Attachment Theory and Second-Child Parenthood

Submitted by Deborah Rodriguez, Department of Psychology, Middlesex University, London, UK.

Key words: attachment theory, parenthood.

Attachment theory pays particular attention to individual differences and how these can have an impact upon people’s relational style. Typically, a partner or a close friend serves as an attachment figure in adulthood. Broadly, secure adult relationships are characterised by the capacity to relate to others in a mutual and reciprocal manner, and the ability to sustain the continuity of relationships. Insecurely attached adults may be anxious-ambivalent, and this attachment style is characterised by preoccupying thoughts of obtaining and retaining access to their attachment figure, are likely to focus on negative emotions and seek more support than partners are able or willing to provide. Insecurely attached adults may also be anxious-avoidant, and this attachment style is characterised by the suppressing of attachment–related thoughts, and even when stressed, they are likely to use coping strategies that involve distancing rather than seeking support from partners (Lopez and Brennan, 2000).

People possess multiple working models that correspond to attachments within relationships with specific people, along with more general representations of attachment orientation across relationship domains (Sibley and Overall, 2007). Therefore, in addition to partners who tend to be the preferred/primary attachment figure, other peers such as friends and family have the potential to also be attachment figures for adults.

Changes in attachment styles are likely to occur when individuals face life-altering events that expose them to new information that either reinforces or contradicts the core assumptions of their internal working models (Bowlby, 1973; Collins and Read, 1994).

Therefore, the current study explores changes in attachment across the transition to second-time parenthood in both partners of heterosexual couples, and to examine the meaning that this experience has on the couples in understanding changes to their sense of self, to their relationship, and to their relationship networks in relation to their respective attachment behaviours.

Heterosexual couples who are currently pregnant with their second child will be recruited and interviewed individually starting when the pregnancy of the second child is at around the 6 month stage. This first interview will consist of a biographical interview about their life story with a few additional questions, and following individual interviews will take place at roughly 3-4 month intervals after the birth of the second child. In between interviews, participants are asked to fill in a diary where they can write anything you like about your experiences so as to capture everyday experiences. Participants are also asked to take 4 – 6 photos that represent ‘a day in their life together’ and are interviewed together discussing the photos that have been taken. Although participants are asked to take part in the interviews, they decide whether they would like to complete the diaries and joint photo-elicitation interviews.

These multiple qualitative methods generate multidimensional material, and so the data is analysed using pluralistic qualitative mixed methods.

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