There’s No Place Like Home


| | |

Cats are the promise of domesticity without the intimacy. (Patricia Wilensky)

As a noun I think ‘home’ must annoy newcomers to the English language because of its multiple meanings – we use it interchangeably to refer to personal feelings towards someone, a geographical location or a tangible building.  It’s not hard to understand ‘home’ on a physical dimension, from the walls, roof, to the kitchen sink.  Phrases such as ‘home address,’ ‘home base,’ or ‘home row’ all point to the where can orient ourselves to and from. I am more interested and intrigued by the psychological sense of home that is found in human relationships. The feeling of having a home is key to understanding what it is our kids need from us and is one of the irreducible needs of every human being. As creatures of attachment it is from this sense of home that our story begins and ends.

The purpose of attachment is to facilitate dependence starting from falling in ‘like’ and then love, the sense of belonging and loyalty, as well as psychological intimacy. Attaching is the gluing process that binds us to one another and what serves to begin our dance together. Our relationship with our children is a dance where our best moves convey a strong caring lead that inspires them to follow us. Dancing when this dependency is present makes parenting easy but not frustration free. In taking the lead we invite the child to lean on us and to see us as their safe bet, a harbour from the storms. When all is well for a child you can tell ‘whom’ their home base is as they will make a bee-line for them when they are scared or hurt. Children even come with a ‘homing device’ that creates separation anxiety when apart from those they are attached to. These invisible feelings of home are created in the spaces between us and provide protection so that it never occurs to us to ‘run away from home.’

The act of comforting someone actually rests on feeling at home with them. Trying to comfort a child who doesn’t know you can create additional alarm and frustration despite good intentions. When one of my daughters was 4 she had a big temper tantrum (ok, she had many), and at the tail end of it started to soften and wailed that she wanted to go home. At first I was a little baffled as we were in our house but I intuitively reached out to comfort her and realized as she settled into her tears that I was her place of home. When we think of a ‘home’ in this psychological sense we associate it with a sense of rest where there is room to be just as you are, a place of retreat from chaos into the arms of someone who makes you feel safe. When we are lost it is home that we seek.

I think the hardest thing to contend with at this time of year when so many people are celebrating connection and heading ‘home for the holidays’ – is the feeling of not being at home in the attachments one has or feeling a void where we wished for more connection. I think this missing sense of ‘home at the heart level is what makes the holidays so distressing for too many people.  Sometimes there are separations that are unavoidable and where solace is found through sentiments such as “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Regardless of the reason for the lack of home it is actually one’s grief that promises rest here. When we become aware of what is missing or has been lost we can find our tears. In the wake of grief one can find renewal by surrounding oneself with those that truly invite and offer the type of relationship where there is safety, comfort, and rest. The beautiful thing is we can make ourselves at home in many places and with many different people – this is the freedom inherent in our human capacity for attachment.

Finally, while I am sure I have offended some cat lovers, I confess to being one myself and hold steadfast to the idea that even cats need to have a place of home too.  They remind me of the need for generosity no matter what the behaviour or perceived ‘return’ may be. It is typical to hope for ‘Peace on Earth’ at Christmas but my wish this year is for every child, youth, man, woman and beast to have at least one attachment with whom they truly feel at home with.

“The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keep you there.” Ellie Rodriguez

 

Dr. Deborah MacNamara is the author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), is on faculty at the Neufeld Institute, and Director of Kid’s Best Bet, a counselling and family resource center. For more information please see www.macnamara.ca and www.neufeldinstitute.org.