04/26/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

PBS' 'This Emotional Life': The Building Blocks Of Connection, Part 2

Q: How do the earliest moments between infant and caregiver impact future relationships?

A: Healthy development and attachment security flourish when resonant, competent, attuned, loving, and consistent parental behaviors mark the initial months of a baby's life. Babies bask in a comforting balance between connection and exploration as a direct result of environmental safety and trustworthy role modeling. Sensing that the world is a safe place reinforces self-confidence, trust in others, and a feeling that love and growth are generative. Conversely, when infants experience their caregiver as threatening or regrettably unstable, fear of closeness can prevail. Our internal compass for establishing and navigating relationships is initially arranged through seminal infant-caregiver interactions. Simply put, when early life feels melodic and predictable, the world and others in it feel approachable. The template for how we come to understand what it means to be in relationship with others is set up during infancy and into toddlerhood. These formative relational patterns persist as we journey into adolescents and adulthood.

Q: How can I prepare to become a parent who offers my children a different experience than I had growing up?

A: Awareness is essential. Having a reflective stance and carving out time to consider your attachment relationship history can have far-reaching effects on your future parenting patterns. Research has found that forthcoming attachment security is more likely when the parent has been honest with herself about the realities of her own childhood. Therefore, we need not have experienced perfect, flawless childhoods ourselves in order to ensure our future offspring with secure relationships. What is vital, however, is a willingness and curiosity about the realities of how you were raised, your formative relationships, and how you were impacted by your experiences -- the good, the bad, and the in between. Reviewing our lives through a raw and honest lens will allow us to more deeply understand why we are who we are. This type of reflection is a natural springboard for cultivating additional insight, mourning difficulties in childhood relationships, and honing aspects of your personhood that may create a more harmonious babyhood for your children.

Q: Some of my friends have shared that they felt emotionally "weird" for a while after becoming a mother. I worry that if I feel overwhelmed, my baby won't securely attach to me. Will my emotions impact my newborn?

A: Your emotional wellbeing is paramount in providing your child with a sense of security. Unfortunately pregnant and parenting women don't receive enough information about prenatal and postpartum mood-related shifts and potential hurdles. Culture maintains high expectations for budding families, harnessing excitement for the transformation that's about to occur as parenthood emerges while leaving little room for the spectrum of emotions that may accompany new motherhood. Postpartum blues is estimated to impact up to 80 percent of women during the initial four weeks of parenthood. Feelings may include: weepiness, regret, mood swings, anxiety, and unhappiness. In other words, it is normal and incredibly common to have fluctuating feelings at the outset of this life-changing process. How can new mothers not feel at least a little bit overwhelmed? However, if these feelings persist or worsen, it is time to take strides toward addressing the diversity of feelings you are experiencing. Many women suffer in silence with the sincere hope that time will make these challenging thoughts disappear. Gritting your teeth and secretly despising your newfound role as a mother is not ideal for anyone. Hoping for days, weeks, or months that these thoughts will vanish is simply a waste of precious time. The sooner you take action on your behalf, the more likely you are to provide your child with an environment of safety. If mom isn't well, baby can't thrive. When mom is preoccupied or disengaged, baby will invariably be impacted. This is one of the earliest opportunities in your baby's life to model self-care. Fostering a secure attachment and enjoying healthy bonding are in large part contingent upon the mother's aptitude for loving engagement and available internal resources.

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