In honor of Mother’s Day, CHICA spoke with the child psychologist and mother of Lin-Manuel Miranda about her support for her son’s art at an early age and her passionate promotion of secure attachments between babies and caregivers.

By Michael Quiñones
May 09, 2019 11:22 AM

Luz Towns-Miranda can point to the moment she knew her son had a future in theater. When he was about 10, Lin-Manuel Miranda sang at a church Christmas concert with his group. “I felt like there was an aura around him the entire time. I remember leaving the church and thinking, did anyone else see the show I just saw?”

She used what she saw that night to persuade her husband to give unconditional support to their child’s frequently non-lucrative career path in the arts — a work choice many parents do not prefer. From then on, his parents never missed a show, and once he hit college, they bussed entire cheering sections from New York City to his plays up at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. The rest is history — or better yet the history of Alexander Hamilton and the birth of the United States told through a masterful rap and hip-hop style.

No doubt Lin-Manuel’s success was informed by his parents commitment to the dreams he had. But Luz, a doctor of philosophy and clinical child psychologist (from NYU) whose been studying infants for three-plus decades, has come by CHICA offices to talk about the work of someone that’s not her super-famous artistic genius of a son. Dr. Beatrice Beebe, author of The Mother-Infant Interaction Picture Book: Origins of Attachment (2016), has done some of the most visible work on secure attachment and nurturance. Having studied with her, Luz is an advocate and speaks with passion and purpose on the topic at venues across the country. What is attachment theory? Not to be confused with attachment parenting (which stresses actual physical contact) attachment theory is different kind of connection, according to Luz:

“Bonding is when you connect to the baby, but attachment is the baby’s response to you and your response to the baby. And it requires attuning on nonverbal levels. And that’s what’s so amazing about studying with Dr. Beebe. A lot of the focus recently has been in observing a therapy session of a couple and being able to tell whose connecting with whom and who’s not. Without hearing what they’re saying, she can tell you what’s going on.”

Luz tells CHICA that the ability to connect with eye gaze, head movements and cues of visible affect or attitude are crucial, as is the idea of mirroring your child’s moods and expressions. These small yet consistent actions show sensitivity to babies and build trust. What follows from secure attachment is a security that helps a baby sidestep fear and anxiety and form a base from which to comfortably pursue independence and exploration.

Disruptions to secure attachment occur, for example, when the baby is distressed and the mother is laughing or angry. If a mom is not doing well emotionally, or if the baby is always a chore, or if she’s depressed, “that baby’s not getting a lot of good mirroring,” says the child expert, who’s spent years working with underserved families in New York City. Somewhat ironically, secure attachment is not about physical connection, which can sometimes add to distress. It’s also not about just building trust with just mom or dad and being dependent on them for all the good vibes. “Under the best of circumstances, not just the mom but other caretakers are attuned to the baby visually. Babies love to look at faces. It’s their favorite thing,” Luz explains. And she emphasizes: “The more the merrier.”

If the theory sounds very simple, that’s because it is. “Babies learn who they are through who they see looking at them. If you’re delighted with your baby, and your constantly cooing, smiling, talking to your baby, that baby’s going to be a delight to you. It’s because you’ve been a delight to the baby.” The practice is much more difficult: It’s labor intensive and takes a lot of patience, Luz stresses. But you can’t start practicing it too early.

Why is Luz going around the country and talking to pediatricians: “Attachment is not something that pediatricians receive training on in school…. They don’t have the information about how it develops and how early it develops.”

To learn more about secure attachment parenting, watch this video of Luz — where she discusses Alexander Hamilton’s secure attachments! — and the works of other experts who agree.

 

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