Many Jewish parents and communal leaders ask how can we increase the odds that our kids, when grown, will remain Jewish. Day schools, summer camps, and visits to Israel are important, of course, but I’ve recently been studying the field of attachment theory, and it’s convinced me that to promote Jewish continuity we need to give our kids something essential at a much, much earlier age—in fact, starting at birth. That essential thing is a “secure attachment.”
Attachment science—a burgeoning field within psychology—says that because we’re born helpless we’re programmed at birth to seek out and attach to a reliable, competent caregiver for protection. Success or failure of this search actually shapes the developing brain, and affects how we relate to others throughout life—with loved ones, with colleagues at work, with sports teammates—and even with the religion in which we were raised.
In a study of 153 Jews (mostly Orthodox), for example, who had converted either to or from Orthodox Judaism, researchers found those who converted away from their parent’s religion reported higher rates of insecure attachment. They may also be “particularly prone to radical conversion,” as they have lower tolerance for emotional pain and may seek to find in religious extremism a substitute for the security they lack.
This is not to say all adult children with insecure attachment reject Judaism or convert. Individuals are influenced by many factors. But when the experiences of large numbers of people are analyzed, this is the tendency. And the numbers show the importance of this finding: While about 55 percent of the general population has secure attachment, the other 45% have insecure attachments of various types.
Here are three steps people serious about Jewish continuity can take:
First, parents can strive to raise their children with attachment security.
Second, Jewish communal organizations should redirect resources to parenting education. Fortunately, much in Jewish tradition supports attuned parenting and can help inform Jewish parenting classes.
- Third, parents of older children can still promote security in their children by using Jewish rituals and practices to make the home part of what psychologists call a “secure base.” The Shabbat dinner table and a backyard sukkah are among the regular places this can happen.
If we’re serious about wanting our children to continue their heritage and as adults to live as Jews, we must also embrace the very first steps in this process. Those begin at birth and require a secure attachment.
Read more at the Tablet.