If we were having coffee (or tea, either is fine with me), I would tell you about the conference I attended the last two days. For the second year in a row, I was able to help host a simulcast of the Empowered to Connect Conference for adoptive and foster parents and the professionals who serve them. I wish I could get every parent to attend because the principles taught at ETC are good for every child. I’ll save that soapbox for another day. Mike and I had attended the live conference in Chicago three years ago, and it really impacted us. Organizing the local simulcast gives me an opportunity to share that blessing with others.
A couple sessions at ETC are focused on adult attachment and how important it is for us, as caregivers and professionals, to own our own history and know what we are bringing to the relationship. This is not to say that our history is the cause of our children’s issues. It is to say that if we don’t address our own hangups, then we will not be able to be fully present for our kiddos. And one of the most important things we can give our kiddos is our full presence. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be 24 hours a day. But when we are interacting our children, they need us to not get stuck in our own story and be able to recognize their needs at the moment. We can’t do that very well if we have not come to terms with our own histories. This is true for ALL children, but it is especially true for kiddos who have had difficult beginnings or experienced traumas in their life. These events affected the way their little brains work, and we want to give them all the resources they need to be able to succeed.
There are three primary attachment styles. The first, and optimal, style is secure. Then there are two insecure styles, anxious-avoidant and anxious-ambivalent. When I first started learning about attachment styles, I was convinced that I had a secure style. I would have argued you if you said otherwise. So I didn’t think too much about this. I knew there were some things in my story, from my adulthood, that affected my ability to be present to my kiddo, but I didn’t think I needed to deal with too much childhood stuff. I remember having a discussion about that with Mike on the way home from our first ETC conference in Chicago three years ago.
Then last year at ETC, Dr. Mandy Howard spoke about attachment style. She played videos representing the different styles and explained how each of those styles looks in our adult lives. And as I watched and listened, I realized that I did not have secure attachment. I wasn’t sure where exactly I fell. Was it anxious-avoidant or anxious-ambivalent? But I knew for sure that it wasn’t secure. I had taken a few months off of attending therapy for myself, but after that conference, I emailed the therapist to start up again. I knew it was something I needed to address. Over the last year, I have identified which one of those it is and started being a little more honest with myself about how that impacts me, both as a parent and in all relationships.
During Friday’s sessions, Dr. Mandy again spoke about attachment and owning our stories. I watched the videos representing the different styles and explanations of how those look in our adult lives, and I could see myself very, very clearly. I have to be honest and tell you that it’s not an easy thing to see. It can be painful to look at your childhood and see how you are passing those hurts on to your child and your spouse and to others. But it is necessary. And I can see that I still have a long way to go in making sense of my story.
Working through your own attachment history isn’t about blaming the past, ignoring the past, or re-writing the past. It is about recognizing both the good and bad and making sense of it for you now, so you don’t get stuck in your story when your child needs you or dismiss your child’s story because that’s what you do to your own. And I still have some work to do. My kiddo will be 18 in a couple weeks (how did that happen already?), but I believe that it’s never too late.