My little boy isn’t himself today.
Others may not notice the difference, but I can sense his soul fever.
Life has been defined by a string of change lately and, to be honest, I’m humbled by his extraordinary ability to go with the flow, which often outpaces my own. But today he is missing his Dad. His ultimate protector; his playmate and superhero has been ‘gone for too many days mum’.
Occasionally, it’s too much and a tsunami of emotions overwhelms his gentle four-year-old soul. Having followed a natural parenting path, I’m conscious that there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior.
All behaviour is communication and so, I listen.
I hear the voices of our independence-centric culture humming the familiar rhetoric suggesting my son may be clingy, needy or shy. So, I drown out the one-size-fits-all white noise and beneath it I hear the soft whisper of my son’s sincere communication. It’s a simple message: he needs me.
With his emotional compass straining to find its true north, he’s relying on me to guide him through familiar paths that today seem elusive. His emotions and instincts are driving his behaviors that naturally preserve and strengthen our connection. His tender heart reaches out for the map he needs to lead him to safety.
While at times it can be demanding, it’s a humbling experience to be needed this way. As toddlerhood becomes a distant memory, his independence and confidence expand daily. My approach has always been to lean into, rather than away from, parenting challenges.
For me, it is these moments that have come to define my motherhood.
Yet the term ‘attachment’ elicits negative connotations in our society. We’re conditioned to associate it with seemingly unwanted behaviors. But, as a parent who has dared to trust my instincts, I’ve learned the true meaning of this powerful word.
It means connection. Relationship. Safety. Vulnerability. Secure independence. And the rare confidence and courage to express rather than to conceal strong, and sometimes messy, emotions.
Giving our children wings so that they can one day fly is reliant on giving them strong roots first. Roots that run deep and spread wide, supporting a healthy tree that won’t succumb to the slightest breeze. Roots that develop the resilience to stand firm in the face of unpredictable storms.
Our children’s metaphorical roots sprout when their need for attachment is met. They thrive when we nourish them with our enthusiastic expression of unconditional love. A child’s need for attachment is so fundamental that babies are born with only one power: to elicit the emotion of tenderness and a caring response from their parents. But Western culture prioritizes other values.
We find ourselves in the middle of a psychological tug of war.
Our children urge us to connect deeply with them, while the undercurrent of society’s expectations of a healthy parent-child relationship encourages us to distance ourselves from our kids. Our fear that our children will never become independent adults is palpable. So much so, that it clouds our judgment as we fail to recognize that young children have a primal and genuine need for dependence.
Rather than pausing to rationally examine and disempower our fears we make age-inappropriate choices for the child we have today in an attempt to mold the adult we want in many years to come. But, as Joseph Chilton Pearce so eloquently said, “The three-year-old is not an incomplete five-year-old; the child is not an incomplete adult. Never are we simply on our way, we have arrived.”
Our children need us to meet them where they are. To trust that when we fulfill their needs, we’re giving them the ability to develop and grow according to their own individual timetable. To complete one stage of development before expecting them to jump to the next. Perhaps part of the problem is that many of us didn’t have our own emotional needs met when we were children.
It’s hard to recognize the unfamiliar and give what we may not have received.
And so, unfounded beliefs continue to influence modern day parenting, fueling the notion that love-hungry babies are somehow capable of manipulation. It begs the question; has our society become so detached, from our emotions and one another, that we simply can’t recognize our children’s attempts at connection?
Because connecting deeply with our children isn’t easy; it demands that we open our hearts completely. For many of us, myself included, it opens the floodgates on decades of unmet needs. Buried emotions we were incapable of dealing with when we were younger are reignited, which is precisely why children trigger us so easily.
And it is precisely why we need to bravely lean in when our emotional comfort zones are compromised. Because connection heals us; presenting an unprecedented opportunity to complete the work we were incapable of as children.
I’m the first to acknowledge that my shortcomings are plentiful, yet there is peace to be found in accepting that becoming the best version of myself is a life’s work. It will simply never be finished. And it doesn’t matter, because our kids don’t need perfect parents, they need real parents.
I’ve realized that what matters most is the willingness to set sail for distant shores, to blindly put myself in harm’s way as I place my faith and trust in my tiny Zen master. No matter how imperfect I am, my primary responsibility is to fulfill my son’s need for connection. To never push him away. To let him see the real me.
It’s difficult to do in an artificial world that asks us to curate our best lives on social media. We want others to think we’re successful even when we’re floundering. But it’s impossible to connect with perfection.
Perfection is smooth. It has nothing to grip onto.
There are those among us who hold onto the idea that pushing our babies away will have zero impact on their long-term mental and emotional health. I believe this is a shortsighted gamble to take with our children’s well-being. Common sense and the laws of physics dictate that if we push our children away now, life’s momentum will continue to carry them in that direction. We must start this journey as we mean to go on.
As a culture I believe we’re suffering from Attachment Deficit Disorder. We drink away our problems. Eat our way through anxiety and medicate our unregulated emotions. We seek refuge in devices that ironically disengage us from the only medicine we truly need – connection with one another.
Because nothing fulfills us like human connection. Nothing soothes us like the touch or compassion of a loved one. Nothing makes us feel more secure than the promise of unconditional love, than someone accepting us for who we are especially when we’re at our worst. Nothing makes us feel more validated than someone standing firm and refusing to give up even when we try our best to push them away, lest they see the “real me”.
So, no matter what some may say, hold your baby close and your children closer. Define your own path because we only have one shot at parenthood; a few short years of being the sun in our children’s sky, brightly lighting their path so that one day as our role naturally fades into the gentle glow of the moon, our kids will feel confident navigating life’s terrain, taking risks and expanding their comfort zones from the safety and security only connection can create.