The Evolution of Attachment: Parenting without a Roadmap


Welcome to February edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month, participants have looked into the topic of “Fostering Healthy Attachment”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!

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Instead of wishing we could be the perfect parent right now, it’s much healthier to settle in for the long term on the journey of coming to peace with ourselves as parents, coming to peace with the shortcomings of our own childhood. Parenting is a journey of personal growth whether we choose it or not. It’s kind of forced upon us, but when we can allow and embrace that reality, evolution, magic and healing occur. We begin to break generations of unhealthy patterns while embracing generations of positive patterns and bring it all together in a beautiful unique package that enhances your family’s uniqueness.

~ Genevieve @ Way of the Peaceful Parent

It is difficult for me to admit, even to myself, this one sad truth: I do not feel particularly attached to my mother.

Let me be clear. I love my mother. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifices she has made and continues to make. I like to know how she is doing. (She lives far away in Kansas where I grew up), and I want her in the lives of my children. I know that parenting is complicated and difficult, even in the best of situations. (I also know many of the tough situations she has made it through, including years away from her parents at boarding school, living on drastically little and a heavy dose of corporeal punishment; in that way I have the luxury of living rather than surviving, so to speak.) I understand that she is a product of her own experience which involved little secure attachment. All of this does not add up to feeling attached.

Essentially, both my mother and I are parenting without a roadmap as our family line evolves towards attachment.

When my mother became a mother, she unwittingly took a step towards attachment. Despite my mother’s background, she, even now, longs for a closeness between us. As a first generation child of immigrants, I always wanted that close, open relationship I believed I saw Non-Indian/American families having. Disappointingly, it just feels like even with both of us trying we lack a foundation to grow from, to fall back on when things are difficult.

Tandem Babywearing!

I know that healthy attachment is good for my children, but it is also something I want for myself. It has been sobering to understand that if I want to accomplish more than the baby steps family history and evolution would dictate, I need to actively make choices and act in ways that lead to a different result. Though my mother gave me a secure life, there are things I needed from her that may have helped me feel more safe and unconditionally loved. There are things I believe I need to offer my own children if I am to create the possibility of true closeness and respect in my relationship with them when they are older.

With the blessings she has given me from her hard work and efforts, I am working to give to my children what my mother wishes she had given to me. I could say that I have been working towards healthy attachment by breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, doing baby-led solids–all things that may help form attachment early in life. What I am feeling now, as my daughter moves through toddlerhood, is that there are other (dare I say more impactful?) needs to meet.

Here are five things I am working to give my children to help them form healthy attachment:

Presence

My mother worked a lot in order to provide for her family’s present and future. I now benefit from her efforts, but missed out on time with her as a result. On this last visit, watching with joy as my daughter played, she admitted a wish to have worked less when my brother and I were young. I have the blessing of being home right now, but I’m not convinced it’s about parents needing to stay home with their children instead of going to work. Rather, it’s about making the moments we have with our children really count, not all day every day but when we can. This is most important right now as I transition to being a tandem nurturer and as my daughter transitions to having a sibling. I must be mindful of bringing my mind and body and spirit to the present moment in the most positive way I can be.

Tandem Nursing!

What I Try to Do: 

  • Find brief periods of time several times a day to be with just my daughter.
  • Be mindful of my mood and attitude when I am with my children.
  • Take time to engage with my full senses and spirit, especially when I get each alone, regardless of their state (nursing, crying, sleeping, pottying, etc.).

Trust

I trust my childen’s nature. I trust their unfolding. I trust them to know their needs and wants, even if they can always clearly communicate them. I trust their natural ability to develop, learn and grow. While I am in charge of their safety, I do not need to protect them from life. I do not need to direct her or show her how life works because she is capable of figuring it out for herself. Particularly with my daughter, I need to consider how I act and react so that she can trust me enough to be open and honest. My trust in my children is a fundamental part of our relationship, and necessary for the closeness that both my mother and I want but can’t seem to achieve with one another.

What I Try to Do: 

  • Carefully consider my reaction to my daughter sharing information with me, particularly around messes (including potty messes).
  • Watch for conversation that makes my daughter have to perform or show me what she knows rather than allowing her to enjoy discovering and exploring.
  • Allow my daughter to process her frustration, even if she abandons a task, rather than asking if she needs help or to be shown.

Control

As a mother I feel the subtle tentacles of control wrapping themselves around my mind squeezing words out of my mouth that I don’t believe in. As a big person with so much power it is so easy to try to make my daughter do things or to treat my son as someone who isn’t fully present. From my teaching experience, I know that the more control I give up the richer the experience for all. The more I let go of control, the more space my children have to engage in their world as independent, self-sufficient human beings. Even though I know this, sometimes my conditioning makes me feel like I am supposed to get her to do what I say. I sense that this giving up of control is my mother’s stumbling block as well.

Toddler Tandem Babywearer!

What I Try to Do: 

Participation

From teaching I know that participating as an equal with children shifts the whole experience to a more meaningful level for everyone. As I let go of control and participate as an equal with my daughter, I feel the growth of our joy and the depth of her understanding. By humbling myself (or acting in accordance with my actual position, which is generally more horizontal or “next to” than vertical or “over”), I open the door to opportunities for my children and I to grow together, both as individuals and as a family.

What I Try to Do: 

  • Find more choice for my daughter in all we do.
  • Be mindful of my role, particularly when playing with my daughter, when I should lean towards playing a lesser role to allow her more space to be and lead.

Respect

Some folks like to go on about how children need to respect adults, but from where I sit there is little respect given to children. I’m not sure who they are supposed to model this behavior from. And I don’t believe that rewards and punishment foster it. Just as I trust my daughter’s nature, I also want to respect her nature. I respect that she has her own knowing. She has feelings, thoughts, opinions and desires, just like me, and a need to be respected. We may disagree or have mutually exclusive wants, and I need to respect that. One of my primary tasks all day is to find a way towards getting both of our needs met as we move through the “musts” and “shoulds” of the day (which includes determining which ones really are necessary). She has her own interests, which may differ from mine, and I need to respect that she needs space and time to pursue them, even if I’m not so inspired myself.

What I Try to Do: 

  • Recognize that my children (particularly my infant son) have various ways of processing feelings, and verbal expression is only one.
  • Focus on fulfilling needs rather than solving wants.
  • Consider our need for simplicity of rhythm, environment, and schedule as we plan and live our daily life.

Obviously the list of things I am working on seems endless, but in reality they all come down to the same thing: Treating my children like full (not partial) human beings. I cannot say what the result will be of my parenting shift. I cannot guarantee that my children and I will have a trusting relationship when they are older.

All I can do is continue to use each moment as an opportunity to evolve….. 

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Reflecting on the parenting you experienced as a child, in what ways is your parenting evolving?

 

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Visit Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

 

10 responses to this post.

  1. ‘As a mother I feel the subtle tentacles of control wrapping themselves around my mind squeezing words out of my mouth that I don’t believe in. As a big person with so much power it is so easy to try to make my daughter do things or to treat my son as someone who isn’t fully present.’ ~ Wow! This is something I’ve been wrestling with recently too, but I hadn’t actually managed to define it or put it fully into words yet, and you’ve captured it perfectly right there.

    I love this post. I’m trying to find my way through mindful and aware parenting with a baby and a toddler, and I’m finding it difficult. I think I nodded in agreement with pretty much every point you make. I’m also still processing a lot of my past and thinking about the way things were when I grew up. I’ve still got a lot of thinking to do. Thanks for being so upfront and sharing your perspective.

    Reply

    • Yes, Helen, that control business is always on my mind, by far the most frequent issue I face on a daily basis. I appreciate your support of my opening up and sharing this personal struggle (though I ended up deleting most of the hard stuff, figuring folks wouldn’t want to slog through my past — that’s my job!). Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. sheila 🙂

      Reply

  2. I have been struggling to find time each day to be mindfully present with Kieran since Ailia has been born. And I’ve noticed that our relationship has definitely suffered a setback. This is a good reminder for me to continue to foster that attachment in my preschooler which I worked so hard to establish when he was a baby.

    Reply

  3. Your words and ideas inspire me to be more mindful in my parenting. With a toddler son and an infant daughter who challenge me to be a better parent each day, much better than even the day before, I often come up feeling short. There just seems to be so much I don’t know, and so many detail-oriented things to do. I read this though, and I think that I can do some of these things you suggest, and that perhaps they coincide with what my intuition tells me anyway, if only I pay a little more attention to it. I commit to think more about what I do and say with my children, and at the very least, it will encourage me to be more aware and to parent with some more thoughtfulness. In other words, I will strive to do better and forgive myself if I come up short… and try again the next day.

    Reply

    • Nancy, I am grateful that you feel my sharing is helping you. We’re in the same boat of tandem nurturing, here, as you know. I’m not sure good enough is something I strive for or want to strive for. Instead, my goal is to simply be as mindful of the beings in front of me as I can and meet their needs the best I can. I’m thinking we should get the kids together and give each other some support around this. sheila 😉

      Reply

  4. This was a beautiful reflection on your relationship with your mother as well as the one you are building with your children. My mother’s relationship with her mother is similiar to what you have with your mother. My mom took the steps you outlined as she raised me and her and I are amazingly close. I have gone several steps further and have a much closer relationship with my daughter. It is also beautiful to watch the relationship between my mother and daughter unfold as my mother goes deeper into attachment grandparenting.

    It will be a real treat for you as a mother to watch how your children oneday parent their own babies. I bet that they embrace how they were raised and much like I did, go even deeper in the way they connect with their own children. Each generation gets better right?

    Thanks for such a wonderful post!

    Reply

    • Jennifer, you have given me the greatest hope and deepest relief that I am truly doing ok. I do look forward to the future when I can watch my daughter fully free to make her own choices. I am particularly interested to see how she births seeing as how she has already given birth on all fours in the tub during bathtime — and I caught the baby! Thanks for reading. ~sheila

      Reply

  5. I am in a similar situation. I felt no attachment to my mom growing up, and have come to understand her better as an adult and we have a good relationship now. But I want something completely different for my son! I find it’s challenging to figure out how to parent, when I know what I don’t want to do, but have no model for how to do it right. Reading lots of books and connecting with other bloggers blazing similar trails!

    Reply

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