From hard feelings to bad memories, some parents worry that the relationships they had with their own parents will dictate the parent they will become—that…
These relational bonds, while invisible to the eye, will become the means for delivering nourishment, guidance, and protection. It’s important to note that you don’t need to be biologically connected for emotional attachment to unfold. As the saying goes, “home is where the heart is.”
Children need to be tethered emotionally long after the physical cords between us are cut.
In utero and in the first year of life a child attaches through the senses; through touch, taste, smell, hearing, and seeing. At birth the child’s sense of smell allows them to be comforted by their biological mother during heel pricks and other procedures. Most biological Mom’s can also pick out the scent of her child within the first hour after they are born. While sensory attachment is fascinating, it is only just the beginning. By the second year of life a child attaches through sameness where they copy and imitate the people they are attached to. This is how they learn language and mannerisms, becoming a collection of characteristics of their favourite people. By age three you hope to see a child attach through belonging and loyalty where they seek to possess and follow their caretaker’s desires and directions. By age four a well attached child will seek to matter and be significant to the people they love with proclamations like, “look at me!” Approval is like oxygen for a four-year-old, but we need to avoid making it conditional on measuring up to our expectations. By age five a child may be capable of a deeper way of holding on through caring and love. They may proclaim their love for us and declare they never want to leave home. The final means of attaching if all unfolds well is by age six where they are moved to share their secrets with us. From vulnerable feelings to the way they make sense of the world, their caretakers become their confidents.
There are six ways a child will develop their attachment to adults which helps ‘root’ them in place. The deeper the attachment roots the greater the potential to explore, learn, and eventually separate from us.
It is true that parents have growing pains too. They are the emotional kind that help us hold on for one more story, to be firm with a no but gracious in allowing our child’s upset to be expressed, and to take delight as they discover and reveal the world they see. What gets in the way of relationships are hurt feelings with no repair, and adults who don’t take responsibility for their words or actions. Love does not require us to be perfect, but it does mean there needs to be room for sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness, and gratitude so that we can go the distance with our kids. If there were a secret to parenting it would be that when relationship is done well it is fulfilling and rewarding to both child and parent. The greatest gift we can receive as parents is the invitation from our own adult children to share and be part of their lives when it is no longer necessary for survival. Dr. Deborah MacNamara is the Director of Kid's Best Bet counselling center, she is on Faculty at the Neufeld Institute, the author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), which has been translated into 11 languages, and a children's picture book The Sorry Plane. For more information please see www.macnamara.wpengine.com
It is our deep caring that will help us be capable of sacrifice, consideration, and patience as we face the work that comes with taking care of another being. This means we will need to vulnerably feel the emotions associated with parenting and make room for them.