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12 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 505 (1983-1984)
Psychological Parenting vs. Attachment Theory: The Child's Best Interests and the Risks in Doing the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons

handle is hein.journals/nyuls12 and id is 515 raw text is: PSYCHOLOGICAL PARENTING VS. ATTACHMENT
Psychological parenting theory is a distillation of psychoanalytic theory
and clinical experience. It is not, literally, a theory, nor is it closely tied to
major efforts in contemporary empirical research. Instead, as presented in
Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit's 1973 book, Beyond the Best Interests of the
Child,' it is an attempt to specify what a child's psychological needs are
during early development, an effort to define the concept of a child's
psychological parent and the role he or she plays in meeting the child's
early needs, and a set of criteria that can expedite final placement as an
alternative to ongoing regulation of family life by the courts. The impulse
behind the theory is obviously humane. Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit's
book reflects a painful awareness of the difficult family and legal circum-
stances in which children are often embroiled, as well as a keenly practical
sense of what the legal system can and cannot expect to do well when faced
with the task of predicting and managing family relationships over time.
The premise of this paper is not that the recommendations of psychological
parenting theory are wrong, or even impractical. Our premise, simply
stated, is that these recommendations may very often lead us to make the
right decision for the wrong reasons. Agreement as to the best course of
action in particular cases should not obscure the fact that the psychoanalytic
view of parent-child relationships is extremely controversial within the so-
cial, behavioral, and medical sciences.
Because the Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit recommendations derive from
a psychoanalytic perspective, they lead us to underestimate the viability of
shared parenting as a family structure, as a transitional arrangement during
transfer of custody, and as a contribution to a child's development after
placement. Their emphasis on separation as a singular cause of psychologi-
cal damage discourages intervention in families from which children have
already been removed or voluntarily placed in foster care; if the child's best
*Mr. Waters is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the State University of New
York at Stony Brook. He earned his Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development at the
University of Minnesota. He has published more than thirty research and theoretical articles
on parent-child attachment and social development.
**Ms. Noyes is a Revson Legislative Fellow with the New York State Senate's Minority
Task Force on Women's Issues.
1. J. Goldstein, A. Freud & A. Solnit, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (1973)
[hereinafter Beyond the Best Interests].

Imaged with the Permission of N.Y.U. Review of Law and Social Change

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