((I wrote at Mamalode on Friday. My original tale of adoption and miscarriage and hope and perspective. I hope you’ll read it. Or at least click over to see the cute pictures of teeny tiny Saige and Garrett.))
I’m taking a parenting class on Sundays called Circle of Security. CoS is a body of psychological research, developed by my favorite attachment therapist Kent Hoffman, that has fascinated me since we first started to learn – painfully, during the failure of our oldest child’s adoption – about insecure attachment and negative behaviors in attachment disordered and disregulated children. Circle of Security is a model for healthy attachment between caregivers and children, but it’s more than that. It’s also a model for developing and fostering healthy emotional relationships, which can be applied way beyond the parent/child relationship.
Just so as we’re clear, I have no expertise in the principals of the program. I’m not trained or certified. I’m taking the classes for a second time because this way of thinking about parenting specifically and relationships in general resonates with me. As I write about some aspects of the classes, I’m just a girl, talking about her experience in a class.
One of the main tenets (and my favorite part) of CoS is the concept of “Being With.” The idea, in my own words, is that children need to learn to regulate their emotions in order to achieve emotional security and in order to do that they need someone they trust, someone who is “bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder” to “be with” them in their strong emotions. Not join them in the emotions (that’s easy for me, one of my kids gets mad and I get mad right back atchya, baby), but “be with” them as a regulated, steady presence who helps the child to organize and cope with their feelings.
Not always! The realism of CoS also appeals to me. Another catch phrase is “follow emotional needs when you can; take charge when you must.” Indicating that OF COURSE your child’s emotional needs can’t dictate every moment of your day. Sometimes, you just gotta put your shoes on, girlfriend, regardless of whether it pisses you off. They also teach that if you can meet your child’s emotional need to have you “be with” them 33% of the time, you will teach emotional security.
So, today, we talked about the fact that our ability to “be with” a child in any given emotion is – almost universally – a function of how much our primary caregiver was able to “be with” us in that same emotion. If you have emotion that triggers you, it’s very, very likely that emotion was not permitted or supported by your parent.
I can tell you straight up, it’s true for me. Anger triggers me immediately. I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to hear it. I find it disrespectful and rude. I’m not sure the supportive, “being with” words like “I can understand why you’re angry about that” or “it looks like that made you really mad” have EVER come out of my mouth. I go straight to “DON’T YOU USE THAT HORRID TONE WITH ME” and “TAKE THAT ATTITUDE UPSTAIRS NOW.” That’s not at all the reaction I have to other core emotions (shame, sadness, fear, curiosity and joy). I often – definitely 33% of the time – find the reserves to support these emotions fully.
So, can you guess which emotion wasn’t permitted or supported in my childhood? uh huh.
There’s a neat little visual for this concept. Looky here, I drew for you.
Interesting no? The great thing about CoS is they are not saying that your parents were “bad” or “fucked you up.” They are saying, “hey, be aware that there’s a reason you don’t react well to anger.” It has to do with how you were supported in that emotion as you learned emotional regulation and security.
Segue to applicable child example. At bedtime, both Quinn and Saige clearly seek connection with me. It’s one of the rare times in our day that are quiet, it’s very structured and I try to give individual, directed attention. Garrett likes to read and generally checks out. Nate is very tired and usually needs only a little help with PJs and a long hug. But Quinn and Saige really want ME. Present and engaged. Quinn expresses this need for connection with curiosity. He asks me unending questions in a pleasant, winsome voice. How does the light turn off? How do blankets stay together? Why does the fan turn? How do the words get in the books? Saige throws fits. One fit after another and no matter how calm and regulated and “with” I stay, she pushes it to another fit the next instant. Too much toothpaste. Her foot hurts. She can’t get her PJ pants on. Its’ not fair that Garrett had a cookie five days ago. She’s thirsty. Her blanket fell off her bed. All expressed in a nasty, aggressive whine.
Oh. my. fucking. god. Head explosion. Both children want connection. Can you guess which child gets what he needs?
I know. It’s very revealing to me. I shut Saige’s emotional need down because anger and aggression shut me down. I usually – to a point – respond to Quinn because curiosity was acceptable and engaged in my upbringing. Yikes.
To end, here’s my favorite quote about this concept: “Knowing when to support ourselves emotionally and when to accept help from others is essential to being successful in close relationships. Children need to feel that someone is “with” them in emotions to develop this balance.”
Play with me! I want to feel less alone. Will you do the exercise above? Which emotion is hardest for you to support? Why? Can you see this in examples in your home?