Why Attachment Matters to Me
This may not seem to be that big of a deal to you, but it’s monumental for us and our relationship.
See, I wasn’t always attachment-minded in my parenting. I started off that way, but when my oldest child was about 10 months old, I bent to cultural pressure. For the next year, secure attachment wasn’t my goal as much as early independence.
It was a vulnerable time for me – I had no support as my husband struggled to stabilize his newly diagnosed bipolar disorder, and I lived in a very rural area with no parenting resources. When my oldest daughter was 22 months old, at about the time that I found Attachment Parenting International, I was finally able to break out of that cultural hold and I’ve never looked back.
But the damage to our relationship was profound.
It’s true that all children are different and some are naturally more resilient than others. But, likewise, some are more impressible than others – they can be greatly impacted by certain parenting approaches in a more extreme way – and early experiences can be especially influential. I don’t think any parent, or professional for that matter, will know which babies will be naturally more resilient or more negatively affected than others by, say, cry-it-out sleep training or physical punishment.
My daughter withdrew into herself. She didn’t seek comfort or reassurance or any kind of connection, during the day or the night. Looking back, I believe that she was depressed. One of the most troubling signs for me was that she wouldn’t seek out adult help at night when she was obviously not feeling well – for example, when she had just vomited or started to have an asthma attack.
She was very quiet, never volunteering to talk and rarely making eye contact. She was also unable to answer direct questions; the special education teachers I worked with said that she couldn’t form the pictures in her mind required for her to answer questions, and although their testing revealed that she is extremely intelligent, the teachers said she appeared to have “locked herself out of our world.”
Another troubling sign for me was that she never had a tantrum. She avoided her emotions and if I became the least bit unhappy with her, she would stop what she was doing immediately but without seeking reassurance. She would do anything I asked of her without question, and it would’ve been easy for someone to take advantage of that.
When I fully embraced attachment-minded parenting when she was 22 months old, I began what would turn out to be years’ worth of intense repair of our attachment bond. And it took, literally, years. There was a solid two years where I saw no improvement in either her mood or in our relationship, despite very loving and consistent care by me, her primary caregiver – what attachment research shows is required for a secure attachment bond to develop.
But I continued, on the blind faith that improving our attachment bond would “turn her around.” Last year, at age four, I began to see improvement. This past year, at age five, she’s been a completely different child than she was previously. She’s very outgoing and friendly. She’s able to answer quickly and learns especially fast. She can assert herself if she believes a she’s receiving unfair treatment and work through conflict in a positive way. And now, she seeks me out if she needs extra help or reassurance.
Our relationship is shaped around trust, empathy, affection and authenticity without either person feeling the need to control or coerce or punish. Together, we have learned how to listen actively, how to identify our emotions and communicate these in a way that gains understanding without putting the other person on the defensive, how to validate one another, how to forgive, and how to problem-solve.
She has blossomed into a happy, confident child who truly empathizes for others and is an excellent role model to her siblings.
Now, this is one child and one family and one circumstance, but it’s one situation where parenting to control made a huge amount of difference in a child’s development. And, where parenting for secure attachment made another huge amount of difference in the course of a child’s development and mental health.
Is it the same case for every child? I’m sure it’s not. I don’t claim to be an expert in parenting, but I know the research and I can guide parents to resources. What I am an expert in is in my role as a parent in my family. And this story is the reason why attachment, and parenting for secure attachment, means so much to me.
Brhel, R. (2012). Why Attachment Matters to Me. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 6, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/attachment/2012/05/why-attachment-matters-to-me/