There is a lot of focus on attachment parenting in the early years of a child’s life. We know that we need to attend to our baby’s needs throughout the day and night. We ensure that our child feels safe and secure and that we are available. We are creating a strong bond. But as our child grows up and away, what does that do to our relationship? Is there such a thing as an attached teenager?
I only recently discovered that I could be called an “attachment parent.” I never followed any particular doctrine in raising my kids. My ideas and philosophies come from years of previous experience and lots and lots of books. As it turns out, I fit fairly nicely into the label. It got me thinking about attachment parenting in the teen years and what that looks like.
Attachment parenting makes sense to me because it is really common sense. My understanding of this parenting philosophy is quite simple: keep a strong and trusting bond with your child. I didn’t learn that from a book. I actually learned that from a homeless teen center director.
I was doing a volunteer project to learn more about homelessness. I was at this woman’s teen center and noticed the teens coming in and out for food and a few laughs. But they weren’t staying for help to get off the streets or to get into school or find jobs. I didn’t understand how a few pbj’s were going to help them. She told me something I will never forget:
“You cannot influence anyone outside a relationship built on trust and love.”
I realized immediately how true that was. She was building relationships with those kids. She wasn’t preaching at them or lecturing them. When any one of them truly believed that she loved them and trusted that she wanted the best for them, THEN they would come to her for advice or counsel. But never before that. I got it.
I always remember her advice when parenting my children. If they don’t trust me, if they don’t truly believe I love them, I cannot influence them in any way. Their trust in my love for them is the foundation for my authority. I treat that with the utmost of care.
Yesterday, I got to experience both the pain and reward of being a parent. My older son will be fifteen this year. He can be moody, cranky and obstinate at times. But for the most part, he is a great kid. He told me something his father did and I was not happy, which I said. A flash of disappointment crossed his face and he walked away. I realized I had done something wrong. I had promised him I would not say anything negative about his father. I had to fix this.
I found him sitting on the sofa. I sat right next to him and wrapped my arm around him, giving him a squeeze. He squirmed a little, but didn’t pull away.
“What?” he said, with just a hint of crankiness.
“I just want to say I realize that I said something negative about your dad. I could see that I disappointed you and I’m sorry. I was wrong. I promised I wouldn’t do that. I will do better. I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry I disappointed you.”
He smiled. I kept hugging him, then rubbed his back lightly as I sat next to him. As soon as I said I was sorry, he started talking a mile a minute. He started talking about a lot of stories he had seen on the news. He told me about his day. Then, out of nowhere, he blurted out that he was still deeply afraid after an incident that had happened over a month ago.
So, we had a chance to talk for a bit. We talked about the incident and how he was safe now. We talked about the news. We talked about his day. Then he hopped up and went to go set up and play around on his keyboard.
I realized once again how important staying attached really is. Not just the emotional attachment, but the physical attachment, too. Had I not apologized to my son for hurting his feelings, his resentment would have grown and shut down our communication. I would not have been able to help comfort him while he dealt with his fear. Physical touch is so powerful, too. The closeness and physical touch helped him to talk. But I couldn’t have just plopped down next to him out of nowhere. He is accustomed to my hugs and backrubs since the day he was born. He feels safe and loved. Because he has known this his whole life. Even when I don’t do right by him. He can forgive me, because he does trust me.
He is an attached teenager. He is independent, self-sufficient and confident. He manages his time and schoolwork without my assistance. He excels in school. But he is close to me, his mother. He expects me to treat him with dignity and respect. When I don’t, he is disappointed. He can accept my apologies if I fail him. He welcomes my hugs and kisses. He knows I love him. He trusts me. He trusts me to listen and he trusts what I have to say. He even trusts me enough to share his deepest darkest fears. From the depths of his heart, he knows I am there for him. He may not have the same needs that he did when he was a baby, but he still needs me. And that, I hope, will never change.
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!
- The Science of Attachment: The Biological Roots of Love – Mothering Community (justmybump.com)
- Attachment Parenting a Teenager! (cruisingcontemplations.wordpress.com)
- Rethinking Attachment Parenting: More Confused Than Ever (schoolofsmock.com)