A full-scale investigation of the controversial and often misunderstood science of attachment theory, inspired by the author’s own experience as a parent and daughter.
“A profound and beautiful work . . . searingly honest, brazenly fresh, and startlingly rich.”—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
When professional researcher and writer Bethany Saltman gave birth to her daughter, Azalea, she loved her deeply but felt as if something was missing. Looking back at her lonely childhood, dangerous teenage years, and love-addicted early adulthood, Saltman thought maybe she was broken.
Then she discovered the science of attachment, the field of psychology that explores the question of why—from an evolutionary point of view—love exists between parents and children. Saltman went on a ten-year journey visiting labs, archives, and training sessions, while learning the meaning of “delight” from Mary Ainsworth, one of psychology’s most important but unsung researchers, who died in 1999.
Saltman went deep into the history and findings from Ainsworth’s famous laboratory procedure, the Strange Situation, which, like an X-ray, is still used today by scientists around the world to catch a glimpse of the internal workings of attachment. In this simple twenty-minute procedure, a baby and a caregiver enter an ordinary room with two chairs and some toys. During a series of comings and goings, a trained observer studies the minutiae of the pair’s back-and-forth with each other.
Through the science of attachment, what Saltman discovered was a radical departure from everything she thought she knew—about love and about her own family, her story, and herself. She was far from broken—she saw that love is too powerful to ever break.
Strange Situation is a scientific, lyrical, life-affirming exploration of love. Not only will readers be taken on an emotional ride through one mother’s reckoning with her own past and her family’s future, but they will also be given the tools with which to better understand their own life histories and their relationships today.
“[An] absorbing and edifying corrective . . . Saltman tells two separate stories here: One is her personal journey as a mother, the other the story of the science of attachment. But the narratives are also deeply intertwined.”—The Washington Post
“This is a unique and thoughtful book—part memoir, part social science, part biography of [Mary] Ainsworth and part self-help. Readers who are battling their own demons as parents may feel grateful for Ms. Saltman’s unsparing account of herself.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Strange Situation is a book that will change you. Surrender to this seductive, searching, genius hybrid of social science and memoir and you will never hug someone, laugh, or hear a child cry the same way again.”—Wednesday Martin, New York Times bestselling author of Primates of Park Avenue and Untrue
“Strange Situation is a beautiful exploration of what makes us human—our relationships. By artfully weaving together her own experiences as a mother, daughter, and wife with the science of attachment and the fascinating life history of one of its founders, Mary Ainsworth, Saltman helps us to see ourselves—and our relationships with those we love—in an entirely new way.”—Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
“Brilliant, brutally honest, and ultimately redemptive, Bethany Saltman’s powerful and meticulous new book, Strange Situation, made me see my own childhood and my own parenting in a fascinating new light. This book flooded me with emotions and questions, but unfolded like an epic drama. I couldn’t put it down.”—Amy Chua, New York Times bestselling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“A beautifully written account of the courage, luminosity, and sheer audacity of loving someone.”—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Love
“An exceptional achievement . . . This extraordinary book is a must-read for anyone interested in childhood and those who have spent their lives studying it.”—Professor Peter Fonagy, OBE, Chief Executive, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
“Bethany Saltman plunders her autobiography for insights about attachment and brilliantly connects them to the work of Mary Ainsworth and other thinkers in the field. By personalizing the story of attachment in relation to both her family of origin and the one she created, Saltman creates a compelling narrative arc that turns up insight after insight. This book about attachment is the story of how we learn love, both early in our lives and later on.”—Andrew Solomon, National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“[A] fascinating mix of memoir and the history of a major revolution in the scientific theory of the relationships we form in our first year of life.”—Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Bethany Saltman, a longtime Zen student, lives in a small town in the Catskills with her family. Strange Situation is her first book.