Tag Archives: Responsibility

Why I (try to) practise Attachment Parenting

3 Apr

After I separated from my daughter’s dad I thought seeing a counsellor for myself would be a good idea to keep my thoughts straight and find a way through the confusing mess created by the issues he kept secret throughout our relationship. I was extremely lucky to see a great counsellor through my university’s free counselling service. I had had counselling before, but this time there was so much going on that my counsellor decided to work with me for just over a year. Obviously we covered many issues to do with my relationship, but as many people probably know, ending up in a co-dependent role as I did is usually the outcome of childhood programming which has gone wrong at some point.

With my counsellor I worked out that my attachment with my mother is likely to have been ambivalent attachment. There is a very concise list of possible manifestations of this attachment style here, if you want to find out more. My counsellor didn’t go as far as diagnosing anything because she does not practise that kind of therapy, but what she told me about this kind of attachment style, and what I subsequently read on my own, resonated with me. I know, and she knows, that my mother has her own issues, and I have certain theories about her childhood and attitudes to my sister and me, but I don’t want to go into them now.

Suffice to say, I do not want my daughter to grow up feeling how I did. I never felt close to my mother, or comfortable spending time with her. If for Sartre ‘hell is other people’, then for me hell is sitting in a quiet room on my own with my mother because I know that the way I am sitting, every breath I take and every time I swallow my saliva will be judged, and that judgement will be expressed through glances, humming, and hurtful little digs designed to undermine my confidence. My mother has never told me she loves me. Really. Ever. This is not normal. The only time she told me that she was proud of me was when I told her I had made my husband move out (with good reason) because she had not managed to do this in her own marriage until the situation had gone past untenable. I still feel awkward when it comes to physical affection, or even just proximity, with friends and acquaintances.

My daughter is kissed and cuddled every day, and she recently started telling me occasionally that she loves me, indicating, I hope, that she feels loved, and that she understands that what we say to people can have an impact on how they feel. I hope affection will be a part of normal life for her. Similarly, I want her to be independent, as well as supported. She will never be told that I have to say no in order for her to learn frustration tolerance. This does not mean I will allow her to do anything and everything, but in everything I do I strive to show her that I acknowledge her wishes and to treat her with respect. Most of all, at the moment I think avoiding extremes and rigidity is important, and seeking moderation and picking one’s battles might be the most healthy way forward.

At the moment, although I have been feeling great recently, some of my issues with my mother have been coming to the fore again because of her visit. This visit has followed the usual pattern of excitement at her arrival, feeling overwhelmed by all the gifts she has brought with her, disenchantment at the realisation that she is still locked in the same thought patterns, resentment, feeling guilty for the resentment, and finally feeling sad when she has to leave again because she is my mother, and she does try hard to be better sometimes.

This time her visit has been especially taxing because my daughter has discovered a small, but very important word since the last visit: ‘no’. She enjoys making up her own mind, having her own plan and sticking to it. I know this is healthy and normal, she’s testing her boundaries etc. etc. Usually I would do some reading on how to handle this new phase in my daughter’s emotional development in a way that makes her feel safe, loved and taken seriously, and that lets me remain calm and positive.

This time though, the new phase hit out of the blue. One week we were enjoying the birthday comedown, the next we have hours (well, feels like it) of negotiations regarding on which side to get out of the car, as well as constant attempts to run across roads. Putting it like that, perhaps it would be best for all of us to avoid cars for a while. I couldn’t find any parenting inspiration because I usually do that online, and my mother has a deep suspicion of people who use the internet for longer than two minutes.

On top of this came my mother’s insistence to be involved in every single negotiation I had with my daughter. Often our conversations didn’t even start out as negotiations, but simply as quick conversations about what we would do next in order to go to the park while it’s still sunny. My mother’s  insistence on being involved, talking, being heard, giving instructions, commands, on taking over my role, meant that by the end of most days daughter and I were a frazzled heap of mixed emotions and short fuses. For my daughter this was complicated by the fact that her grandma and I spoke German to each other, and I’m never sure how much she understands. For me it was difficult because my mother’s way of handling diverging opinions reminded me so much of how she was when I was younger and still living at home. As I said to my daughter’s dad on the couple of occasions I made him stay after her bedtime so I could offload my annoyance, I’m not surprised that I became the person I am. Even my just three-year-old daughter gets no compassion, no empathy, no understanding, no niceness from her grandma as soon as she has her own opinion.

I am not proud of the way I handled these difficult situations. On a couple of occasions I lost my patience and ended up picking up my daughter and carrying her where I wanted to go rather that trying to talk her round or letting her have some autonomy, although I had previously decided only to do this in dangerous situations. I did not confront my mother about how her behaviour was making my daughter feel confused and isolated. One morning I attempted explaining my current strategies for diffusing tantrums about to happen and key phrases that seem to work well, as well as my reasons behind them, only to be met with a host of parenting tips (‘at this age they really need to know boundaries’ – well yes, but not such harsh pointless boundaries that they end up too scared to say a word in public or to form any opinion at all! / ‘Please don’t leave her at home on her own while you go out in the evening’ – It hadn’t even crossed my mind, and I’m insulted that you think I might do this before she is at least 16!) that made me feel so misunderstood, patronised and disrespected as a parent that I decided keeping my mouth shut for a while would be the safest option.

Our contact is already limited because of the great geographical distance, and after deliberating for several months I have decided it would be beneficial for my daughter to have some sort of (heavily monitored) relationship with her grandma. But before the next visit int the summer I have some serious preparation to do, as well as work on standing up for my daughter’s best interests more.

I’m just glad to have done so much counselling, because I’m not sure that I would be able to disentangle my emotions arising from my daughter’s behaviour from those brought about by the way I was parented.

Generations of Dysfunction

29 Jul

My mum is going home to her country tomorrow. She was here visiting us for three weeks, as she does every summer. She has been visiting for two weeks in the spring and three weeks in the summer ever since my daughter was born. Before I became pregnant I didn’t speak to her for three years. But when I was pregnant and in and out of hospital all the time in the early months I thought I probably ought to let her know about her first grandchild. At first our renewed relationship was marked by a sort of cautious superficial politeness, which I quite enjoyed to be honest. But since I have been living on my own with my daughter, the power balance seems to have shifted slightly and she no longer sees me as someone’s wife, let alone my own person, and I’m back to feeling and being treated (some of the time) like an incapable teenager who doesn’t know how to clean, what to pack for a day out or when to put a jacket on my daughter.

We’ve never had an easy or close relationship, and it’s too long a story to tell here. But what I found really interesting during this visit were the similarities between my mum and me. Not in a good way though. I noticed one day when I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how little attention she was giving my daughter while supposedly playing with her that I often do precisely what annoyed me about my mum’s behaviour: I insist on getting stuff done when it  could really wait until daughter is in bed or at her dad’s. I constantly have to prove to myself that I can get things done. I can build a big solid 185 x 185 bookshelf while keeping my daughter busy. I can pack up five years of my life while cooking lunch. It’s not really necessary. Sometimes there is no rush, so I have to remind myself to focus on my daughter instead of rushing ahead with other tasks and sidelining her.

My mum has been a great role model in some respects – from her I learnt how to stay calm in a crisis and that I can rely on myself. But there are also other things I’m determined to do differently: my daughter will have healthy balanced meals, I won’t tell her she has to be a vegetarian, but if she decides to become one on her own, she will still eat healthy balanced meals with all the nutrients a growing person needs so that she doesn’t end up severely anaemic without even realising it. I will try very hard not to talk negatively about anyone’s appearance, or intellect. I tell her every day that I love her, I kiss her and cuddle her. If she ever has a sibling, I will let them develop their own relationship.

Now my maternal grandmother seems to have reached the final few days of her life, and even though my memories of her are entirely positive, I can’t bring myself to visit her for one last time (she has advanced dementia so is highly unlikely to recognise me) or make plans to go to her funeral because doing so would entail a stay with my mum and a lot of time with both her, my sister and my new nephew. After these three weeks I just don’t think I could cope with being forced back into still-too-familiar patterns of behaviour and power struggles. If my mum already feels more entitled to interfere and direct in my house without my husband, I don’t want to imagine what it would be like in her house.

And since my sister is the favoured daughter and her son is only a few weeks old, I think the person who would be most at risk in this melange of emotions and dysfunction is my daughter. Sure, you might say I’ll be there to look out for her needs, and I would, but the way my family works, she would still fall through the cracks, or be painted as too noisy, boisterous and aggressive when she behaves like a toddler rather than a 2-month old. And I can’t risk that even for three days. Perhaps I’ll feel different in a few days once I’ve gone back to my own routine. I think I’d relish the chance to prove to myself that I can do a plane trip with an energetic inquisitive toddler on my own.