A love note to Mothers – your attachment style is not your worth

Understanding your attachment may offer a blueprint for your parenting style, however, your past does not have to define you. You are enough.
Mother watching child playing on sandy beach.

My heart is a flutter today. Because today is the last day my child attends her cocooned world of daycare before she launches herself into the world of school.  As soon as I woke up this morning I could feel my heart beating in my chest, I held my little one so tight, she didn’t even try to let me go, it is like she knew what I needed. Why is it so painful to see our children grow?  They need us less and less and, increasingly, they require us to constantly pivot to their development and growth.

Motherhood is hard, it just is. It is relentless, it is stormy, and it is real. Some people are more natural Mothers than others. But, not only is Motherhood hard, but it can also be triggering.

People who have a history of trauma may have been able to bury the pain or block out their feelings until they have children.  I have noticed that I receive a lot of calls from Mothers who are doing their best, however, feeling inadequate or reactive or at worst feel a real fear that they are repeating history and so, therefore, are ‘ruining’ their child’s development. What a horrible, creeping feeling that is.

First of all, Motherhood is a challenging experience for many women, and one’s attachment style may play a role in how difficult the experience is. Attachment theory posits that an individual’s early experiences with caregivers shape their attachment style, which can influence their relationships and interactions with others throughout their life.

Women who have a secure attachment style may find Motherhood to be less challenging, as they can form strong emotional bonds with their children and have a sense of trust and confidence in their parenting abilities. On the other hand, women who have an insecure attachment style may find Motherhood to be more difficult, as they may struggle with forming a strong bond with their child, and may have a sense of uncertainty and insecurity in their parenting abilities. Although this is true, even the most securely attached Mothers feel these feelings and it is okay.

All children are different, so we need to throw out the manuals because it is not one size fits all. We are also a product of our conditioning and not just from our parents. We are conditioned by society to look at outcomes being the measure of our success, and to look at behaviour as something that needs to be controlled.  So when society’s ideals do not fit the experience of Motherhood it is easy to feel a sense of failure or shame.  Not being good enough is a constant whisper in a Mother’s ear. That isn’t even to mention what the mental load does to us. The mental load of Motherhood refers to the constant, invisible work that Mothers do to keep their households running smoothly. Additionally, Mothers most often take on the emotional labour of being the primary caregiver and emotional support for their children and family members. This can include handling the emotional fallout from difficult situations, providing emotional support, and being the primary point of contact for communication and coordination with teachers, doctors, and other caregivers.

Additionally, Mothers may experience guilt and shame for not being able to ‘do it all’ and for not being able to meet the unrealistic expectations of perfection that society places on Mothers. And that is not surprising because I feel tired even as I am writing this down.

However, I want to interject this because I also feel an enormous admiration for Mothers as I read these words.  First of all your attachment style may predetermine your parenting style, but there are lots of other factors at play along the way.  It does offer a blueprint and perhaps some inference towards what you might struggle with.  However, it is possible to alter and remedy attachment injuries, which means you can be the best ‘good enough Mother you can’. The ‘good enough Mother’ is an important title, especially for the people who strive for ‘perfection’ or ‘please people’.  You cannot do it all and nor should you have to.  In addition, a caregiver does not need to meet every need, feeling, and hope that a child requests to create a secure attachment.  The suggestion is 35-40% of needs are met over a continuum of time to create a secure attachment, that is ‘good enough’.  In fact, it is often a trauma response/ coping strategy when a Mother attempts to meet every need of their child leading to anxiety, hypervigilant, and overprotective caregiving, which then leads to tired stressed lonely Mothers, who self-sacrifice themselves desperate to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of abuse.

My love note to you is to ask you to check in with yourself, how are you doing? What do you need and what do you want? Do you need a break? Do you need some help? Do you need a connection? Do you need space? What can you say ‘No’ to? And by saying No, what might you be making room for?  Your child does not need more from you than your love.  Do you know you can’t spoil your child with love?  That is what they need the most.  They do not need your unfettered attention.  They need to learn to play without adult interference, they need to be able to take risks and fall, and they need to fail and learn to be okay.  They need to see you take time for yourself and for you to create boundaries that suit you personally, that’s how they learn that boundaries are important.  They need to see your feelings and know you can survive the experience. You don’t need to hide your humanness, vulnerability or even your tears.  If you show emotion, it is okay, because then you show them all emotions are okay. If you are triggered or are reactive towards a child explain it, and start a conversation with them. It isn’t a justification for an outburst but does give understanding to them, so they will not internalise the message’ I am wrong’ I am bad’. Just ‘Mummy is tired, I can cuddle her and she will smile’.  This is a connection, this is how we give our children influence in the world.

Mum, you are breaking the cycle of abuse just because you are aware that it is possible, you are not ignorant of the situation, even if you feel stuck. You are making a difference because you want to be different. Recognise the power of awareness and be curious about the choices you have.  If you feel you do not have a choice and you are trapped in reactivity, lovingly take yourself to therapy and give yourself space to be heard and understood, so you can learn new ways to connect to your child.

One of these ways is to just give 15 mins a day to your child of your undivided attention. Young children do not have a sense of time. So giving them 15 minutes of child-led play, where they feel your presence without distraction is going to help you learn what your child needs and are going to fill their attention needs. Read a book, build a castle, play on the floor, let them lead, and let them choose. When you are ready, this time will naturally extend.  If you had a childhood where you felt unheard, neglected, or unimportant then speak to your child the way you wished you were spoken to then.  I believe that Motherhood can open a door where you can start to heal your own inner child, that is, the younger part of you that if not listened to, may sabotage your adult self because it has real fears about the world that were never heard. It is like letting a child make your adult decisions for you.   By actively listening to your own neglected inner child it may resource you to understand your child’s needs from a connection space rather than feeling the need to control a little person’s behaviour.  You can undo the pain you felt for yourself by learning to attune to your child’s presence.  Children are mindful, they live in the moment. There is always a new moment, there is always a new place to start. It is not lost, there is always repair. We cannot find delight in every moment that Motherhood brings, it just is not sustainable. However, we can find more joy in the moments of connecting with our children.  Children are great teachers and often what they want to teach you, is that you are okay, you are enough.  If we listened to this more and less to the noise of society’s expectations and the criticism that goes into our thoughts we might be able to take a breath and recognise what an amazing job we are doing already.

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