Make me feel safe. Be my home.
Hold me close. Look at me. Love me.
Do these things so I am not fighting off fear my whole life. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being alone. Fear of surviving.
Please attach me, securely, to you.
Now the real education began. Violet’s school held a workshop about 3 weeks after we brought her. I could not believe we got to be with her so soon, I was freaking out. Seeing her, being with her, I cherished it. But, I am going to take this entry and focus on what we learned and go back to our experience with Violet later.
We saw her briefly at the school breakfast then went to our class. Let’s start at the beginning folks! After all of their material and then lots of personal research, here is my layman version…
The Attachment Theory
This controversial 1930s study speaks to what real bonding and attachment are about, not just the feeding and providing. Physical contact and comfort obviously affects child development, but still interesting…
Harry Harlow’s experiment took baby monkeys and he made two “mothers.” One made with wire and a bottle with milk, the other with no milk but soft blanketing surrounding the wire form. The monkeys spent 17 hours per day laying on the soft mother and only 1 hour drinking from the wire one. Now this seems totally cruel to the monkeys and would never be allowed now, still was a huge impetus for BF Skinner and Bowlby’s research on mental health development that influenced psychology in the 50s.
Babies need to feel attached to someone who is consistent, responsive, sensitive, comforting, present. Darwin would say it is about surviving. Ainsworth and Bowlby would expound on it with experimental interactions; the “Strange Situation.” (see links below)
In this case, attachment is defined as “your internal working model of social relationships.” There are four forms of attachment in this theory – Secure, Insecure, Anxious (Avoidant and Ambivalent), and Disorganized. Even just the word choices? I get it. I want the secure one.
Easy to say and even easier to understand, here are the ways to achieve it:
I’m a baby. Hug me so I know you are mine all mine and I am yours all yours. I will feel loved.
I know when I wake up I will have breakfast. I know that when you sing that song and give me a bath every night it is time for bed. I can count on it and that means I am being taken care of.
I think you love me when you play with me. You think I am great. Then I think I am great too.
Ask me to do more things, harder things. Trust me to try. You think I can. Then I think I can. Then I love you for believing in me. Then I really, truly CAN.
So that’s the healthy version. Now imagine a kid who wasn’t cared for this way?
A baby who was neglected, a kid who was left at the hospital without a safe parent there. A kid who has lost a parent, only known inconsistency, been abused. Even less obvious – a kid whose parents argued or were in and out of being stable themselves, divorce. OF COURSE, it affects your relationships – with others AND yourself, how could it not? My self-esteem is so tied into how my parents loved me and each other, and so are the patterns of my relationships.
I was there for Violet. The two of us were in our own little world, which felt great to me at the time. I played until I was holding my eyelids open with toothpicks, answered her every wail, held her when my arms were shaking from fatigue. Still, Violet has an Insecure Attachment. So what was it?
I was in a bad marriage. I was sad. Her bio-dad neglected her. I was young, inconsistent and had very little structure. I know Violet’s genetically predisposed frustration tolerance was low but maybe it meant she needed more of all these things? Some people may have thought me too attentive, so I am confused. She must not have felt safe, even though I tried my damndest.
Your initial attachment to a primary caregiver casts ripples into your interpersonal dynamics for the rest of your life.
An Insecure Attachment can lead to struggle. Difficulty trusting relationships, feeling unsafe. Feeling unlovable and sabotaging. Fear of vulnerability and getting hurt. Resorting to something controllable - anger, avoidance, ambivalence. Fear dominates the landscape.
In another study I found, the doctor quotes, “…usually there is an opportunity to return to a more normal path of development.” Well, PHEW, thank goodness, dear sir.
This is our job while Vi is at school. Finding a way to be more structured, consistent, engaged, nurturing, so when she comes back it is already in place.
I began consciously instituting these tools. Higher expectations, lists of chores for mornings and evenings with incentive programs around them. Structured alone time with each kid during the week as built-in as the school day. Engaging activities, time to be together and just love each other. It isn’t just the feeling of “order;” it also provides us endless opportunities for praise and you can’t beat that.
With the workshop completed, we spent 2 days with Violet. We were focused on “success.” A successful visit meant no disrespect, adhering to the goals we outlined, enjoying each other without frustration. Tying the workshop info altogether – it was maintaining consistency, having structure, nurturing and having fun. If we were successful, she would get another visit sooner, perhaps including her siblings.
We avoided technology. We followed our agreements on bedtime and how many sweets and treats. Laughed at her jokes and played games. Listened to her with both ears and eyes. Held hands, hugged her a lot. Loved her. I felt her tethered to me, but not stuck like glue. Maybe her attachment was healing?
There were a few times when I got nervous. Felt the old eggshells, saw her angry face creep in. She did struggle using some of the tools. She had relaxed a little at school and I worried that there would be a backslide. I tried to give her a break, it was STILL very new.
We drove her back to school. Filled out all the paperwork full of goals and reviews. On the whole she was successful. I had to remind myself this was a work-in-progress.
I hugged her and again, was sad to say goodbye. She ran off into school smiling and didn’t even look back.
Attachment: A bond that holds us together, lasting psychological connectedness.
I love my family. I want our connectedness to last. I want my kids to go off and explore their worlds and know they have a safe, loving, happy home to come back to. I want to create healthy, secure attachments. I want Violet and my other kids to have them, and I want to give one to my husband. And I too want to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and authentic.
Keep me safe. Look at me. Love me for who I am.
Attach me to you, securely, please.