Psychological Parenting vs. Attachment Theory: The Child’s Best Interests and the Risks in Doing the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons


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 circumstances 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 social, behavioral, and medical sciences.

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Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with