, you know, there’s certain groups that think this is just not an acceptable thing to do, period. This very black and white all or nothing, all good, all bad sort of assignment to certain types of parenting approaches. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> losing the nuance, losing the gray area. Right. I think that can be a source of a lot of that pressure that we feel when we, when we can’t be in the gray with our parenting and have nuance and have context and feel like there’s lots of different choices I can make in this moment and no one choice is gonna make or break anything mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, that, that can lead to a lot of anxiety in parenthood of course. Right? Like everyone’s watching and there’s a right and a wrong way and if I do it wrong, everyone’s gonna judge me or I’m gonna judge myself
Basically. Right, right. And, and, and when in reality it’s really not that black and white, like let’s, let’s, I guess talk about some of these black and white beliefs that seem to permeate a lot, uh, you know, parts of the mom world. So for example, that maybe there is, there is only one right way to discipline or not discipline a child, or there is only one particular parenting philosophy that will keep your child’s a healthy attachment in into account. What, like, what is the actual, what is the evidence and the research that we have actually say about the fact that in different parts of the world there are completely different cultural norms in terms of how children are raised in North America. At the end of the day, there are still different, different philosophies that are utilized throughout different families to raise their kids. What at the end of the day is, does the research say in terms of the outcomes of those kids given the various different parenting practices that we see?
Right. Okay. So first of all, I’ll answer that question in two parts. One is the research that we have on, you know, across the board, different cultures, different countries, different within cultures, different parenting philosophies. There isn’t like one right or wrong way to apply attachment theory or even understanding child development and apply that to create a predictable outcome. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what we do know, so attachment theory basically in essence says that children are biologically hardwired to form an attachment with a primary caregiver that increases proximity and increases their chance of survival. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s it, that’s what attachment theory says. It doesn’t prescribe how one creates that bond, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it just says that children are biologically hardwired to do this. This is part of our sort of like evolutionary basis as humans is we stay safe by forming bonds with the people who keep us safe.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative> safety is like kind of critical in this equation, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there’s a lot of ways to help a child to feel safe. There’s a lot of ways to help a child believe that you, their primary attachment figure are going to keep them safe and see them and meet their needs most of the time reliably and consistently of, of the time. Most that mean Yes. Most of, most of the time. And that’s very important. Yeah. You do not have to get it right all the time. In fact, when we won, if we str like thinking we need to get it right all of the time in order to have a secure attachment relationship with our child is simply, it’s not possible to get it right. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> all of the time. So that’s a problem because it creates this very, very impossible expectation that we are going to fail at and then feel badly about.
Right. But importantly, mis attuning with our child, missing the cues, disappointing them, right. Seeing, like getting it wrong, um, it creates this phenomenon of that is an important part of the development of self and other mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So when my parent misses my need, miss Attunes, to me, disappoints me, frustrates me. There’s a, when I’m an infant, right? Like when we’re born, we’re sort of merged with our parents, we don’t really know where we end and they begin. Right? And it’s in the little misattunements that a child starts to first understand, oh, we’re not the same person. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they’re them, I’m me. And over time these misattunements create space between the two of people. That space is what becomes the relationship. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and that relationship, that attachment relationship, we describe whether the quality of that relationship, is it secure or insecure, right? Mm-hmm.
<affirmative>, that’s from, we’re talking about attachment theory. We’re talking about the, the, the quality of the attachment relationship being secure or not secure mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and so we can have misattunements and not have insecure attachment cuz all relations have have misattunements. That’s the basis of the formation of a relationship that’s normal, appropriate and impossible to avoid. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s the quality, like how, how what happens when I misattuned to my child and what happens after, right. That, that ultimately with the, if the outcome is my child ultimately feels that in the aggregate I’m a safe person, I see them mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’m capable of soothing them, I’m capable of helping them to feel secure in this relationship. That’s what matters most. And frankly, it just needs to happen like more than it doesn’t.
Right. Right. Which is, I mean, I’m assuming we’re not gonna go with let’s say 51%, but you know, it doesn’t need to be a hundred percent either.
No. And you know what? Frankly, I might even argue it, 51% would be good. Yeah.
Cool. We have
Research. Yeah. There’s research that’s, so, in
Other words, a little bit more than half the time when your kid is losing their mind about something, you remain cool and then the other half of the time you’re having one of those days and you’re also frazzled and then maybe you don’t respond exactly the way the gentle parenting handbook says that you should.
Absolutely. And we have research that supports this. We have research that supports that. When we look at families that have secure attachment relationships, we are that parents are kind of getting it accurate, getting it right, reading the cues accurately. About 50% of the time is predictive of a secure attachment. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> not a hundred percent, not 80%. There are studies that show as little as 50% of the time mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we can see that outcome. Right. And again, it’s, it’s not just how often do we get it right, but it’s what do we do when we get it wrong? That’s another big important piece. Right? Right. When we get, and, and sometimes this is us yelling at our kid, like us losing our cool or whatever, but sometimes it’s just us disappointing our child, which I think is something that people kind of sometimes can conflate.
Right. If my kid is upset with something that I’ve done mm-hmm. <affirmative> I’m damaging my relationship with them. Yeah. That’s a misattunement in the sense that my kid wants this and I say no and they don’t feel seen in that moment. We can help them feel seen while holding a boundary though. Yeah. And their disappointment isn’t a sign that we’re doing something wrong or damaging to this relationship. Cause I think sometimes parents fear that and they go kind of too far in that direction of permissiveness, like mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I can’t, like I can’t say no because they’ll be too upset. So Yeah. I walk on eggshells to try to avoid them feeling upset. Right. Or snowplow, you know, pot potential distressors out of their way or help them avoid potential distressors. Um, because I’m, I’m afraid of their distress. Right. And that’s, that’s, that’s not optimal, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that sort of teaches kids that less from an attachment lens, but just like a resilience building lens. Like it teaches kids that like their distress is not safe to us, so therefore it shouldn’t feel safe to them. Right. But also that they can’t handle it.
Like we have to save them from it, which is Right. You know, we wanna, the opposite is what we wanna be reflecting back to our kids. You can handle this, this is a hard feeling and I know you can handle it. Hmm. Um, and I’m here and I can see your distress and I can emotionally support you, but I can’t, I’m not gonna necessarily always be able to take this distress away. Right. So that’s still kind of quote, getting it right, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but getting it right. I mean, being in attunement with your child, seeing them validating their experience, helping them make, make sense of something, but not necessarily removing Yeah. The unpleasant thing.
Right. Right. Remaining firm with the boundary, recognizing that saying no to your little one, knowing that your little one is not going to be unhappy. They might be really, really unhappy. That’s not something that’s going to affect their attachment with you whatsoever. It’s because you’re saying that the healthy attachment is established when the child learns that they can count on you the majority of the time. Again, 51% <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative> when, when they need you for something. Right. When something is wrong and they need you there to help them. Right. Am I, am I understanding this
Right? Right. Yes. Okay.
So let’s, let’s talk like, cuz we, we have to bring sleep training into this discussion because Yeah, I think my, I think my listeners are probably going, okay, so then how does this work with, with sleep training? Because obviously this is one of those contexts where it can be a little bit gray, right? We’re not dealing with a three-year-old who wants to eat jelly beans for dinner, you know, who wants something objectively unreasonable. And when you say no and you hold that firm boundary, it means that they go and throw, you know, a massive meltdown. That’s obviously one of those situations where you’re going, okay, the child’s gonna not gonna be traumatized cuz he’s not getting jelly beans. Um, but at the same time, I think it’s very, it’s, it can be tempting to put sleep into the same context as the safety stuff, right?
Like, well, my baby obviously wants me to rock him to sleep because that’s what makes him feel safe. And if I don’t do that and I put him down awake and he starts to cry, then that’s gonna make him feel like he can’t count on me to be there for him. It means that I don’t love him and I’m not there to help him and support him. And so let’s, let’s even, let’s take the 51% calculation away because obviously we know that even if there was truth to that, we could put that into the 49%. But let’s say you have a mom that doesn’t want that to go in the 49% mm-hmm. <affirmative>, let’s say she’s like, no, no, no. In the context of sleep, I want my child to know that he is safe and I want that to go into the 51%. And, and I don’t want to do, I’m afraid, so maybe let me explain the context here. I am a sleep deprived mom that hasn’t slept more than a few hours a time in months and, and I want my baby to be sleeping through the night. And I know that this in isn’t sustainable, but my fear is that, um, in order for me to prioritize my sleep, I’m going to have to sacrifice my little one’s wellbeing, um, and teach him that I’m not gonna be there for him in the context of sleep.
Right. And I think this, this sort of shows a kind of potential misconception of when I, of like attachment safety in general, right? Like, I think we have to disentangle our child being upset and them not feeling safe seen en soothed mm-hmm. <affirmative> because they’re not the same thing and I’m not, when I say 51% of the time, they need to feel like we, we have to help them to feel safe, seen en soothed. We need to do that.
It doesn’t mean that they have to be not upset. Right. And I think that is a big distinction. And so the fact that you can say my child can feel upset and feel safe, seen and soothed at the same time mm-hmm. <affirmative> helps parents to kind of separate those two things because I think especially with sleep, it’s so challenging because it’s a very real separation Yeah. For us and for them and mm-hmm. <affirmative> separations activate our attachment systems. Right? Right. The attachment system is a threat response, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, when I’m in distress, when I don’t feel safe, I need to activate my attachments to come save me and keep me safe. Right. We measure attachment by putting children in a sort of stressful situation. The strange situation is the actual way that we measure child’s attachment systems, um, the, the style in which their, you know, the style of their attachment to their parent, we activate their stress response a little bit by having a separation.
The parent leaves the room and then a strange, a stranger, the, you know, a a lab tech comes in and is in the room and then they leave and the parent comes back in. That’s sort of the setup for the strange situation mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and we, you know, you measure how the child responds at the parents exit, how they respond when the stranger comes in, how they respond when the stranger leaves, and how they respond when the parent comes back in. Um, and that’s in that, that kind of, that’s the information that we use to sort of measure their attachment system or their attachment style. And, um, the, the reason why this is important is because when we have sleep, this is a separation. This activates our attachment systems. This is normal, it’s healthy, it’s appropriate, and we have, there’s no right or wrong way to do this either.
Like, you kind of have to go with what works for your family mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so if you are motivated to try to help your child learn to tolerate that separation, if they’re at an age when it’s appropriate and you are working on the attachment safety and the quality of your attachment relationships and all the other places in your relationship, stretching them at nighttime is okay. It can be okay. Like how we do it is far more important than whether we do it or not, right? Yeah. If we’re gonna do it, we can do it in a way that allows them to continue to feel safe, seen and soothed by us, but not necessarily, you know, they might not feel thrilled with the plan, they might mm-hmm. <affirmative> be upset or frustrated or even distressed, but they’re not. Again, so we can both can be true at once.
Our kid can be distressed and we can help see them. And I imagine when you’re teaching parents about how to sleep, train or, or learn, help their child learn, tolerate this separation, there’s a lot of helping parents find ways to see their child’s experience, name it, validate it, soothe it without necessarily doing the specific behavior that we’re trying to help our child mm-hmm. <affirmative> to tolerate moving away from. Right. So it depends on the family, right? If I’ve historically been rocking my child to sleep or nursing my child to sleep, and I’m trying to help my child tolerate going to sleep in the bit in their bed or in their crib without me, you know, rocking them to sleep first, there’s going to be some distress about that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t say you’re upset, I see you, I’m gonna step out, I’ll come back and check on you mm-hmm. <affirmative> and to kind of confidently do that mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So there’s ways to do both
<affirmative>, if that makes sense.
Yeah. I think emphasizing that your little one can be distressed, um, and, and also feel safe, I think is a really, really important point. Because I know a lot of moms will say to me, but, but Eva, he’s so distressed when I do this, you know, and, and, and then from there be like, maybe this is, is this gonna harm him, you know, or I’ve heard that, you know, children will get so distressed that’s often a, a word that they’ll use, you know, they’ll be crying so hard and they’ll be so distressed, like, how do we know that this isn’t gonna harm, harm that child? Right. And you’re saying, because being distressed doesn’t automatically mean that the child is that the, that there is something wrong. I mean, I, I can tell you that I used the jellybean example because my three, my, when my son was three, he’s now four and a half, but when he was three, he threw an epic meltdown one day because he wanted jelly beans for dinner because my husband happened to be, he decided to clean out the, the, the candy cupboard, you know, the up the, the top, the top corner, you know, cupboard mm-hmm.
<affirmative> right before dinnertime. So he’s taking out all the candy to, you know, reorganize it. And so my son sees the jelly beans and decides that’s what I would like for dinner. And he was, when I tell you these tears, this the look on his face, you would think that his puppy had just died. Like you would think that the world was coming to an end because I was telling him that he had to have his chicken and rice for dinner instead mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and I guess the main difference is that the, what he wanted was just so obviously not reasonable in a situation with sleep training that might not be as obvious. And I think that’s when that worry of, is this the equivalent of literally neglecting my child, you know, day in and day out? Is, is this making my child feel very unsafe? Is it in that category of things? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you get what I mean?
Yeah. And I think there are ways to do it that it might be, and there are ways to do it that it wouldn’t be. So it’s like, again, like this nuance, this this ability to understand context and also place that context in a much larger picture, right? Like if in the aggregate, if more often than not in all different domains, sleep included, but outside of sleep as well, we are able to help our child trust that we see them and, and hold them in mind and have the capacity to suit them and keep them safe, and they trust that then, you know, challenging moments of distress capped at a certain point, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we’re not talking about terrorizing our children. Of course, of course. If we wanna do that, um, right. Understanding kind of that threshold, how much can I appropriately stretch my child’s tolerance for distress mm-hmm.
<affirmative> in a way that allows them to then for me to then step in and buffer that mm-hmm. <affirmative> and help kind of contain it. Yeah. So that ultimately I am not chronically damaging that sense of safety in their relationship with me. Um, again, this is, it’s a stretch. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I always say we bend, we don’t break course, we do not wanna bre break anything, anything mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Right. Um, I also think it’s very important to <laugh> emphasize that our attachment systems are pretty s robust. You know, they’re mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they’re evolutionarily based. We are, we are inclined to, you know, support them just kind of instinctively both from the parent parental standpoint and the child’s standpoint, and they’re not that fragile. So these sort of incidents, these isolated moments where, you know, a child is very, very upset and this could happen because of sleep learning.
It could also happen because they thought we were not there in another situation. Right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like when we were right. Yeah. Allowing our child to know we’re there even when we’re not there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is important. Um, and so I think it’s like, you know, there’s, uh, one of my like favorite sort of sleep educators, her name’s Eileen Henry, and she is, she has lots of great ways of explaining this, but she talks a lot about like understanding the difference between like being distressed and being terrorized. Like being in a state of like true fear and panic mm-hmm. <affirmative> and understanding the difference. Like that protest, I don’t like this, this doesn’t feel good, I don’t want this, I’m frustrated with this. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, this isn’t what I’ve come to expect. This is uncomfortable for me. Yes. Versus I’m really scared right now and I need help coming back to safety mm-hmm.
<affirmative> being able to understand there’s a difference between those two things and responding to the, the latter responding to that, that that terror that can happen when kids have prolonged separations from us Right. Because of their perception of, of, you know, how safe or scary the situation feels. Not because we are doing anything that is terrorizing them, but mm-hmm. <affirmative> separating from our kid can hate a threshold where they feel terror, then we wanna come in and help reestablish, okay, I’m here mm-hmm. <affirmative> here,
Again, that doesn’t mean we have to then immediately pick them up and nurse them back to sleep. Right. Because that’s what they’ve, you know, if we’re working on tolerating a change in a expected outcome, we might come in close mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but go not cross that threshold. Right. Say a hundred percentm, I’m here. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I hear you, you’re upset. Yes. I can help sooth you. Perhaps maybe we do have to pick them up and, and co-regulate and bring them back to baseline at that point. Yeah.
Yep. Definitely. But,
But if we don’t get to that terror place, we can still stay in that distress place without necessarily having to come in in order to save the safety of that relationship. Right. Cause it’s not in danger.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and I’ll just make two really important practical points, you know, about what you were saying. So first of all, um, to what you were saying that you can remain consistent with these changes while soothing your little one intermittently throughout the process, is basically what that aspect of a sleep plan, you know, would look like with me 100% of the time. Um, people almost always will say to me, you know, I don’t wanna do cry it out referring to extinction where the, you know, you put the baby, your child in the room, say goodnight, leave the room, not go back in. And my response is, yeah, I’m with you <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And the, the reason for that is because first of all, we, it’s easier on everyone almost always for there to be, you know, some degree of intervention, whether it means that you’re checking and consoling on your child at specific intervals, whether it means that you are in the room with them the entire time, gradually moving further and further away over a period so that you really don’t need to worry about your child feeling terrorized that they are, that you are not in their bed, that you are instead sitting in a chair by their doorway.
Right. They might a, they, they might be distressed about it because it’s different than what they’re used to, and they’re used to you, let’s say, lying in their bed next to them until they fall asleep. Um, but they will be okay, you’re, you’re still able to be there and you’re not sitting there Right. Like a bump on a log either ignoring them, right. You can be talking to them, you can be, you know, soothing them, encouraging them so that they’re not going through this process alone.
Right. And I think we have to remember that when we’re talking about attachment safety and like relational safety, and when we’re talking about distress tolerance, we’re talking about two different things. Yes. Right. And they can exist together at the same time. Right? Yeah. There’s all kinds of things we do in our parenting relationship with our child that build attachment safety or relational safety. Right. There’s also a lot of things we do in our relationship with our kid that build distress tolerance mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and they’re not, they’re absolutely not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re very much connected in the sense that they both have to, they they both exist very well together. Mm-hmm.
<affirmative> a hundred percent. And then, and then to add on to what you’re saying, what I continuously emphasize to people who are, you know, feeling conflicted in terms of what to do is that this process is temporary when it comes to making changes to your little one’s sleep routines and how they fall asleep and how they fall back to sleep throughout the night when things are done consistently and correctly Right. And tailored towards your child and, you know, part of a bigger plan, they adjust and they adjust over a much shorter period of time, then you might think this is not a process that should ever be taking weeks and weeks and months and months on end to do. Um, regardless of what kind of approach that you take, it’s, it’s something that is temporary and that thankfully humans are adaptable. Right. We might have a certain set of routines, but then we can always adapt and take on, you know, new routines when we recognize that they’re just not working. So the distress that your child is, while it might be uncomfortable for you, because no one likes to hear their children cry, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, especially when you know exactly what you could do in that moment to get the child to stop crying, it’s a temporary thing. We’re not talking about an ongoing parenting strategy that you’re utilizing in the long run. This is really also just a blip, a little teeny tiny, you know, dot in their formative years of their lives, right?
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. And it also, it’s happening in the context. This, this moment in time is also happening in the context of many, many, many other moments Yes. That are happening simultaneously, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the, the, you know, the connected mealtime, the bath time, the times when they fall down and scrape their knee, and you are helping them to feel better, right? Everything is adding up mm-hmm. <affirmative> and is part of the equation. And so it’s important to remember that, you know, it’s all, it’s all being inputted into this child’s sort of schema of how safe they are with you as a person in their relationship. It’s a Right. Kind of like a blueprint that they’re building mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and there’s tons and tons of data points that are being added to this blueprint all the time. Yes. And so it’s just important, I think, to remember that yes, it’s context, but it’s also, um, it’s part of a larger relationship.
Right. Right. Right, right. And then of course, I would imagine you’d, you’d, you’d agree with the assumption here that once this baby or toddler or preschooler is, you know, sleeping through the night, or mostly sleeping through the night, depending on their age, and now mom is able to wake up feeling like a, a much more functioning human the next day she’s gonna be able to respond to her little ones in a more robust, loving, normal manner. I know that’s not exactly a clinical term, but like, that’s the best way that I can describe how a sleep deprived mom probably feels after she’s had her first eight hour stretch of sleep in months. Right. She feels mm-hmm. <affirmative> like a normal functioning human again, which means that she’s gonna have a lot more fuel in her tank to give her kids the love and attention that they need during the day to feel safe and secure. Right?
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, we know that maternal mental health is a predictor of a lot of the, you know, the health and wellness of everyone in the family, in the relationship and, you know, women, mothers who are in all parents, frankly, anyone who is, you know, has a very taxed system. And there’s some just inherent challenges to parenthood that really tax the system, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we just, we, it’s a stressful time. It’s can be a wonderful, beautiful, happy time. It can also be a ton of stress on our body and our nervous system, on our like, psyche. It’s just hard. And so when we are finding that, like, okay, when a parent comes to me and is like, I’m, you know, I’m snapping at my kids, I’m, I’m, you know, I’m bribing, I’m threatening and I’m doing all these things that don’t feel good.
I’m, I I’m just not parenting in a way that feels like aligned with the way I wanna show up. I don’t like this. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’m super reactive. One of the first things I say is, how much sleep are you getting? Yeah. How much, you know, what’s your nutrition like? Like mm-hmm. <affirmative>, are you drinking enough water during the day? Do you get any breaks? Like what, what’s eating up your bandwidth? Because the reality is, is much like when our kids are low on bandwidth. Like, you know, at the end of the, a long day at daycare, a long day at like, you know, school, they come home and they just melt. They just, everything is like, they’re just, you know, everything is like about to be a tantrum. Same is kind of true for us mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s just, it looks a little different when we melt down, right?
Yeah. Like when we don’t have any bandwidth, bandwidth left because we’ve just been taxed all day long and we’re tired and we’re hungry and we didn’t, you know, we we’re, our mind is being pulled in 50 different directions. We kind of go on autopilot sometimes, and we are more reactive. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we’re not making choices, we’re just, it’s just everything is a reaction. There’s no space between like my urge to yell and my actual yelling. It might be like, oh, I notice, I wanna yell right now. I notice I’m really feeling frustrated and I’m gonna choose to do, you know, something else? Maybe I’ll take a breath or maybe I’ll take a step outside or maybe I will do, just do something else. Um, that’s, you need to have bandwidth to be able to have that awareness in the moment and to do something different.
And I think, you know, the sleep piece folds into this because when parents are not getting a lot of sleep, it really can affect their mental wellness mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so sometimes we have to sort of look at, again, in the big picture, looking at the health of the entire family system. If I’m not able to show up the way I want to in my waking time when my kids are awake in the daytime, is there something that could be contributing to that at night that might be making this particularly draining for me? Like it’s not replenishing my bandwidth. And obviously like, listen, parents don’t get a lot of sleep, that’s just true. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But if there are ways that we can, if there’s ways that like we can improve everyone, like the everyone’s sleep. Get
Yeah. Get more sleep and improve the quality of that sleep because we’re not constantly being like interrupt having interrupted sleep all the time. Right. Like, so
For example, maybe it means that instead of spending, you know, one to two hours getting your toddler to sleep every night, and then they’re not falling asleep until nine, and then it means that you don’t have downtime until nine 30 and then you’re not going to sleep until one, because this is finally the first quiet time that you’ve had to yourself. Instead, you manage to get your toddler to bed for seven, and now it’s like seven 15, and you’re like, oh my, now all of a sudden you just gained two hours to be able to be an adult. Right. Be have some time to yourself, re refill that, that cup so that you can go to bed earlier if you know that maybe the baby is gonna wake up at 4:00 AM to eat. Right. At least this way you’re starting your night at 10 or 11 instead of at one.
Right. That’s, or you can do
Example that fills your cup a little bit so that you’re not feeling as depleted or you’re taking better care of yourself. Right. Um, and then that’s going to play out again, like we were saying, like that’s going to be able to allow you to parent in more alignment in the daytime, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because a lot of times we’re so afraid to allow our children to feel distress at nighttime that we’re so exhausted that we’re not showing up in our best selves in the daytime, and that’s also causing distress course. So it’s kind of like, we kind of have to figure out, I mean, my guess is people don’t come to you unless something isn’t feeling good, right?
Yes. Normally it’s when they’ve either hit rock bottom, I guess, in terms of exhaustion, burnout, et cetera. Or they can see, they see the rock <laugh> very, very, it’s very close. They’re not quite there yet, but they’re a hair’s breath away from hitting it and Right. And it doesn’t feel that great. Right. That’s, that is usually when people are reaching out. I love it when people reach out when they’re beginning to see things crack when they’re going sort of like, uh, oh, I, I, I don’t like where this is heading, so I wanna nip this in the bud before all hell breaks
Loose. Right. And I bet those are probably slightly easier situations to tackle typically, because there hasn’t been this sort of like, we haven’t hit this place of desperation mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and we don’t tend to show up in our best selves when we’re in that place of desperation For sure. And so we can have this big snowball effect on everything else. Yes. Yes. And I think, you know, the distance from, I could see the rock to rock bottom, you hit that much faster <laugh> Yeah. Than you do like a little bit higher up. And I like, I think everything gets speedier in those like desperate places when we’re really burnt out. We’re really tired, we’re really feeling the pressure. Yeah. And you know, I think we, we’ve been talking a lot about like how do we preserve the attachment relationship, but one of the most important things to preserve the attachment relationship is to help, you know, be able to meet our own needs mm-hmm. <affirmative> so that we have the bandwidth to actually do that sort of, you know, that that presence, that attunement, that work Yes. That co-regulation, um,
You are half, you are a very important half of this relationship with your baby. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and if your baby is going to have a healthy attachment with you, I guess the underlying assumption here is that you are healthy for that attachment to then be healthy. Right. You are healthy enough mm-hmm. <affirmative> that, and you are taking care of yourself enough that you don’t feel like you got hit by a Mac truck throughout the day, you know, seven days a week. Right. So that mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, you have what to give to your little one during the day when they, when they need you. Right. Is that I, I guess a, a fair assumption.
Yeah. And it’s not like the day or the night you have to pick one. Yeah. Anything that’s very important. Right? Right. We’re not really talking about either or mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we’re talking about the fact that you, the, the not getting enough sleep usually is like a canary in the coal mine. It’s like there’s something else isn’t working either, right? Yeah. So if you’re, if you’re really burnt out and you’re really exhausted, chances are lots of things in the parent-child relationship in just your own life are probably being affected by it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if they’re not and things are feeling fine and you’re gonna rock your child to sleep all night long and that works for you, go, go ahead. There’s nothing wrong with that. Never. If also you don’t, it’s not working for you and you’re scared that in order to do what feels like it works for me, I’m gonna damage my relationship with my child. That’s the myth I think is most important to bust. Yes.
Yes. So, in other words, you know, to, I guess come full circle here, we started off talking about how it just seems like moms are so much more anxious, uh, and worried about harming their children and I guess with good intentions, like wanting to do better than the way that they were raised, but not having a clear, concise idea of specifically what that needs to look like. You’re saying the reality is that that can look like a multitude of things. Yes. It doesn’t need to look like one specific picture despite the fact that maybe all your friends have their kids in their bed for better or for worse. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but their core belief is that that’s where the child is going to feel most safe. And you’re saying maybe, maybe that works. If that works for that family and everyone is legitimately getting the sleep that they need, cool.
Go and get yourself a California king size bed and everyone can just, you know, bunk together. But if that’s what all your friends are doing and you’re going, oh my God, that sounds like hell on earth, please don’t, please don’t tell me that I have to do that for my child to be healthy. You’re saying No, no, no. There, there really truly is no evidence to back up that cookie cutter philosophy and that all the Right, the vast amount of evidence that we do have shows that there are numerous ways to get you from point A to point B. Point B being a happy, healthy, emotionally stable child.
Yes. Right. And a secure attachment. Right. They secure attachment because those things are very deeply connected. And there are many ways my dog is like in here and being really annoying.
<laugh> funny. That’s okay. Dogs are always invited. I
Know <laugh>. Um, there are many ways to create a secure attachment. You know, hyper attached relationships don’t automatically mean there’s going to be a secure attachment. They’re not, we’re not really talking about the same thing. Yeah. You know, when we talk about attachment from the, the science of attachment theory, which is different than attachment parenting, right? Yeah. Attachment parenting and attachment theory aren’t the same thing. Right. Attachment parenting is sort of one way of interpreting attachment theory. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But there’s a lot of ways that attachment theory can be applied to help inform the, the, the fostering of a safe and secure relationship between parent and child. You don’t have to co-sleep, you don’t have to baby wear, you don’t have to
You. Yeah. You, and that’s the thing. It’s like you can do those things, you can’t.
And you could still in theory do those things and have an insecurely attached child too. Yeah. Because they don’t automatically guarantee attachment because that’s not what those things, that’s not the function of those things on the attachment system. Right. We have to be able to reliably and consistently most of the time mm-hmm. <affirmative> most of the time, be able to help our child feel like we see them and that we are a safe person and that we can help them to feel comfort even when they’re distressed.
That’s kind of it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and there’s a lot of ways to do that. Mm-hmm. And there isn’t, that’s really the most important part. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> how you do that Okay. Is really more about you and your child and what works for you.
Got it. I have one more question for you that I was dying to ask you at the very beginning, but I held off cuz I wanted, I knew that it was best to save this until the very end. So you started off by talking about how you started your career or at some point in your career as a clinical psychologist, you were working with clients or patients who really did experience a lot of trauma in those early years. And it, and it sounds like, experienced like a, a really very unhealthy attachment and it sounds like went through a lot of, a lot of trauma, which I’m assuming is probably the equivalent of these feeders that a lot of these anxious moms have. And so I would love for you to sort of give us a vague idea of what it actually looks like for, um, for an adult to end up like that. Like what, how much harm are we talking, you know, what is, what is their upbringing? How horrible does their upbringing need to look like mm-hmm. <affirmative> to end up with that kind of, you know, heartbreaking outcome.
Right. And it’s complicated and probably hard to summarize, but the reality is cuz it could be very different cuz there’s factors that go into it outside of the environmental impact. Right? Right. So the events that occurred, some kids can experience traumatic events and they have just a really resilient sort of baseline and they, they’re able to, you know, make sense of it in a way that allows them to not experience mm-hmm. <affirmative> you a, a really intense trauma response or a really intense sort
Of like pulling the trigger on a gun, but the gun is, doesn’t have a bullet, it’s un it’s not loaded.
Yeah. Or perhaps maybe a metaphor that would fit it is like you can, you could put a lot of, okay, so this is sort of how I explain it a little bit. Think of like a boat mm-hmm. <affirmative> and you know, things happen to us and sandbags kind of get put into that boat mm-hmm. <affirmative> and if enough sandbags get put into that boat, it will sink. Yeah. Right. Yeah. Now one of the things that we can do to prevent a boat from sinking under all that weight is to take out some of those sandbags or to add buoys mm-hmm. <affirmative> to increase the buoyancy of that boat. Ah-huh <affirmative>. Right. Also, some boats are just more buoyant than others. Yeah. Right. So they can withstand more sandbags or they need fewer buoys in order to not sink mm-hmm. <affirmative> and some boats are just more fragile and less buoyant.
And so a smaller sandbag could sink that boat mm-hmm. <affirmative> and you need a lot more buoys to keep it floating. Right. So that’s sort of like that baseline grit resilience stuff. And we can support, support increasing the buoyancy of our children’s boats by adding buoys to them. Right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, our secure attachment relationship, our ability to help them when they’re in distress, not necessarily take that distress away. Right. Because we don’t wanna create distress intolerance, we just wanna let them know they’re not alone when they’re distressed. Yes. Right. That’s important. That helps add buoys to this boat. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> sometimes we can help them process things that happen to them and that helps take sandbags out of the boat. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Right. When I, when we have a tough day and I yell, I can come back and say, Ugh, I’m sorry I yelled mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that must have felt a little scary for you when I yelled and I, I that’s, you know, it’s not your fault that I got mad. Yeah. And I’m sorry. And then you can also hold that boundary and, you know, teach them to do something else differently. Another, you know, the next time. But like you can sort of acknowledge when you do something that was scary mm-hmm. <affirmative> and help them make sense of that. These are all things that can pro, you know, help support that buoyancy. Right. Yeah.
But, and so the people in your practice presumably had way too many sandbags. Right. And not enough and barely any buoyancy. So they just
Stopped. And sometimes it’s, I sometimes I would see people who had a ton of buoyancy, like could really withstand a lot, but they just got handed so many sandbags that they didn’t stand a chance. Yeah,
Yeah. Yeah. And then there were some people who I saw that, you know, seemingly and very little sandbags got put into their boat mm-hmm. <affirmative> and yet the, they, they just could not make sense of any of it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it, it really created a chronic sense of fear and lack of sense of safety. And usually if you’re going to see pretty significant sort of a, you know, attachment, um, distress and, and trauma, it’s, again, I I I don’t wanna patholo or like sort of blame parents either for these things. Cuz a lot of times the parents are doing the best that they can, but there’s so much chaos or there’s so much, um, the parents are going through their own trauma, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> or they’re, they’re, they were raised in a way where they were so, you know, misunderstood or mis cared for that they don’t know how to appropriately care for their child. Right. Yeah. So they end up being scary when they’re not trying to be, but that’s what they know. Yeah.
That’s the kind of stuff that can really, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative> stay with us mm-hmm. <affirmative> and can kind of make the boat harder to stay afloat.
Yeah. So in other words, it’s not like anyone comes into your office and says, you know, Sarah, everything in my life was amazing. And then my mom told me I couldn’t sleep in her bed anymore and life just hasn’t been the same since and she’d made me sleep in my own bed and I haven’t been able to shake that off. That’s not so much a thing.
I can confidently tell you, I have not yet had a patient come into my office that’s not, who is struggling with that in adulthood bed. Right.
Right, right. And if they
Were, and it was actually something that impacted their attachment systems, my, I would be very confident to s to say that there was so much more going on and that’s the only thing that they could like say
On. Right. Yes. Like, it’s, it’s never one thing.
Yes. It’s never one thing. There we go. It’s never one thing. It’s not like everything was amazing and then my mom’s sleep trained me and then that was it. I was ruined for life. I mean, I, I I I tell my clients this. I say, you know, it’s, it’s like if that was the case then every single one of us would be screwed, like every single parent out there because it means that every single time I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway with a screaming baby in the back seat, I mean now that’s it. My child is doomed for life. I should stop saving up for their college fund, just throw it all into lifelong therapy bills because, you know, that’s it. We’re, we’re, I I completely messed her up. I should have never taken her in the car.
Right. And this is, this is what I mean by this idea that like, we wanna get it right most of the time, more often than we don’t. Right. Yeah. You are going to have times where you maybe perhaps can’t control mm-hmm. <affirmative> the separation or the lack of ability to meet your child’s needs in that moment. Yeah. Like, I’ve got stuck in traffic and you’re screaming and there’s just nothing I can do. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there’s also times when you choose, you make a choice that you know, will result in some level of that sort of, you are not here for me. Right. Yeah. And we drop our kid off at daycare. Yeah. We do that knowing they’re gonna be separated from us mm-hmm. <affirmative> and they might have that feeling in the moment, oh my God, you’re not here for me. And also we come back. Yeah. And that reunification, that that that restorative and reparative reunion after a separation is very important and significant and part of the attachment safety me, like that’s part of learning and developing that secure attachment. My parent leaves, I get distressed, they come back and they can help me feel better. Yes. Yes. And that’s kind of a big part of all of this mm-hmm. <affirmative> and again, like sometimes we choose to do that. Yeah. Yeah. And sometimes we just accidentally do that. Yeah. But either way mm-hmm. <affirmative> it’s okay.
And it’s never one thing, it’s never one thing, it’s never one thing. I, I don’t think I feel like you need to make a post on Instagram entitled, it’s never one thing <laugh> like, cause that’s, oh my God, I feel like that just sums up what I want the conclusion of this episode to be. It’s never one, when I, when someone is, is harmed, you know, emotionally attachment wise, it’s never one thing. So you can just breathe the sigh of relief. You can make your various different parenting decisions based on what you feel is right and what you feel like you need to be the best parent out there. And, and it doesn’t really matter if, uh, if your friends all think that what you’re doing is wrong because they’re wrong for thinking that you’re wrong
<laugh>. That’s to each their own.
Exactly. Exactly. Yes. Sarah, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. This is gold. I hope that, I hope that this episode gets, uh, uh, uh, literally all the downloads in the world. I want this to be one of the most downloaded episodes, uh, to date. Because I think that there is just so much good stuff that we spoke about. Where can people find you if they want more of you in your, in their lives?
Yeah. So I have a podcast called Securely Attached where I talk a lot about, you know, child development, parental mental health, and all of this through the lens of like the science of attachment. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> debunking some attachment myths a lot of the time. Um, so that you can find anywhere you get a podcast. Um, and my website’s dr sarah br.com and I have, um, a course on tantrums and a course on zero to one that could be helpful cuz we talk a little bit about sleep and, and a lot about attachment in that course. And then, um, I have a resource if anyone is interested, um, I have a, like a download called, um, it’s like that goes over sort of the principles of attachment science. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, so I can share a link that you can, you know, it’s just a free resource that kind of talks a little bit about what is attachment science actually saying, what are kind of the most important things that we need to know, and what’s a lot of the noise that we can let go of. Yes.
Oh, that sounds great. Okay. I will definitely link that in the show notes so that people can grab that, because that sounds like an amazing free resource. Well, thank you so much again. Thank you everyone for listening, and I hope you all have a great day.
Thank you everyone for listening, and I hope you all have a wonderful day. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, leave a review and share this episode with a friend who can benefit from it. I also love hearing from my listener, so feel free to DM me on Instagram at my sleeping baby or send me an email at email@example.com. Until next time, have a wonderful restful nights.