Attachment: What does it even mean?
I don’t know about you, but my exposure to the topic of attachment theory has been pretty limited until recently. That’s a shame, too, because as it turns out, a good understanding of attachment helps us to understand our own strengths and weaknesses better and allows us to be more emotionally available to meet the needs of our kids. There is a lot of fascinating information here! For instance, did you know that there are only four primary attachment styles, and that many of us are insecurely attached individuals? Also, would it shock you to know that attachment styles are inherited? Most of us adopted our parent’s attachment style before our first birthday and will retain it for life!
While a solid understanding of attachment is good for all parents, it is exponentially more important for foster/adoptive parents. Why? Because 80% of foster/adoptive children have intense attachment issues, and they need parents who can patiently model secure attachment strategies.
Here’s the problem, though, and it’s a big one! Although our kids desperately need the patience and understanding that comes from securely attached adults, the vast majority of foster/adoptive parents aren’t naturally securely attached. While 55-60% of the general population are securely attached, only around 20% of foster/adoptive parents are. For us foster/adoptive parents, there is an 80% chance that we are insecurely attached individuals. That was a hard reality for me to accept!
This information should not make us feel ashamed (our attachment style is not our fault) or cause us to give up caring for vulnerable kids. Instead, it should help us understand that critical elements of secure relationships (which foster/adoptive kids desperately need to learn) probably don’t come naturally to us. Are we humble enough to recognize that our own issues might be hindering our kids’ ability to heal and feel secure?
Many foster placements and adoptions suffer severely because parents believe they are prepared, as is, to meet the needs of their emotionally damaged child. As insecurely attached individuals, we rarely are. We try as hard as we can to provide normalcy and help our kids feel safe and secure, but because of our own shortcomings, we end up feeling lost, frustrated and discouraged. Which makes sense, actually. Afterall, how can we lead our kids down the path of secure attachment, when we don’t know the way ourselves?
The good news? Change is possible!!
Changing our attachment style, while difficult, is possible and these kids are so worth it! The first step involves the hard work of making sense of our past. Our attachment style usually comes directly from our interactions with our parents, and we need to identify those experiences that have shaped who we are today. Our marriage counselor told us, “it’s not a question of if parents cause emotional damage to their children, it is simply a question of to what degree.” Our parents made mistakes with us just as we do with our own kids. Are we being honest with ourselves about how those mistakes influence our own parenting today? Have we made sense of that?
Whether the wounds from our past caused “Big T traumas” (abuse, neglect, drug abuse) or “little t traumas” (absence of physical/emotional affection, being lied to) they matter. Without intentional reflection and mindfulness, these childhood issues will continue to affect our relationships and the way we parent for a lifetime. Taking the time to explore our past will allow us to be fully present and engaged with those around us today. Making sense of our past will free us up to better evaluate how to change our parenting strategies today!
There are different links included in this post. They are great stepping stones to discovering more about attachment styles. Watch the YouTube video above. It is excellent. Also, a great book to get you started on this journey is “Parenting From The Inside Out” by Dan Siegal.