Empowered to Connect -- A Conference Review
If you missed the first post and have no idea what I'm talking about, no need to stress! You can find it right here. Once you're caught up, come on back for the wrap up, which can be found by reading the words directly below these words. :)
"It's much more about me becoming his than him becoming mine."
This was one of my favorite quotes from the weekend. When thinking about his relationship with one of his adopted sons, Michael Monroe made the revelation that we, as parents, need to be flexible. We need to let go of what we thought parenting was going to be like and just be the child our parent needs. So what if you thought Johnny Jr. was supposed to be like x (x = genius, doctor, soccer player, movie star)? He's not! So redefine what a "Smith" looks like in your mind. Or in your case, change "Smith" to your own last name. And remember -- that kiddo's a part of your family now, so make sure the family evolves to embrace him, instead of forcing him to fit your family's specific mold.
"We learn how to parent from those who parent us."
This part of the conference just about blew my mind! Through studies done on 1-year-olds and their mothers back in the 80's, Dr. Purvis and company have determined four different types of attachment styles (secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and unresolved) between parents and children. The study went a little something like this:
Mother and 1-year-old child play together in a secluded room with toys. Within a few minutes, Mom leaves the room and baby is left alone to react. After 3 minutes of watching the child's reaction (or a shorter amount of time if baby is really sad), a stranger enters the room. The child/stranger interaction is observed. After several minutes, Mom returns and stranger leaves. Child's reaction to Mom returning is noted. Then later, Mom participates in a follow-up interview.
So what does a securely attached (aka connected) child look like? He cries a bit when Mom leaves, not too inconsolable, but still sad. When the stranger enters, baby keeps on crying a bit. When Mom returns, baby rushes over to Mom and holds her tight. That's a child that will likely have success in future relationships, and therefore, life. Secure attachment comes about when the mother meets all the child's needs: body, soul, and spirit.
The avoidant attached child does not cry at all when Mom leaves, continue playing with toys, and remains the same when Mom returns. Though, a heart monitor on the child shows majorly increased heart rates through the entire process of Mom leaving, stranger entering, and Mom returning. So the child really wanted to be connected, but Mom wasn't providing the right care to be securely attached. These mothers tend to only meet some of the child's body, soul, and spirit needs. Typically, avoidant moms make materialism a priority, while relationships are secondary and impoverished. (E.g. Mom gets mad when baby innocently scratches new furniture).
The ambivalent attached child cries inconsolably when Mom leaves the room, runs toward her when she returns, but still is not consoled by her affection and attempts to soothe and does not make eye contact or snuggle close. Ambivalent attachment occurs when Mom is passive-aggressive, giving off mixed signals to the child, sometimes present and sometimes not. This Mom might be overworked, have a drug or alcohol addiction, or a bad marriage.
Finally, the unresolved attached child acts very confused when Mom leaves, starts to run to Mom when she returns, only to turn the other way as soon as she gets close to Mom, and runs after the stranger when stranger leaves the room. Unresolved attachment (AKA disorganized attachment) occurs when Mom has a big unresolved trauma in her own past (abuse, neglect, death of a loved one, psychiatric disorders).
Avoident, ambivalent, and unresolved attached kiddos will likely struggle in relationships with others as they get older.
After the experiment, the mothers were interviewed and typically the way they answered the questions about their own mothers lined up with how their 1-year-olds reacted in the experiment. In other words, as the above quote says: "We learn how to parent from those who parent us." I suppose that makes a fair bit of sense, but how many of us are guilty of saying/thinking, "When I'm a parent, I will NEVER raise my kids the way my parents raised me!"?
(Ahem... Hi, Mom! I know you're reading. This is just a normal thing people say. Still love you!)
The point is this: you are most likely to parent the way you were raised, and connect to your child the same way your mother (or father) connected with you, even if you promised you'd never be like them.
You're probably thinking, well, how do I break the mold if I wasn't thrilled with the way I was parented? Great question. First, you need to be more mindful -- be aware of the way you were parented and how it's affecting your parenting now. And second...
"You cannot lead a child to a place of healing if you do not know the way yourself."
The grief you experience will always be with you, everyday, as part of your timeline, making it linear. You will also experience and process your grief in different ways at different points in your life (e.g. infertility will hurt differently when you're 20 years old vs. when you're 40 years old), making grief developmentally dependent, or dependent on how your mind can process it at the time. And grief will come back to bite you in cyclical ways, for example, when Christmas comes around or the scent of Spring is in the air, reminding you of the suffering that happened during a Christmas or Spring long past. That makes grief/loss circular. It's no wonder our infertility grief (or any grief/loss, really) hurts so much!
Grief is a journey. Grief/loss doesn't go away overnight. It will, unfortunately always be with us. Our job, though, is to keep working through it. Keep processing. As the quote above says, we cannot lead our children through their healing if we haven't journeyed through our own healing ourselves. Notice, we don't need to get over our grief/loss. That's just not possible. It'll always be there. No, we just need to make sure we keep pushing forward on our journey toward healing. We need to be honest about our past so we can own our history. And once we can do that, we can help our kids through their own hurts and histories.
I say all this because it makes the point that even if you have some skeletons in your past, making it hard to securely attach to your child as discussed in the previous nugget, it's not the end for you. You are not defined by your past.
If you and your mother had an avoidant, ambivalent, or unresolved attachment, it's not too late for you and your own kids, even if your own kids are long grown. Take an honest look at where you stand now as a parent (or as a child -- how were you attached to your own parents?) and start processing. Be mindful. Only this will help to change your parenting and connections in the future.
"We're all made to be connected."
For an adopted newborn, this means making lots of eye contact, responding to every cry within the first 30-60 days of life, and plenty of skin-to-skin contact. For children adopted well after birth, this means giving them a voice to tell their story, helping them through sensory processing overloads or other behavioral issues, sometimes reverting to actually coddling them like a newborn to help them live the experiences of connectedness they never had. And keep in mind, none of this specifically applies to adopted/fostered children. The importance of connecting applies to every child, no matter their past.
The best way to summarize the weekend is with Dr. Purvis's own words: "Our children must see how precious they are in our eyes."And let your children know, "If it's in my power, I will move Heaven and Earth to meet your needs." Because if they know that to be true, then you're on your way to creating one happy family.
Still with me down here? So that went on a little longer than I thought, and included wayyyy more details than I intended. But I'm pumped about this stuff! It gets me excited. It makes me want to tell the whole world. And it's pretty much because it all just makes so much sense.
So how did it change my life? Well, there are (very hopefully!) going to be children in my future, and with all this in mind, I know I'm going to have the right focus as a parent. Much better than what I would have come up with on my own. My future is changed because I'll now be much more mindful of the connections I'm making with my children. Connection is key, so I'm going to strive to do it right! And my overall takeaway is... there's hope for every child. So while adoption/fostering can seem intimidating and a daunting task, it doesn't have to be. This stuff we learned can work with any child, even the toughest, 'cause like I said, all they're looking for is love and connection. We can provide that, right?
I've got to take another second here blast this reminder: I am not the expert. Chances are I quoted a few things incorrectly or explained them not-quite-right. So how do we fix this? We plan on attending an Empowered to Connect Conference in the future, that's how! Or, at the very least, we read more. I'll close with a ton of awesome recommended resources to help us continue learning about all this great stuff:
The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine (we bought this one and are in the process of reading!)
Created to Connect: A Christian Guide to The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis, Michael & Amy Monroe
God, Are You Nice or Mean? Trusting God... After the Orphanage by Debra Delulio Jones
The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz and Lucy Jane Miller
Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bayne Bryson
Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray
Empowered to Connect website -- videos, audio, articles