I would never profess myself to be an “attachment parent.” It’s too strict a practice…the co-sleeping, the perfection of always having to be there as a parent, even when you yourself are having a meltdown. I think my struggle with it is really the unanswered question of where my emotions go in that process. But there are so many pieces of that work that attract me. It’s the connection that I love, that I strive for in every moment. But that’s humanity, isn’t it? Our whole purpose here is connection. In all moments, in all ways, if we are connected, we’re all set. The ideal, of course, is a connection to source. For us adults, that’s crucial. For us as parents, connection to our partner is key. I believe that the support we create for one another is the very reason there are two parents required for life to be created. When two people are connected in the process of parenting, each has backup when they falter. When the connection between parents (or source) breaks down and that support falls apart, it it become untenable for the entire family. This is the struggle I have with the ideal of attachment parenting. It leaves no room for the messy realities of actual life. I am human. He is human. They are human. What now?
There is a commitment we make when we become partners. It’s a commitment that happens before we hit the alter, before we create a family. It happens the moment we decide to belong to each other. We step into an agreement to do whatever it takes, no matter what. It’s important to note before we go any further that the order of that commitment is to God, to myself, to my partner. Doing whatever it takes, in some instances (when honoring the aforementioned order), means not staying in the parenting relationship. When this commitment breaks down and the situation becomes untenable, our commitment to God and to ourselves takes precedent. When we commit to a relationship and a family, we make a promise to do whatever it takes, no matter what. When we take on the care and keeping of small people, that commitment becomes more important, and more intense. This is where the terrain gets a little rocky, the commitment ordered a little bit skewed.
In the very first moment of parenting, when that child arrives in our hearts, we whisper that commitment to them. The very first time our heart swells with joy, we make a promise show up for them in every moment, good or bad. “You can count on me,” we speak gently into the hearts. This is the very basis of attachment parenting. It’s the great part. It’s the part that I extract and place into my very human parenting experience. At the end of every day, what I want my kids to know most is that they can count on me. That doesn’t mean that I will arrive in every tough moment with my wits intact, prepared to calmly respond to their every need. No no. Not by a long shot. Most of all, I want my kids to learn to navigate their own messy humanity with grace, willingness and love. That isn’t ever a seamless undertaking. Grace requires mistakes, willingness requires overcoming our own resistance and great love ALWAYS comes with great heartbreak…if we’re doing it right. This is not a Normal Rockwell existence I’m creating. It’s one of stormy reality, of humanity, of real courage. It’s an existence I build where in the very midst of that storm, I will be there, fighting alongside them for dry ground, for shelter, for safety. You can count on me to SHOW UP, gloves on, ready to fight the good fight.
That fight will change from year to year, each day. The good fight changes by season, by location, by incident. That fight will be different for each and every member of my family. We will each be fighting different personal enemies in any given moment. But, no doubt, in many moments, we will all join forces to fight one person’s enemy together. In those instances, we will have stepped into the very purpose of family. We will be fighting together for the security of one among us. This is the very beauty of the village. We go to bat for one another, we go to war for one another and, most importantly, we fight our demons together. You can count on me.
Just because our children are children doesn’t mean they can’t fight. In fact, they fight harder than we do….simply observe any 3 or 4 year old for a day. They fight hard, even though their fight isn’t well articulated. In fact, it’s a bit scrappy. This is why they need us; to separate them from the animals. Growing and evolving takes higher thinking. Recent studies show that brain development is not complete until around twenty five years of age. In other words, we do not spend the majority of our time in the higher functioning parts of our brain until well after we earn the rights to vote and drink. Yowza. Before twenty five, much of our time is spent in the lower functioning parts of the brain, the mid-brain and the brain stem (which is all survival instinct). Reason takes at least a third of our lives to master. Is it any wonder our small people have tantrums? The brain stem is a scary place to live. They need to know they can count on us for regulation, for reason, for survival. Much of their day is spent feeling their very existence is threatened. This is what it means to live in the brain stem, after all.
I cannot survive without food…
I cannot survive unless I eat….
I will die if I eat brussel sprouts….
I AM DYING!!!!!
You can see how easily they digress. The point is, they need to know they can count on us, that we will help them survive. And in a clever twist of fate, one day we will rely on them for our survival. It’s a beautiful thing. Or not. Choose wisely.
If we are to truly come to each others’ aid, we have to be willing to recognize and fight the good fight together. That fight may be against brussel sprouts or an eating disorder. It could be cough syrup at bedtime or alcoholism. The fight may be over doll clothes or feminism. Some fights seem more meaning for to us than others. But for our children, the little things are the big things. More critically, those things will become the big things. And we get years to practice how we will approach them, how we will fight, before that fight really is life or death. Thank God.
So how will you fight? Will you fight for them or with them? Will you attack or strategize? What weapon will you choose? Is it a complete assault or can you hang back and pick off one at a time, letting them lead their own offense? This determines what kind of parent you are and who they become as people. Choose wisely. For me, my role depends on the intensity and the volume of the demon. I can absolutely and completely annihilate if I need to, and I’m glad that I can. But I save that for emergencies. For normal growth and brussel sprouts, I prefer to take a back seat and be the gunner. I’ve got your back, little ones. You can count on me.
You can count on me to stop you if you’re about to bite your sister. I know you don’t want to be mean.
You can count on me to send you to your room if your tantrum is so big you’re not safe out here.
You can count on me to come to you when you’re calm again and help you understand what happened.
You can count on me to tell you when you’re being ugly. I know you cannot see it in this moment.
You can count on me to show you what ugly looks like. I’m human, too.
You can count on me to usher you through darkness because it is a part of all of us, and is not to be feared, but understood.
You can count on me to show you the way back towards God and grace and the light.
You can count on me to teach you to take notes and draw maps so that each of these places becomes your birthright, your choice, and yours to navigate.
You can trust me to love you, no matter what.
Whatever it takes, no matter what.