The Truth About Secure Attachment (with Bethany Saltman)

Bethany Saltman’s fascinating new book, Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey into the Science of Attachment, recounts her personal, 10-year journey investigating the scientific theory of attachment. As a new mother, Bethany was afraid she simply “wasn’t enough” for her baby. Eventually, through intensive research and self-examination, she realized that everything she had read and thought she knew about secure attachment was wrong. Her message to parents is: “Get connected to your own heart, and bring your kid along for the ride.”
Transcript of “The Truth About Secure Attachment (with Bethany Saltman)”

Hi. This is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m excited to welcome Bethany Saltman to the podcast. She’s an author and award-winning editor and researcher who took a fascinating, very personal 10 year journey into the science of attachment. She had many surprises along the way, and she shares this journey in her book, Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey Into the Science of Attachment.

Hi Bethany. Welcome to Unruffled.

Bethany Saltman: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Janet Lansbury:  I really enjoyed your book, and I know that listeners will want to know all the highlights, if not more. Hopefully they’ll go get your book. One of the many unique aspects of your story is that you dove into this journey of intensive research, and that it was driven by this personal passion and… maybe a little bit of fear? Am I getting that right?

Bethany Saltman: Yep. Terror maybe.

Janet Lansbury: Can you talk a little about that?

Bethany Saltman: Sure, absolutely. My daughter was born in 2006. I really wanted to have her, I had worked hard to become pregnant. She was very intentional, and when she was born, I loved her. I felt all of those kind of squishy heart feelings about her and her little body and her little ways and her smell and all that stuff. But I was so surprised because I really believed that I would become a different person when I became a mother. And I realized quickly that that was not happening and that I was still edgy, complicated, mouthy me.

I was horrified because I loved this child and I realized that I thought something was going to happen to save her from me. Then I was in quite a conundrum because I thought, oh my God, I’m all she has. Am I enough? And the answer at that time was, no, I’m definitely not. I’m damaged, I’m broken, I love her, but I love her so much. I want to protect her from myself. So that’s what got me started on the journey to find out about attachment, and was I enough?

Janet Lansbury:  And you feared that you, yourself, weren’t securely attached to your own mother and therefore you wouldn’t be able to pass this along organically to your daughter?

Bethany Saltman: Exactly.

Janet Lansbury: So you started on this journey, and I’d love you to share a little about what you found, maybe some of the basics of attachment theory for people that aren’t as familiar with it and, yeah, the highlights that you learned. And then ultimately what you found at the end, if you want to give the end of the story away or —

Bethany Saltman: Sure, I give it all the way, all the time.

So when I had Azalea, when I gave birth to her, I had learned a little bit about so-called Attachment Parenting through Dr. Sears and his Attachment Parenting work. I had been reading his books, and it was really resonant with the idea that a child needs attunement, and that the more we pay attention to an infant, the stronger and more secure they could become as an adult. That really resonated for me. And there were some of the things in his work that I really liked. I loved wearing Azalea in a sling mostly because I hate gear so much so this was the simplest way for me to live. I had her in a sling till she was about seven. Basically I loved nursing, again it was very convenient and it was intimate, and I loved it.

Co-sleeping was not something I could do. I had been coming out of a life at a monastery where I got very little sleep. I had gotten very sick at the monastery. I had brain surgery. There was a whole lot of energy around me having no sleep, and so I knew that I couldn’t go without sleep. So I didn’t follow a lot of Dr. Sears ideas about that. We did a very strategic sleep training when she was young, which I know people have very strong feelings about, I read about that in the book. I was really doing my work to figure out… What did we need in order to operate well? But meanwhile, I was reading Dr. Sears and his idea of attachment, which I understood at the time to tell me, these are the things you do in order to create a secure attachment, or what he says, “in order to become attached.”

I have since learned that is not at all the case, that behavior really has nothing to do with attachment. Instead, what creates a secure attachment between a child and a parent is the parent’s internal life. In other words, when a parent is secure within themselves, that’s what creates a securely attached baby. And that is something that we inherit from our parents, whether or not they were secure in themselves, and I’m happy to talk more about what that means.

So, in the beginning I was really concerned that I wasn’t securely attached and that I maybe wasn’t even attached, because Dr. Sears talks about attachment as something that’s natural and intuitive, and we just always want to respond to our babies, and we always want to sleep with them. And that’s the way he presented it. And I saw that, in fact, that was not the case for me, so I must be unattached.

So that was really scary. And I’ve since been on a mission to correct the record on that, and to say that a lot of those behaviors that he’s talking about are beautiful and wonderful for people that that works for, but it actually isn’t about attachment. Attachment is, very simply put, a biological… it’s a whole body and mind system, like respiration or digestion that just exists within each one of us. And it’s a series of cues essentially that tell us when we need to go and find safety in the person who is charged with our care. So rabbits run to a borough, humans run to a person.

And when that relationship is essentially efficient, again, if we think about breathing and digesting, it’s not perfect, what would perfect even mean? There’s optimal, there’s less optimal, there’s efficient and there’s less efficient, and there are ways to fix those systems. It’s not a moral issue, it’s not an ethical issue, and it’s always something that we can shift.

Attachment, like digestion and breathing, is a full body system that we can always tinker with and have a better experience. And that better experience simply means that a baby knows where their bread is buttered, that’s what I like to say. They know, when in danger, where to go. They essentially trust that their primary caregiver will give them what they need in times of stress, anxiety, or illness. And that’s it. It’s not as complicated as it might first appear, and at the same time, it’s much more nuanced, which I think is a wonderful thing and a much more forgiving thing than people might think.

Janet Lansbury: Right. Attachment Parenting…  I think, well, he borrowed the name and it is a route to secure attachment for sure, but it’s really nothing to do with attachment theory…

Bethany Saltman: Nor is it a route to secure attachment if you’re filled with resentment, and rage and you’re exhausted. Actually it has nothing to do with attachment per se. It has nothing to do with the science of attachment, because the science of attachment isn’t reliant on breastfeeding or how a child sleeps or how if a child is in a crib or a stroller, literally nothing.

Janet Lansbury: None of those specifics matter.

Bethany Saltman: None of those specifics matter. It doesn’t matter if you feed your child McDonald’s from the age of six months. That won’t necessarily affect the attachment.

We have to think about this in a very broad way, in a way that we’re not used to thinking, as people in our culture. This is not about the specifics, because this is something that every single human dyad works with. It doesn’t matter what culture, what things you eat, where you sleep, what kind of things you watch on TV, what you wear, how you smell, how much you bathe, these things are so not important to the core element of safety that attachment is pointing to.

Janet Lansbury: Right. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.

Bethany Saltman: So the mother, the parent who loves attachment parenting, because it makes them feel connected, then by all means that is going to be a wonderful way to attune. For the parent who feels shame and resentment and bitterness about feeling guilty that they don’t love this thing, it’s going to create so much tension inside of their own body that there’s no way they can delight in their child, which is what is at the root of all secure attachment.

Mary Ainsworth, for her that’s a technical term, the word “delight.” She used this in her research, as the thing that she saw between secure mothers and babies, because she primarily studied mothers. It was this feeling of mutual delight that she saw, and not all the time, and not perfectly attuned, nothing extraordinary. These are very ordinary people that she was studying, women in Uganda, suburban mothers in Baltimore, in the ’50s. These aren’t special people, but they are about as different as you could get on earth.

She saw the same thing, it’s just mutual delight. Like, does that child know that they are the apple of someone’s eye? Yes or no. And that is a beautiful, beautiful… That’s a work. That’s a life’s work.

Janet Lansbury: And it doesn’t mean that you don’t get annoyed with them, or —

Bethany Saltman: Heck, no.

Janet Lansbury: As long as they know underneath it, at the root of everything, you adore them like no one else.

Bethany Saltman: That’s the thing. Is it special? It’s just so tender and it’s so important, and it’s so accessible.

I get so sad when I see young mothers, especially, getting wrapped up in these details that I know don’t matter to the thing that she wants more than anything, which is just to have her baby know that her baby is so special to her. We get so lost in these details because people, many times men, tell women what they need to do.

Janet Lansbury: Right.

Bethany Saltman: Even if it’s… “You have to listen to yourself and parent this way.” Or, “don’t ever sleep train.” Or whatever the thing is, is not the thing.

Janet Lansbury: My mentor Magda Gerber, she’s considered an attachment theorist as well, and she’s also not prescriptive, but it’s a different way of seeing and developing a relationship where you’re actually a part of the relationship. Your feelings are a part of the relationship. You having time with your child and time where you’re not paying attention to your child, and you’re not even carrying them, they’re in a safe place, and you’re taking a few minutes away.

Bethany Saltman: Oh, yeah.

Janet Lansbury: So it’s a time together, time apart and yeah. Allowing more space for both of you and the relationship, really, to be two whole people coming together.

Bethany Saltman: Exactly. We can have some idea of… Oh right I need to delight in my baby. Cool. But what does that mean? And where does real delight come from? It certainly doesn’t come from an idea or a toy or a parenting style or anything external, it comes from one’s own heart and that is in one’s own body.

I really love what you’re saying. A mother, a parent must be part of the relationship, or there is nothing going on. A mother’s love comes from her own heart, and if she hasn’t experienced that in her own childhood… And that’s where the adult attachment, where it comes in, that this is being transmitted generation after generation, one’s own relationship to one’s own attachment system that you learned from your parents and so on with a 75% predictive quality. That is a huge number.

Janet Lansbury: Right. I remember reading that and feeling a little… a little uh-oh, because, I do believe that people are very capable of making changes and changing this dynamic. But it sounded a little fixed when I read that.

Bethany Saltman: Well, it becomes more fixed throughout life as does everything. That’s the thing. By the time you’re an adult and you’re doing the adult attachment interview, you are pretty set in your internal working model.

Now, we can change it, and many of us do all the time. So it’s not that it’s set because it’s closed, it’s set because that’s what time does, it creates… the Buddhist term is, Karma. And it grows and it becomes less, what’s the word, labile, right? Less open to change.

Janet Lansbury: It’s harder for you to see your way out of it because you’re even more and more in it yourself.

Bethany Saltman: Exactly

Janet Lansbury: But you can still do it. It’s just, yeah…

Bethany Saltman: It’s just the way it is. And some of the teachings of Mary Ainsworth and attachment are tough. They’re tough teachings, but hey man, I think that’s just the way the world is, and we can’t try to make it something that it’s not. And things get harder to change the older you get, but we can absolutely do it. But we have to know what we’re trying to change. Are we trying to change the outside or are we trying to change the inside? Are we trying to change our child or are we trying to change ourselves? Your relationship is going to change when you change your relationship to yourself. The first person you talk to every morning is you. And so if you can start to change the way you talk to yourself, you will begin that long road of changing the way you speak and treat others.

Janet Lansbury: Just that awareness of who your child is and what your role is and getting clear on that. Some of the many things I love about Magda Gerber’s approach are that, she offers ideas for being able to delight in your child, that you observe them when they’re babies, that you get that little distance and you allow them to play or whatever they’re doing, naturally, inner directed. So you’re able to see them, you’re able to see their spirit and see what they do, which is always surprising, whatever it is. You set up this play area a little bit, and you think, oh, they’re going to grab this and do that, and then they do something totally different.

Bethany Saltman: Totally.

Janet Lansbury: They’re looking at the pattern in the rug and the shadow that came in. And there’s so much to delight in.

Bethany Saltman: Absolutely. The same is true for teenagers, gosh darn it. Teenagers get such a bad rap. And I have a beautiful 15-year-old girl in my house, and she surprises me every single day. The things that she’s into. Like, what? You changed all your settings on your phone to speak in Spanish? Wow. You’re watching telenovelas with Spanish subtitles because you really want to learn Spanish. I never, in a million years could have directed that.

You know, she was such a player when she was young, for a very, very long time. In fact, she still has her bin of Barbies. There’s probably like 50 in there. She knows every name where she got every bit of clothing, and she can’t bear to put them away because they’re such a huge part of her world. And now she’s making films and she’s figuring things out in that way.

Janet Lansbury: With the Barbies? We used to do that.

Bethany Saltman: Eventually. She used to do that all the time with her American girl dolls and stuff. But if I had tried to step in and tell her what I thought she should do, there’s no way I could’ve ever come up with the creative, incredible, original person that she is.

I love what you’re talking about. Ad being able to step back, I was forced to do that. Or not forced, but I took the opportunity as a young mother because I worked from home, and I didn’t believe in TV or screens or anything for her until she was much older. I was like, have at it, kid, go for it, I’m not going to rescue you, you are going to learn to play alone, and boy did she.

Janet Lansbury: How did you figure that out? That was just an instinct that you had to do that? Because it’s not really in Attachment Parenting.

Bethany Saltman: I wasn’t an Attachment Parent. I knew early that that wasn’t going to work for me because I felt so much shame around it. No, I just knew that that was the way it had to be, because I needed space and I needed to do my work. And I was home with her and I wanted to be home with her. Basically, I wanted it all. I wanted to have no screens. I wanted her to be home with me and I wanted to work from home. And so, I just sort of said, well, this is what it has to be. And she’s super flexible, and her temperament is just like that, and it worked out. Eventually, she went to some daycare and then things evolved from there. But I’m very pleased that she took up the play challenge from a very young age, and it’s still with her.

Janet Lansbury: Because they absolutely love it. They really do. Once it’s introduced to them, this is me time, this is for me, they love it.

Bethany Saltman: Yeah. And she’s still, if we have people over, she’s like waiting for them to go home so that she can go upstairs and do her thing, which now is different as a 15 year old, but it’s still that private, just delighting in herself.

Janet Lansbury: That’s beautiful.

So what else surprised you as you were delving into attachment theory with John Bowlby, but mostly you studied Ainsworth.

Bethany Saltman: Yes.

Janet Lansbury: You were very fascinated by her, just her whole persona. And I could see that you were kind of —

Bethany Saltman: Delighted in her.

Janet Lansbury: She was cool.

Bethany Saltman: Very cool, oh my gosh. So cool.

Janet Lansbury: What else surprised you along the way, besides the end result that, delight was the key, delighting in your child?

Bethany Saltman: Well, I did the strange situation training with Alan Sroufe in Minneapolis, which was so fun. Oh my gosh, it was such a pleasure. And there was this one mom and daughter that I read about in the book that just blew my heart open, this very kind of downtrodden mom…

Well, let me, maybe I should explain briefly what the strange situation is?

Janet Lansbury: Yes, please do, and maybe the different attachment styles. Just to go over that if you don’t mind.

Bethany Saltman: No. Of course. The strange situation was Mary Ainsworth’s, it’s a laboratory procedure that she and some students developed in the early ’60s. And it came out of her longitudinal study in Baltimore, watching mothers and babies in their home.

Now, before she did that work, she had done her first attachment study, in fact, the world’s first attachment study, really, in Uganda with 26 mothers and babies. And she was the first white person that a lot of these babies had ever seen. So when she was looking at the data between the mothers in Uganda and the mothers in Baltimore, she realized that the babies of Baltimore were not doing as much secure base behavior, which simply means, in times of danger, you scramble to your mom. And she saw that the American babies just weren’t doing that as much, and she thought, well, maybe it’s because I was so strange to these babies in Uganda being white and so unusual for them.

She wanted to give the American babies an opportunity to be a little extra nervous, within reason. So she created this laboratory procedure called the “strange situation” where the baby and the mother come into an ordinary room with toys on the floor, and the researchers are looking through the mirror to observe.

So the baby and the mother come in, and it’s a 20 minute procedure that happens in nine episodes where the first one is just observing the child. What kind of a child is this? What’s their temperament? Are they the kind of kid who runs all over the place? Or are they kind of somber? What kind of person are we looking at?

Then a stranger comes in and then you notice… how does the baby relate to the stranger?

The mother leaves with the stranger, so we see the child’s anxiety kind of rising. Then the mother comes back, then we see: can the baby resolve their anxiety using the mother as a secure base?

Then the mother and the stranger both leave, the child is left alone. Then the stranger comes back and we see: can the stranger soothe the child back into its own homeostasis?

And then the mother returns. The mother’s supposed to be the big gun. Can the mother really do the work of resolving this child’s upset-ness? However that looks for that child. Some children are going bananas, they’re so upset. Other children are more subtle in their stress. But the question of the strange situation isn’t what happens to the child when they’re left alone, but what happens when the mother returns.

There’ve been many studies that show that every child, even the ones that don’t appear very stressed, are in fact stressed. They look at blood pressure and cortisol and the breathing, and they found that, universally, children in that circumstance of a year old are under stress.

So does the mother help them return to the toys? That’s really the question, because in the beginning they’re playing, then they go through this experience. Can the mother help them return to their life? Which is what the attachment system does for all of us, whether we’re adults or one-year-olds in a strange situation. We look to people for safety.

That’s the strange situation. And what she discovered and has been replicated tens of thousands of times around the world with every single kind of baby and caregiver is that people respond in essentially three ways.

The securely attached child, regardless of how they react when they’re left alone can be soothed by the presence of the mother and return to playing.

The insecurely attached child who skews avoidant, we’ll pretend in some way that the mother hasn’t arrived, and will not take up the mother as an opportunity for soothing, because of the mother’s inability essentially to convince the child in the year before that she will be there when the child needs her.

Now, this is something that is still following a certain pattern. It’s not pathological, it’s just a less efficient system.

The insecure resistant child runs to the mother, climbs up and then hits the mother and gets down and back up and down because that’s a parent that has shown a lot of mixed messages in the year before the strange situation.

Again, it’s not pathological, it doesn’t mean anybody’s wrong or she should be ashamed of themselves. It’s that there is perhaps some work to do in creating a more trusting environment, so that the attachment system can run more smoothly and the child will have more access to the toys, metaphorically and literally.

So that’s the strange situation .Does that? Is that a good…?

Janet Lansbury: Yeah, yeah

Bethany Saltman: Okay. It’s a lot to explain if —

Janet Lansbury: No, I think you explained it beautifully.

Bethany Saltman: Okay, good.

One of the most surprising things in my training when I learned how to code the strange situation with Alan Sroufe in Minneapolis, was this one mother and child who, in the strange situation, the mother just looked so sad and so…  She was not like my mom. I grew up in Michigan and my mom has a lot of affect and a lot of… She’s very warm and she’s really, I didn’t always feel particularly seen, but there’s a lot of an affect. And this mom just really did not have that. And when the child was left alone, the child went crazy and she was like running around. She had like one of those little — the little lace dresses that go out really like at a straight angle and tennis shoes and curly hair. Oh my God, she was so cute. And she was running around just screaming her head off. She was so sad.

And the mom came back with her very low affect, depressed vibe, and the daughter just like shot up into her arms like a monkey, and the two molded together in this perfect mirror. And the daughter, just totally soothed, little snot running down her face like, coming back into herself. She was able to take a breath and get back on the floor.

I was just like: Okay, this is not what I think it is. There is something so much deeper in that mother than what I think I’m looking at. And it just brought me such joy, because human beings are so much more subtle than we often think and to me that’s a wonderful thing.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah. They had a very deep connection and it didn’t-

Bethany Saltman: Very

Janet Lansbury: So it was okay that she seemed depressed or she wasn’t enthusiastic, or-

Bethany Saltman: Yeah, she wasn’t the mom that you might think… You know, she’s not winning any mother of the year awards, put it that way. But that kid loved her. She knew she was special, she got what she needed and she went back to playing.

Janet Lansbury: There was an authentic connection.

Bethany Saltman: So hopeful, so hopeful. Not that I want mothers who are depressed to continue being depressed, but I just thought that was so…  it just really touched me.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah. I can see that. I can totally see that.

Bethany Saltman: So that was one thing, there are so many things that have surprised me.

Janet Lansbury: Are you still learning more about this or have you finished that chapter for yourself?

Bethany Saltman: That’s a great question. Well, I am still learning because I’m doing a monthly free study group called “The Secret Teachings of Mary Ainsworth,” where people are just getting together over Zoom. We had one yesterday, and we’re just like nerding out over Mary Ainsworth’s sensitivity scales, which are never discussed in academic circles.

And her book, Infancy in Uganda, is out of print, which is just a terrible thing. One of the things I’m working on, is getting that back into print.

I’m going deeper with the work all the time. It’s really helping me with my book coaching work, and helping people find the story they can’t stop telling.

One of the things that was so surprising for me was in the adult attachment interview training that I did, how connected our stories are with our attachment, and that as adults, when we do the adult attachment interview, what we’re being coded for isn’t how we react in the strange situation, but how we tell our story about our childhood. And we’re being coded, not by what happened to us, but how coherent our story is.

And the woman who came up with the AAI, the adult attachment interview, was an attachment scientists who worked with Mary Ainsworth, but she was also a linguist. I also have studied linguistics, so that piece of the work is just so thrilling, because again, I like to reverse engineer. I’m like, okay, if you want to become more securely attached, then let’s work on your story. Let’s help you become what Mary Ainsworth called an excellent informant, and really learn to pay attention and tell that coherent story.

So it’s a wonderful way to work with writers and with life and story and coherence, because coherence is an incredibly powerful force in the world.

Janet Lansbury: So, through these interviews, basically you can understand what that baby would have done in the strange situation, through an adult interview, is that –?

Bethany Saltman: Well, perhaps, but it’s more like you can tell what kind of baby that adult will have, because a lot can happen in a person’s attachment system from infancy to the time you’re doing the adult attachment interview. So you could be a secure baby and things happen, negative or positive, that might change your adult attachment.

Janet Lansbury: Oh, really?

Bethany Saltman: Sure. Oh, yeah, because it’s certainly not a destiny. Like we were talking about before, karmically, there is a strong propensity by the time you’re one to move things in a certain direction. But tragic things, traumatic things, wonderful healing things, things can definitely shift. But what is, I would say more concrete would be if you’re talking to a 20-year-old and they are classified as secure on the adult attachment interview, you’ve got a 75% chance of that person giving birth to a baby who would be secure in the strange situation.

Janet Lansbury:  And that’s because that person who becomes a parent had the relationship that they needed to be able to recreate that with their child. They just have a sense of, a feel of a secure relationship.

Bethany Saltman: Exactly, which is that delighting element. And it really comes down to valuing attachment. The hallmark of a securely attached adult is that they value attachment.

In the adult attachment interview, you’re asked to tell the story of your relationships and to give adjectives.

So, Janet, if you could give me three adjectives to describe your relationship with your mother from the age of 12 down (I won’t put you on the spot to do it right now). But let’s say you said “loving, complicated and scary.” So I would say, “Okay, great. Can you give me some examples? You mentioned loving, can you give me some examples of when the relationship felt loving?”

And then you say, “Sure, well, the time I was sick and she gave me ginger ale on the couch, and then the time when I didn’t make it in band and she bought me a special tambourine that I loved.” And example upon example upon example.

I don’t have to really read the rest of your transcript to know, unless there’s trauma and something unresolved later in the transcript… When we talk about people who have died or unresolved grief or things like that, and there are always going to be surprises… But I could read that transcript and have a pretty good hunch that you are going to be a securely attached person, because you are able to be coherent in your conversations about your past.

Now, if you gave me three adjectives, “abusive, rude, and cruel,” and I said, “Okay, your first one was abusive. Can you give me an example?” And you were like, “Well, I just really don’t like her. She’s just mean.”

“Okay, great. So the next one you said was cruel. Can you give me some examples?”

“Yesterday I talked to her and she told me she didn’t like my dress.”

The examples aren’t really forthcoming. That, in and of itself…

I actually should have done the opposite example, with the positive one giving no examples and the negative one giving great examples, to illustrate better that what we’re looking for in the adult attachment interview is not what happened to you, but how you are able to coherently describe it. Because what the adult attachment interview is looking at is your presence of mind, your reflective functioning capacity.

Janet Lansbury: So if you just don’t remember your childhood, or you don’t remember that many interactions with your parent, because you had a bunch of siblings or whatever, then you may not have that coherence?

Bethany Saltman: Well, I would be really careful and I want to warn your listeners, you do not know how you would respond in the adult attachment interview until you are in it. So this is not a parlor game. You cannot extrapolate. It’s not like that.

It is amazing. And these things are so incredibly subtle, Janet. Talk about mind blowing… Here’s an example from an adult attachment interview: a transcript of a child who described feeling bullied, feeling isolated. His parents sent him to boarding school, they worked all the time. It was such a sad story. But he was totally secure because of the way that he told the story. And they all came together for Christmases, and he looked forward to that, when he was crying alone in boarding school. And he was classified secure, and he would probably have a securely attached child. And at the end of his transcript he talked about wanting something more for his children. That is like the big green light.

Janet Lansbury: Right, that’s a fantastic sign for all of us.

Bethany Saltman: A fantastic sign. So if you had a lot of siblings and nobody paid attention to you, and you think you don’t remember anything, you would be surprised at what you would come up with. And it doesn’t take much. I mean this test is so well honed that it can get through your thoughts about who you are.

Janet Lansbury: How long are the interviews?

Bethany Saltman:  About an hour.

Janet Lansbury: And where are they being conducted these days?

Bethany Saltman: Right, because people always ask, how can I get mine done? They’re really just for research, so you really can’t. It’s not the thing you can sign up for. I was able to sign up for it because I was writing about it. But what I always tell people is in the end it doesn’t matter. Easy for me to say, I went on a 10 year journey to figure out if I was secure…

Janet Lansbury: But it doesn’t matter.

Bethany Saltman: Ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you are treating yourself day to day. So if you are serious about cultivating a secure attachment with your child, begin to pay attention to yourself. And that isnot some kind of a new agey feel-good message, it is absolutely science. And you can do that through therapy, you can do it through mindfulness practices, you can do it through just giving yourself a break, reading, educating yourself, prioritizing yourself, thinking about your story, getting into a writing workshop. There are so many ways to get at this.

Janet Lansbury: This is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing all of this wisdom and all that you’ve learned. I’m struck by the full circle part here that your passion, yes, there was fear involved, but your passion led you into this deep, exciting research, and that’s I guess what happens when we are driven to learn and research things deeply and understand things, that it’s driven by passion, and we want our children to have that too. You talked about delighting in your daughter because of her passion for her projects and her world and her creations, and that’s what we want for our children to have that passion and for us to be able to delight in them as learners and–

Bethany Saltman: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be something fancy. I’m always hesitant to give examples like, oh, well, her daughter is obviously really academic, she made her iPhone into Spanish. It’s not like that. We sit and watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills together, it’s like my favorite thing. And we get pizza and we… It’s nothing special, it doesn’t have to be for like academically minded kids or kids with wooden toys, or any of that is so not the point. It’s just like, get connected to your own heart and bring your kid along for the ride. You will be amazed at how much more fun things are and how much easier. And along the way you might become more securely attached in your own adulthood and with your child.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah. Especially in the younger years, it looks very mundane, what children are doing. It’s not something you can brag to your friends about, but they’re into what they’re into. Sometimes it’s for a minute, for an hour, or for weeks, but just encouraging that, encouraging them to be themselves and explore and do these things that bring us all joy.

Bethany Saltman: Yeah.

Janet Lansbury: Well, I hope that everybody checks out your book, which I heard is coming out on paperback soon?

Bethany Saltman: Yes, April 21st, paperback.

Janet Lansbury: Excellent. All right. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. And hopefully we’ll talk again and we’ll stay in touch.

Bethany Saltman: I would love that. Thank you for all your amazing work. This is such an honor, your work is just really inspiring. I like your voice, I like your approach, and I love the energy that you’re putting out into this space.

Janet Lansbury: Thank you.

So again, Bethany’s book is Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey Into the Science of Attachment. I really enjoyed this book.

Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, They’re all indexed by subject and category, so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can also get them in e-book at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or Barnes & Noble and in audio at You can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.

Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.





Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Hi Janet,

    I found this transcript so interesting that I’m now partway through the book.

    I was wondering whether anyone has any views on possible impacts on secure atttachmrnt arising from covid eg when a parent has to isolate away from an infant or has to care for an infant while wearing a face mask.

    I was also wondering whether secure attachment in a first child can be negatively impacted when a second child is born, particularly for a single parent who can’t respond immediately simultaneously to both children.

    Thanks for your amazing work!

  2. I know I’m 2 years late to this discussion and for the record I really appreciated what this guest shared. I always enjoy discussions of hard data & clinical trials. However, I lost it when she said the depressed mother in the Strange Situation experiment “wasn’t winning Mother of the Year anytime soon” lol! That probably should have been for the inside voice not the outside one.

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