In some ways, the bane of attachment parenting shows up when a parent is trying to get close and empathize with a child who cannot be trusted when the parent is not available. As soon as the parent goes back to cook, check a list, or get something done around the house, the child is breaking something, tormenting the dog, or pestering a sibling. Visiting in other homes or public places becomes a series of eye to eye conversations where the parent is down near the child trying to engage and empathize with whatever upset the child or made the little one “forget” or “not hear” the rules this time. Parents are almost unable to engage with other adults due to the high demands of the child who cannot be trusted.
It upsets parents to no end for me to say that the child cannot be trusted, but nothing could be a better description of what everyone around the child is feeling. As much as the parents would like others to attach to and enjoy the children, people remain guarded. The parents continue to hope that a good attachment and parents who keep their relational circuits “on” will prevail, but this does not teach what trustworthy children must learn.
We need to trust, respect, obey, and protect many people who will not attune to us, notice what is going on for us or even pay attention to our feelings. We need to learn to teach others to trust us, and when not to trust someone, we can usually trust. However, when a parent is anxious and does not trust people, that parent lacks the skill needed to teach a child how to trust. Those who cannot trust will try to control or withdraw, and children who cannot be trusted are either in control or withdrawn.
The 19 relational brain skills taught at THRIVE are the minimal skills needed for a working identity. We need the 19 skills to attune and attach with our children. Building trust requires Skill 9, Knowing when to take a breather. Yet, we should not assume that the 19 brain skills are all the social skills we or our children will need. We need to teach children how to engage our culture and society in ways that fit our family and please God. Like the 19 brain skills, the group social skills that help others to trust us must also be learned from people who know how.
While it may seem strange at first (to those who are learning about “mutual mind” and the 19 brain skills), in social/community life, others will trust us more if they don’t need to maintain a mutual mind state with us every time we do something. We act predictably and respectfully. We save “mutual mind” moments-of-attunement for times when something very unexpected and distressing happens. We do not expect others to pay any attention to our self-regulation most of the day or in most of our activities. The parent teaches the child, “we trust so-and-sos even though they are not attuned to us. We follow expected patterns of obedience and respect in social life.” This is where the adult’s ability to trust others is essential.
We teach our children that moving from social life into personal and intimate life changes the rules. In personal life, mutual attunement is needed. We are responsible for helping others trust us. Mutual attunement in intimate life is part of teaching others to trust us.
As we finish our three-part discussion of attachment parenting, let us remember that not all attachments are secure or good. Attachments cannot be reduced to closeness and maximal empathy. Even the best attachments simply lay the foundation for children to learn many other aspects of life.
Note from Jen: As this series comes to a close, I read Dr. Wilder’s words on this third and final installment on Attachment Parenting with awe at the insights and wisdom expressed. I also receive this week’s blog as an invitation for me to grow in new ways with my parenting style. My reaction to these blogs is, “Wow! These are so good!” mixed with, “Oh my; I think I have some new areas to grow in as a parent!”
In this last installment, Jim has presented us with many questions that deserve some reflection. How do we raise children who can be trusted? Do I know how to trust? How do I teach my children how to know when someone who can normally be trusted should not be trusted? How do I teach my children the rules for social life and how it is different from personal/intimate life?
These deep questions give me a lot of food for thought and prayer as I ask for God’s insights on what we have done well as a family and where growth is still needed. In coming weeks, I am going to tackle a few of these questions with some examples from our family life when we have done things right as well as when we have blown it.
Read Attachment Parenting Part 1 and Attachment Parenting Part 2: Twelve Ways to Build Attachments to learn more about Attachment Parenting from Jim Wilder.