I suppose scraped knees come with the territory of being a boy mama, and with spring in full swing, it will become a common occurrence for the Roberts tribe. It had been a while since my three-year-old had scraped his knee. Last week, he was wearing shorts for the first time this year and he slipped and fell on the concrete. He barely scraped his knee, but since it had been so long since he had felt the pain of the concrete rubbing against his skin, he winced and wailed like an ER visit should follow. Being too distracted to truly invest much time, I looked at it, told him he wasn’t bleeding, and declined his request for a bandaid. I wish I could say that this was an abnormal occurrence, but I must admit that my view of bandaids has been to meet the physical need of stopping the blood, and nothing more.
The next day our non-profit hosted the Empowered to Connect Simulcast for foster and adoptive parents. We sat through all of the content as we hosted it, not only to prepare for our journey of foster care later this year but because the teachings of Karyn Purvis have also transformed the way that we parent our biological children.
Based on the previous day’s event, I am sure you can guess how quickly my attention was drawn in when the simulcast speaker began discussing how our reaction to being asked for a bandaid reveals a lot about our own attachment styles. It was one of those moments when I thought, “Okay, God, you have my attention.”
She said, “Bandaids say I hear you, and what matters to you matters to me.” Talk about timely and convicting.
It was no surprise when she went on to discuss that only giving bandaids for physical needs is a sign of a dismissive attachment style. My world was rocked a few years back when I realized that despite growing up in a wonderful home, I (like 30% of the American population) did not have secure attachment, and that every single parenting decision I had made since that moment had been skewed through the lens of dismissive attachment.
Aside from your faith, nothing will impact your parenting more than your attachment style. Every single thing we do for our kids is impacted by our attachment style, and it is so very important. Why does attachment matter? Because it is through attachment that the brain develops. Attachment is what helps children build trust, determine self-worth, have self-efficacy, learn self-regulation, and sets the groundwork for mental health. When a child feels securely attached their brain can focus on the development of the frontal cortex (where learning takes place) and creating pathways that are beneficial for problem-solving and higher level thinking. It also helps children have a “home base” to lean on in social and emotional development and learning to self regulate. The catch here is that our attachment style is often determined by that of our primary care giver. Only about 60% of the U.S. population has secure attachment, while 20-30% (though this percentage is much higher among those in “helping professions”) have dismissive attachment, 10-20% have entangled attachment, and a small percentage have disorganized attachment stemming from unresolved relational trauma inflicted by their primary caregiver.
Hear this: your attachment style determines how you parent. It matters.
Let’s chat a bit more about what each attachment style looks like:
- Secure Attachment: With secure attachment, the child’s caregiver meets their physical and emotional needs consistently. This teaches the child, “I have a voice and I matter.” In the instance of scraping a knee, the caregiver would give a bandaid whether physically necessary or not because emotional needs are valued as highly as physical needs.
- Dismissive Attachment: Many people with dismissive attachment grow up in good homes. Parents are often focused on grades and achievements, and physical needs are consistently met. However, emotionally they are closed off. Many, but not all, of these homes have a “children are to be seen but not heard” culture. This results in adults that feel that negative emotions are not okay, and that seek “toys” and experiences to help regulate stressful events instead of relationships. I would argue that is why golf courses are full of men just trying to escape, and the aisles of Target are full of women seeking retail therapy. These are the parents, like myself, who keep the bandaids under lock and key until there is blood, because why would we waste money on bandaids if we aren’t using them for their intended use?
- Entangled Attachment: This attachment style results when the caregiver is inconsistent to meet needs. The parent often puts their needs before their child’s. If it is convenient (or if the caregiver is sober) the child’s needs will be met, but it is always on the caregiver’s terms. This often results in children and adults that remain upset all of the time because they don’t know when the next time they will get attention is. They often lack self-regulation skills even into adulthood. In the instance of the scraped knee, a bandaid would be provided once, but no one would even check in the next time.
- Disorganized Attachment: Disorganized attachment is horrifying, however, 60% of children from hard places have disorganized attachment. In these instances, the primary caregiver is the one that is inflicting the trauma so we have babies that are naturally soothed by the presence of their caregiver only to have the caregiver cause the fear. It is like a cycle of bleach to the brain that caused the brain stem to take over, and children to live in a permanent state of fight, flight, or freeze. In the instance of the scraped knee, the caregiver would be the cause of the scraped knee, leaving no one to comfort the child.
So are we a permanent product of our upbringing? Absolutely not. It is never too late to do the work to earn secure attachment. At the simulcast, Amanda Purvis said, “Until we can recognize if that is a piece of our puzzle we can’t help kids move toward healing,” and I would add toward being one with secure attachment.
I have been on the journey toward secure attachment for two years now, but I still slip back into being the bandaid tyrant if I am not careful. To bring faith into the picture, I would point out that before my human relationships can have secure attachment, I must first start with secure attachment to Christ. It all starts there.
At the end of the day, here is what I know: my little tribe is worth the hard work of earned secure attachment, and yours is too. Their emotional needs have as much weight as their physical needs, and I have to make meeting both a priority.
Where do you fall on the attachment spectrum? Can you see how your own personal attachment style impacts your parenting? If there is a need for growth, it is never too late, friend, and there is always grace.
I’m off to stock up on Bandaids.
Keep Seeking Him,
April Alford says
This might be the best article I have read on explaining attachments. Thank you so much!