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Attachment Science : Our History Is Not Our Destiny

We have several different kinds of spatulas in our kitchen: flippy black ones perfect for pancakes, rigid red ones for scraping cake batter out of the bowl, and a firm grey one with a gentle angle perfect for scrambling eggs.

Fictional Spatula Mom

Whenever I glimpse the spatulas leaning in the crockery on the counter, I think of a novel I read many years ago when my sons were wee babes. The title is lost to me, but the image of Fictional Spatual Mom is preserved in my mind like jars of pickled beets in my grandmother’s basement. In the book, the mother’s approach to parenting was “spatula-ing.” Whenever her children approached her, needing anything from snacks to homework help, she used her words to flip them away like burnt pancakes, sending them off to figure things out on their own.

At the time, I thought this was a hilarious visual and an interesting way to “get kids to be independent.” I also somewhat recognized coldness and exasperation on the part of Fictional Spatula Mom. Don't get me wrong, I didn’t want to be a flypaper mom with kids stuck to me like glue, but the spatula approach didn’t appeal to me either; however, I'd definitely resorted it in times of stress.

Gentle reminder: No judgment here, just a gentle noticing of how and why we react or respond to our children in the ways we do. Mindfulness is observing, without judgment, the present moment. As you read, I invited you to just observe without judgment your own reactions to these ideas. All feelings are valid and welcome.

Attachment Science

Attachment can be thought of as the quality of the psychological and emotional connections between parent/caregiver and child. Dr. Dan Seigle and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson write about attachment in their book The Power of Showing Up. (What an amazing book! Add it to your library wish list. Highly recommended!) In the book they describe four types of attachment: one that is reliably safe and sensitive called secure attachment and three insecure attachment patterns. A handy-dandy reference of the characteristics of each attachment pattern are cataloged in the table below.

Adapted from The Power of Showing Up by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, p.62.

Fictional Spatula Mom Demystified

When I take a gander through the characteristics in the table, I recognize the Insecure Avoidant style of Spatula Mom, and I have more compassion for her. I wonder…

  • When she was a child, did her caregivers kneel down and look into her eyes when she needed their attention, at least some of the time?

  • Did her cries merit their curiosity and response? Or was her parent too worn out or emotionally distant to care for her in a timely way?

  • Was she exhausted, not having had her needs for rest and nourishment met for the day? Does she have the words to express that feeling of fatigue and need for support to her partner, if she has one?

  • Perhaps her needs had never been met by her own caregivers as a child, and she’d learned early that being capable of “taking care of yourself” was the way to survive.

  • Perhaps as a child no one went with her to the dark basement to fetch a can of pickled beets, so it makes sense that her children should brave the dark on their own as well.

I want to hold Fictional Spatula Mom in a sparkly bubble of compassion and understanding. Her needs and feelings are as valid as her children’s–and she doesn’t have the tools yet to get her own needs met. She may require guidance to understand and make sense of her own attachment story. She may need support learning an emotional lexicon so she can express her feelings. Sometimes it takes courage just to look at where we are and where we came from, and sometimes we need support to do so with the compassion we deserve.

As we learn more about how we show up as parents, digging into attachment science can feel confronting. We may feel burdened with guilt that we aren’t perfect parents, whatever “perfect” means to us. (Seriously, take ten minutes to draw that monstrous perfect parent taunting you and then rip it up into teeny tiny miniscule bits!) We might feel angry, sad, or resentful that our own parents weren't able to give us the secure attachment our young selves craved and needed. As you investigate your own attachments, try on this expansive mantra:

I am where I am. Given my past, I make more and more sense to myself.

I completely love and accept myself.

And when we inevitably find ourselves flowing across the attachment spectrum, moving from moments of security to insecurity and back again, let’s give ourselves the grace we need to keep showing up.

Our History Is Not Our Destiny

For those of us who didn’t experience secure attachments in childhood, we can work to create them now. Our history is not our destiny! Thanks to the neuroplasticity in our brains, we can create new neural pathways and rewire our own brains to earn secure attachment, even in adulthood. We can create security with an attachment stand-in figure like a trusted therapist, friend, or coach; with our partners; and eventually with ourselves.

“The quality of attachment you have in connection with yourself indicates the quality of connection and security you can create with your child–and what the child can have with Self.” ~Rebecca Liddon

When we begin to view ourselves as benevolent, trustworthy, imperfect, and lovable attachment figures worthy of love, we create space for our relationships with our children to shift as well. Watch the magic happen as their energy shifts in relation to yours; the outcome is well worth the effort.

Infinite Hugs

Imagine you are a child who expects connection with her grownups and receives it regularly. What does that look like, sound like, feel like to you? To your inner child? Imagine how it might feel to be hurt by a parent’s tone but to intuit that the parent will come to repair the hurt and make a plan for preventing the problem in the future. Profound comfort! To me it feels like being swaddled in the softest blankets of love and connection while being sung the sweetest lullaby and gently rocked gently without any time constraints. Infinite hugs.

This is what secure attachment provides for children: reliable connection and repair, sensitivity and consistency, trust and security. You deserve it for yourself and for your family. You are worthy of it. Healing is always possible, and it’s never too late to begin.

To find out more about attachment science and parenting, join my free workshop on March 7. For more support on your conscious parenting journey book a free conscious parenting coaching discovery call.

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