Life-long attachment parenting
There will be another day and another chance to get it right.
When I was a little girl I hated my father as much as I could. He was the most unloving, torturing, awful person in the whole wide world, so was my self-talk 30 years ago. At the same time I adored my mother. She was the center of my universe. She was warm, caring, loving but strict; a strong woman who profoundly influenced my idea of a perfect woman I wanted to be.
As time passed and my rebellious teen years came down on us my relationship with both parents changed dramatically. Now, in my very late thirties, I have to admit that my father became my good friend while my relationship to my mum turned somewhat sauer.
Attachment is not something that happens to newborns and toddlers – attachment is something that we all take care of throughout our lives. We are attached to our children; our children are attached to each other and to their mother, father, grandparents and nannies, preschool teachers and best friends. If one of these many relationships stops working there will be a multitude of others to pick up and heal the broken pieces. Long after we are gone our children will have a sibling or two to have around. In his book “Sibling Relationships Across the Life Span” Victor Cicirelly says that siblings maintain their emotional bond throughout their lifetime and sometimes these bonds hold even after the death of one sibling.
Mother’s sensitivity to newborn needs is pivotal to the quality of mother-baby attachment in the first year.
But as one study found, when time passes and “children reach toddlerhood, fathers’ play sensitivity (i.e. being supportive and gently challenging) has a longitudinal effect on the children’s attachment”.
A few years ago I’ve asked my dad how being a parent felt for him when I was very young. He confessed that he felt lost; he didn’t know what to do with a young child. Between the lines I could hear that he was bored and frustrated. There was nothing of interest to him that he could have shared with “baby-me”.
My mum, on the other hand, enjoyed her role as a perfect mother. She willingly subscribed to every motherhood ideal popular in the 70’s. I was her world and she was mine.
As children grow, their needs of emotional and physical intensity of their relationship to parents develop. None of my parents have changed their parenting style or attitude over the time. But I as a child have evolved. My needs are now met by my somewhat distant and overly-intellectual father much better than by my overbearing mother.
There are two lessons for me to learn from my life history. The sad one is: it doesn’t matter how great you start in your relationship with your child, there is always a chance to screw it up later. On a positive note: even if you didn’t start on the right foot you still will get a chance to get it right and to enjoy a deep, loving relationship with your children.
And so, every time I plague myself with my next “guilty mama” thought I remind myself that there will be another day and another chance to get it right.
1. Grossmann, K., Grossmann, K. E., Fremmer-Bombik, E., Kindler, H. , Scheuerer-Englisch, H. , & Zimmermann, P. (2002). The uniqueness of the child-father attachment relationship: Father’s sensitive and challenging play as a pivotal variable in a 16-year longitudinal study. Social Development, 11(3), 307-331.