I will never forget landing in the Winnipeg, Manitoba airport at midnight and stepping into the terminal to see a throng of people waiting for loved ones. There were hugs, expressions of ‘I missed you’, and a general hub of good energy in the air. My family and I were heading to the airport hotel for the night but I was left with the sense of being an outsider to this community and a sense of longing for the warmth of their connections. I thought to myself, no wonder their liscence plates read ‘friendly Manitoba’.
This Manitoba airport represented to me the best of what community brings to parents and children. You can have all the buildings and houses you want with beautifully landscaped lawns but this does not ensure you have a community. Community is about connections between people and it is the natural context that children were meant to be raised in. For children the attachment village is an invisible matrix in which they mature and develop a sense of rootedness, belonging, and connection. The children look up to and orient around adults in these communities and many surrogate caregivers abound. Parents today are often separated from extended family and the nuclear family has never been so small. It just feels commonplace to be isolated and without a village, but even though it feels ‘normal’ it certainly isn’t natural.
To this day I refer to the neighbours where I lived as a child as Auntie Charlotte, Uncle Jim, Auntie Bee and so on. The street was full of aunties and uncles and there was a sense when you were out playing in the street that all eyes were upon you. Even those ‘Block Watch’ signs in people’s house windows alerted me that help was never too far away on my walk home from school. But how do we create these villages of attachment for our children when we don’t know our neighbours and are suspicious of those who would display a ‘Block Watch’ sign in their window?
While we can’t turn back the clock to days past when we lived in attachment villages, we can purposively and constructively create them for ourselves. The benefit of today is that we have the freedom to construct the attachment village for our children and family. We can be conscious of who we choose to be aunties and uncles, ensuring ones that will fit with our parenting philosophy and values. We can matchmake our children with those who will play a surrogate parent role, ensuring they never have to feel away from home when they are with them.
Cultivating an attachment village takes work at relationships and a real desire for connection with others. Whether we come together to celebrate events like Earth Day, Canada Day or summer BBQ’s on the beach, we get to write our own rules about community. We don’t have to follow prescribed customs, we get to make it up as we go. You know when your village is forming because many of your people will feel like family and as such you share trials, sorrows, and celebrations together. The children experience a seamless matrix that they can rest in, play in, and do the work of maturing.
While facing disconnection and isolation may be part of everyday parenting experiences, there is much that can be done to cultivate and create the supporting cast that families need. The role of a parent is to give their child a village of attachment to grow up in. The role of the village is to support the parent in being the answer to their child.
Copyright Deborah MacNamara, PhD, Kid’s Best Bet – Dr. Deborah MacNamara is a counsellor in private practice and on faculty at the Neufeld Institute. She works with parents, educators, child-care and mental health professionals in making sense of kids from the inside out. See www.macnamara.wpengine.com or www.neufeldinstitute.com for more information.