Monday, November 1, 2010

A Deeper Understanding of Attachment - Part 2 (Self Revelation)

The following is a post that I wrote some time ago, which might be helpful to read before tackling this decide:

Hold On To Your Kids - Warning: Opinions Coming

In recent months, I've talked here about my own experiences of attachment and a bit about how I have struggled in my own life with that final stage (according to Gordon Neufeld) of wanting to reveal my real self to the people I am most attached to.  When a child is around six years of age (but it can happen earlier or later), if they have successfully attached in the other ways Neufeld identifies, they will be wanting to reveal themselves to their parent/caregiver.  What this means is that, rather than being sneaky (as they may have been in the past), rather than wanting to hold on to secrets, rather than wanting to hide who they are from you, they will want to open themselves up to you - to be transparent.  They want us as parents and caregivers to really know and understand who they are.

Because of my own experiences, and my recognition of how that has impacted my life, I am very sensitive to the knowledge that Matthew is in this stage right now.  In addition to wanting to be physically close to me and telling me how much he loves me, he wants me to know him.  He asks if he can tell me his secrets, confesses his 'failings,' tells me little things about his private likes and dislikes that he hasn't told anyone else, confides things that he's been processing for days or weeks, and on and on.  He is very clearly (given that I'm watching for the signs) wanting me to know him.  It is crucial during these moments that I hear him, understand, refrain from judgment (or even commentary a lot of the time), and support him.

Let me tell you a bit about how I knew this was story goes back to early August, when this event happened.

It was the evening of my birthday.  Geoff was out of town on business, and Matthew and I had just come home after celebrating my birthday with a friend.  It was already well past Matthew's bedtime so I was not all that interested in long chats at the moment, to be honest.  I was pretty focused on getting him ready for bed.  But Matthew's words stopped me in my tracks before we even hit the stairs to go up to his bedroom.  He said:  "Mom, sometimes I think I'm different than other people and I don't why."  His eyes were a little watery and I could tell that he was near tears, but it was his heavy tone that made me sit bolt upright on the inside and give up on the idea of going to bed for the moment.  Instead, I picked him up and headed to our library to have a little cuddle together, and I asked him what he meant by that.  He started talking about  his experience in Adventure Day Camp at the beginning of July (five weeks earlier!), and how he would play games with groups of kids and be the only one who didn't seem to follow instructions well enough to play the games properly.  He gave me copious amounts of detail about the various games they played and the mistakes he felt he made when playing the games, and about how he was embarrassed that other kids had to keep helping him out to accomplish the game's end goal.  Now, in my head I was thinking all kinds of things, reasons why this would be the case:  that he was amongst the very youngest in the group of 45+ kids; that he was the only homeschooled kid in the bunch and had simply not been exposed to all of the games that were already second nature to the other kids; that sometimes we all have to hear instructions more than once to latch onto something, etc etc etc.  In my head, too, the thought flashed through that I could tell him that during last year's baseball season, when he was new to the sport, he didn't know what he was doing but that this year, he was dynamite, and the one to show other kids how to play, etc etc etc.  I had it all worked out in my head.

My natural response, as it likely would be for most of us, was to want to soothe away his concerns and assure him that he was 'normal.'  That everything was ok.  But in that quick moment just before I opened my mouth, two other things passed through my head.  First, I recognized that I, too, have noticed that Matthew is sometimes a little different in group settings - that he's sometimes a little on the outside, a little different, a little slower to pick up on did I really want to simply assure him that all was ok when I, too, had noticed the same thing?  Somehow I thought that this would just serve to have him bury his anxiety more deeply rather than feel relieved by my words.  Second, it seemed like a big neon sign was flashing behind my eyes that was screaming out the lesson I'd heard Gordon Neufeld talking about:  he is trying to reveal himself to you; don't blow this; you need to accept him for who he is; he needs to feel heard, not dismissed.  I realized that by telling him that everything was ok, or even by assuring him that we all felt differently at times would, in effect, be dismissing his concerns.  I needed first to do something different.  So...I took a deep breath and we began a conversation that took us an hour and twenty minutes to complete.

I spent close to an hour simply listening, acknowledging, asking questions, and doing some more acknowledging.  Rather than say things that might sound like 'oh Matthew, everything's going to be ok' or 'everyone feels a little different once in a while,' I chose to say things like "oh, Matthew, that must have been so hard to experience when you felt like you were the only one getting it," and "Matthew it's hard to feel different than other people, isn't it?"  It felt like a kick in my gut to say these things, to be honest.  I wanted to deny them, wanted to soothe, wanted to tell him that everything was all right.  But that blinking neon sign kept telling my gut that that's not what he needed.  Whenever I acknowledged how he was feeling by saying some of these things, he relaxed a wee bit more.

He poured out his little heart, that beloved boy.  Every nuance of embarrassment, every moment of wondering why he was different, it all came out in great detail.

Finally, after almost an hour, when I felt he had exhausted his story and had felt fully heard (all the while in my arms on the chair in the library), I got us up into his bed and started to (very, very) gently pose a few additional thoughts for him to consider.  That led to the second part of our discussion.

I asked him if he remembered a certain boy from this year's baseball team, whom I shall call "N."  This was N's first year playing baseball and he kept mixing the rules up and running in wrong directions...if he remembered to run at all.  Matthew obviously did remember this boy, and I asked him how he imagined N might have felt about not being able to follow the rules of the game.  Matthew thought that N might have felt all mixed up and embarrassed.  I also remembered out loud that Matthew had helped N out on a number of occasions.  Matthew volunteered that last year, he had been a bit like N was this year, because he didn't know the rules last year either; that's why he thought he'd help N out a bit this year.  Matthew thought that N might have been embarrassed that he couldn't play the game the right way, and that it was ok to help kids out when they needed it.  Then he wondered out loud if maybe that's what the kids from Adventure Day Camp were doing with/for him when Matthew didn't understand the instructions to a game.  Ahh...the power of coming to one's own conclusion!

We also, because I (again, gently) introduced the topic, talked about the difference that it might make that Matthew was homeschooled last year, in comparison with everyone else at the Adventure Day Camp; we talked about the various ways in which people learn best; we talked about being good at some things and not at other things and how we have to compensate for things we're not great at; I told Matthew about one of my painful experiences as a kid feeling different from other kids (something I'd resisted doing until this ending part of our conversation).  Incidentally, when I told Matthew about my own feelings of differentness as a kid, he hugged me and told me that he knew what that felt like.

There was so much going on in that conversation that was all about Matthew's wanting to reveal to me who he was - flaws and all, differentness and all.  The most important part of that conversation, from my perspective, was that first almost-hour, when I just listened and didn't try to (overtly or subtly) pacify him.  I am exhausted just remembering that conversation and how intensely I felt every moment of it...despite my relaxed exterior.

Finally, at about 10:30pm, there was a moment when I knew the conversation had come to a natural close.  Matthew started to cry, threw himself into my arms, and said, "Mom, I just love you so much."  I knew at that second that he'd felt heard, that he'd felt my acceptance of him even in his uniqueness. I also thought that he might have a few more tools in his tool belt to help him cope with, and process, his areas of uniqueness.  He felt comforted and had new things to think about.  I went to bed that night, silently thanking Gordon Neufeld for helping me through that conversation.  Though I've messed up repeatedly in the months since that night, I went to bed that night feeling like, just maybe, I'd done my best by Matthew that accepting him for who he is.  Don't we all long to be accepted and loved...because of and despite who we are?


  1. oh ruth...SUCH a good mom!! thanks for sharing this. you reminded me today of being that sort of mom..the importance of making them feel heard and accepted AS IS,,yes, as we all long to be. thanks for sharing. darci

  2. Thanks, Darci - but you're far too kind. I struggle every single day with this stuff. It feels like I'm on a huge growth curve about my parenting these days - I'm learning so much from these parenting classes, and from the reading that led up to the classes, but I'm so often stuck now between the way I USED to do things as a mom, and the ways I WANT to do things now. I'm finding it tough, and I mess up all the time.

    The example I shared in this post is where I'm headed.

    Wonder why parenting is so hard at times??!!



  3. Wow. This is what real life is all about, and it can hurt. When we want the best for our kids, sometimes I think we forget what that is for each child and these kind of moments kick us in the stomach and yet bring healing and truth.

    And you have confirmed what I've been thinking the past few days- I need to re-read that book again!

    (I do plan to reply to your email soon too!)

  4. I gotta say, I love this whole new idea of attachment parent your child, whether they be adopted or biological...but it is so hard to navigate and contrary to how I was raised! I KNOW my parents were not thinking about whether or not my sisters and I were properly just parented your kids. I am half way through Gordon Nuefeld's book, and so far I am really enjoying it for the most part. The subject of peer attachment really rings true with me as it was one of the main reasons I wanted to homeschool, before we even heard of the term! It sounds like you are doing a great job Ruth!


  5. Thanks so much for the comments and feedback.

    Ramona, I so agree with what you said about the pain involved with healing and truth...I see that more clearly all the time, it seems. I'm glad you're going to re-read the book - and I'll look forward to our future conversations about it.

    Flora, thanks for saying what you did. Like you, I seriously don't for a second think that this is what my parents were thinking of. Despite the best of intentions, I'm a firm believer that we all (including our parents) parent our children the way we ourselves were parented, unless we're deliberate and conscious of choosing a different path. I'll be interested to know what you think of Neufeld's book. As profound as the book was/is for me, I admit that I think it could have been put together/organized better in parts...though I understand that he was sharply curtailed by his editors in what he was allowed to include. That's why I'm finding these parenting classes so valuable. Anyway, look forward to further discussion on this stuff...and about h/schooling.

    Blessings all,


  6. This is such an incredible post - I am so happy and blessed to have stumbled across it. Thank you. Wow. Awesome. I will be passing this along to others and as of right now, through teary eyes, definitely consider myself one of your followers!

    Looking forward to reading more :)

  7. Thank you so much ag.gray.gate. I'm so glad that something in the post resonated with you. I'm thinking a lot about these issues these days, and I'll have more posts on this issue.

    Many thanks, and blessings!