Part 2: Serve and Return
By Jen Lindbeck
In the Valentine’s Day Blog, I described secure parent-child attachment behaviors. I was reflecting on that blog and felt like there is a part two to that message. I would guess that most parents can recall a moment (or moments) where they have failed to read their child’s cue, where they responded in a way that wasn’t ideal, when they missed the mark, when they didn’t show love or empathy.
I have had many of these moments. Here’s one…
When my son was around five we were at my sister-in-law’s house for a celebration of some sort. She had a drink refrigerator in her garage. The garage was quite large, with a car and a boat between the door and the drink refrigerator. I was deep in conversation with a family member when my son came up and told me he was thirsty. So, I told him to go to the garage and get a drink from the drink refrigerator. I went back to my conversation. My son came back a few minutes later. “Mom, I am thirsty. Can you get me a drink?” Again, I told him to go get a drink from the garage. This continues a few more times, with me getting more and more frustrated and my son getting more and more anxious. Finally, my sister-in-law took pity on him and walked with him to get a drink from the garage.
I know this seems like such a small thing. An insignificant moment. And yet, this story fills me with guilt every time I think about it.
He was so young, he was scared of the big, dark, unfamiliar garage and he let me know using both physical and verbal cues that he was feeling unsure/nervous/afraid and I just ignored all of those cues. When we dropped my son off at college his freshman year, this is the story that came to my mind as he was walking toward his dorm and looked back at us over his shoulder. In that moment, as I was sending him off in to adulthood, I kept thinking about all of my self-perceived failings as a parent.
Why didn’t I just get him a drink?
One of the key components in secure attachment, according to Jean Kelly, UW Researcher, is repair. Perhaps it is in moments of repair where we really develop as parents. In moments of repair we see our mistakes and correct them, we adjust our behavior, we acknowledge our child’s uncomfortable feelings and help them make sense of them. Especially when we are the cause of those feelings.
No parent is perfect. Perfection isn’t even the goal of parenthood – who can ever meet such a goal and who determines what is “perfect”? I was in a training on attachment a few weeks ago, many of us in the training were feeling a bit sheepish about our failings. Our instructor told us, “If you are doing these things 30% of the time, you are doing a great job.”
My husband used to joke, “we are GOOD parents, not GREAT parents.” It became our parenting mantra for a while. Sometimes parenting can feel like an odds game. Some days are great, some are good, and some days might be filled with REPAIR.
My son doesn’t remember the great refrigerator incident. It is time for me to let it go. Which, let’s be honest, is easier said than done. I said it in the last blog, but it is worth repeating: every parent can benefit from a little coaching and encouragement now and then. Visit Skagit Bright Beginnings to find resources to help you swing the parenting odds more towards GREAT. Need a friendly ear to listen to your parenting mishaps and triumphs? Join us at Parent Cafe on Fridays from 11:30-12:30pm at Anna Maria’s Bakery (there is a kids play area).
Jen Lindbeck has a M.Ed., Early Childhood Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University and is the Early Learning Resource Coordinator for United Way of Skagit County.