‘Erm. I’m his mum and he reaches straight for me if he is upset…?! …: Erm … dunno. We are very close. We have a strong bond… I think… I just know.’
‘Ok. How long has he been with you?’
‘I’d be very surprised if he was securely attached. Most adopted kids are insecurely attached.’
The point about my son’s attachment was only said in passing.
My riff was actually about how I was finding these boxes of avoidant and preoccupied/anxious/ambivalent very constraining or too simplistic. Surely it is a scale. Surely we all slide down in times of stress. How far down we slide is a matter of … a lot of things.
I first heard about attachment at a prep course for adoption. My husband and I looked at each other. ‘You’re ambivalent and I am avoidant.’ He said. I agree. Now years later I see ambivalence in him too and avoidance in me. Nothing is quite so clear cut as we want it to be I guess. But yes… there is a strong tendency towards one type more than the other in us both.
We enjoy a strong bond within our family. We are close. But it is also true that we are all insecurely attached. To some degree.
Looking at what we each bring into the family attachment cocktail has been interesting. How can he the son be secure if we adults are not?
Once we have established that baseline, we can work with it. Admitting that the secure base we are building is actually of immense benefit to all of us. It is something we all actively invest in. We are the grown ups so of course we do the heavy lifting. We carry the responsibility for the quality of our relationship with our son. And with each other. We fail. Reassuringly regularly. We let ourselves down. And we get up and on with it.
A big big thing within our family is dynamic separation. His from us. It’s huge. Only within the last year has our son been able to physically be in another room from us. He still wakes a few times a night needing to know we are still there. He can freak out big time if he can’t see or feel us parents. Freak in a way that I can’t reach him. The first few years he was a limpit – on me mainly but increasingly my husband too. He was on my body every waking hour and much of the sleeping ones too. Verbal reassurance didn’t and doesn’t do anything. Repetition and routine do. As does time.
Yesterday my son made me a pot of tea.
We’d been playing and when I heard kettle click as the water started to boil, I got up to make my tea. He stopped me saying he like to do it.
‘Trust me, Mummy.’ He said placing his hand on my arm. ‘I can do it.’
First time for everything I thought. ‘Okay. Off you go…’ I could hear his movements in the kitchen. Each step of the tea making. Even putting on the tea cosy. He returned. Smiling. Proud. He’d put everything on a tray. Including his prized batman cup. For me. I poured a cup. Of plain boiling water. We both laughed. It’s all work in progress.
I stood in the adjacent room, debating with myself if I was crazy to let a six year old alone in the kitchen handling boiling water. I’d say it was borderline. But that it paid off.
These small moments matter. This was actually very big for us. On many levels.
Yes attachment is responding to needs. Distress and otherwise. At the moment I’m toying with the reciprocity of trust. As a basic need too.