One of the challenges of being a “parenting expert” is that you often find yourself arguing that one type of parenting is superior to others despite the fact that all children are, in fact, different and need different things.
How is it possible to do this? Isn’t it over-reaching at best or hypocritical at worst to argue that one style of parenting is better than others while at the same time acknowledging that all families and children are different and need different things? Well, not to get all Bill Clinton about it, but it kind of all depends on what you mean by “different.”
For instance, it is true that everyone has a different personality, but it is also true that, as different as we are, we all share a common humanity. What we share ought to make it possible to say that certain things enable every person to function at his or her best regardless of our very real and important differences.
Let’s take the focus off people and talk about one of my other favorite things; ice cream (YUM!). Now, ice cream comes in lots of different flavors, and those flavors are really important, but there are certain ingredients that make some brands of ice cream superior to others regardless of the flavor those competing companies produce.
In the same way, thanks to developments like interpersonal neurobiology (the science of how relationships actually affect the way our brains develop and function), which, since it is dependent upon neuroimaging, is more science than philosophy, it’s possible to say with some confidence that certain ways of raising children tend to allow those children to reach their fullest neuropsychological potential even while allowing for wide differences between personalities.For instance, we’re able to see that being a loving, intimate, empathic, interdependently social person is what is actually normal for the well-functioning human brain–just, incidentally, like the Theology of the Body says it is supposed to be. Both Interpersonal Neurobiology and the Theology of the Body assert that every human being ought to be able to experience those qualities to the full because they are both essential and foundational to our humanity. Personality then builds upon those traits in a secondary but still tremendously important way so that while each of us can be fully human, we can all still be “unique and unrepeatable” (to use a TOB term).
The point is, when I say that self-donative parenting approaches (aka Attachment Parenting) are superior to other forms of parenting, I mean no disrespect to the very obvious and real differences of each child that every family has to contend with. What I do mean is that that this style of parenting is actually being shown–by neuroimaging studies–to best facilitate the formation of the brain structures responsible for the fulfillment of every child’s basic humanity. Personality will develop on top of that. Of course, parents need to be sensitive to the differences each child’s personality brings but attachment parenting strategies are more likely to give you the healthiest neurological/basic human foundation that allows you to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, well-formed, child regardless of that child’s particular personality traits.
Every child is different but regardless of those differences every child has a basic humanity that needs to be formed and nurtured. I believe that the research from both theology and science show that attachment parenting practices are the best tools available to hel parents do that job.