Attachment and Parenting

Recently I led a discussion group at a neighborhood preschool. I began by asking folks to share their greatest surprise about parenting. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority said they were shocked at the depth of feeling, most often—but not only—anger that arose while caring for the very kids that they loved so very much.
I emphatically agree. I love my kids and I get sooooo angry at my kids. That surprised me too. At first. But when I was able to take a step back and get some space from the feeling I remembered: Not only is anger okay, it is expected. All feelings are normal and important to recognize, and most important is what  you do with that feeling.
I received a lot of great feedback from the participants that night, and a lot of questions since, so I’m going to put together a series of blog posts, hoping that they will be helpful to someone in the future.
Let’s start by talking about attachment. Attachment has become sort of a parenting buzzword, so I want to make sure that we all know what it is. Attachment is the bond between two people. The bond could be between siblings or partners but for the purposes of our discussion we will talk about the bond between parent and child. The goal as parents is to create a bond that feels secure and reliable so that the child feels safe to go off on their own in the world. After all most of us aren’t hoping for kids who will be dependent upon us for the entirety of their lives, right?
Attachment means there is a desire for regular contact with the other person, and there is some stress when the other person is not there. This is the concept of missing people when they are not with us.  To clarify this point, stress is a necessary fact of life and parents have to help their child learn to tolerate larger/longer separations so they can go off on their own. That process happens as the child learns to keep an image of the parent in their head. Recognizing that the parent still exists when they are not physically with them is a major developmental milestone for kids, and each person has their own unique way of learning and tolerating separation. This is why the games peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek are favorites with the under 10 crowd, they are using play to figure this out on their own.
One parent in the pre-school group said: It’s incredibly stressful to have to constantly be one step ahead of my children. Always trying to anticipate their needs feels impossible and exhausting. How does the attachment process happen then? How does a parent know when and how to respond to a child’s needs? After all kids are continually changing.
It is exhausting because it is impossible. Secure attachment does not require the parent to respond immediately to every cry and desire of the infant or child. Nor does attachment require that the parent be physically present all the time.  Nor does the parent need to be one step ahead, anticipating every need. Attachment creates a scaffold for the child so that they can learn to operate in increasingly complicated ways, on their own.
Here are my questions for you, my readers. How do you know that your child is attached to you? How do you know that you are attached to your child? How do you scaffold for your children what you want them to know? What questions do you have about attachment?