Helping family and close friendships understand you and how you parent can be tricky. They mean well, but may not fully understand how to support you. But there are ways you can encourage them and help them gain a healthy understanding.
Once we know the importance attachment and bonding play in a healthy upbringing, we tend to parent differently. Children from traumatic pasts have had their initial attachment disrupted, so we must parent intentionally to teach our children healthy skills to build trust. We can’t stay isolated, and neither can our children, so we must form a sturdy support system around our them. Most people will get on board with our parenting style, but sometimes even our close family and friends don’t understand why do what we do. Some will intentionally sabotage our efforts; others will unintentionally disrupt the bond we are building with our child. Whatever the motivation behind the behavior of the adults surrounding our family, we must remain firm.
Usually the biggest threat to our parenting is in the form of seemingly non-threatening behaviors…
- Aunt Ida just wants to give little Jimmy one more cookie even though Mom said no, so she sneaks him a cookie.
- Uncle Bill loves his nieces and nephews and bear hugs each one before letting them through the door at family gatherings. The nieces and nephews think this tradition is funny—to them it is simply a special part of their relationship with Uncle Bill. But the newly adopted niece, Bella, balks at the tradition and refuses to get out of the car at Thanksgiving dinner.
- The reading recovery teacher always gives her students a treat after class. Johnny experienced food insecurity as a baby, so he asks the teacher every day for an extra treat. The teacher begins bringing a granola bar to school every day for Johnny without telling Mom and Dad what is going on.
- Great-Grandma demands that every child give her a “proper hug” and is cross when the Becca responds by standing stiff as a board.
- The next-door neighbor, Bev, believes that newly adopted Sarah is melting down because she is spoiled. When Mom and Dad aren’t looking, Bev tells Sarah she better shape up. When Mom and Dad are around, Bev tells them how to parent, speaking so loudly that Sarah can hear her disapproval.
I’m sure you can come up with plenty of scenarios where your community has hindered healthy attachment, bonding, and healing with your child. So what can we do?
- Invite. First, invite people in your close circle to talk. This should be a nonthreatening conversation. Maybe over a cup of coffee, where the child cannot hear. Explain the basics of trauma and your parenting style. This is not the time to tell the child’s story—their story is their own to tell, never yours. You can be vague. If the person is receptive, invite them to be a part of the solution. Ask them to look to you for guidance before crossing any of the boundaries you’ve set.
- Educate. For those who chose to be a healthy support for your child, education is important. Here are some things you’ll want your team to understand.
- The benefits of healthy attachment. Healthy attachments lead to healthy relationships. Healthy relationships are the foundation of everything your child will experience in life. Healthy attachment with family will teach the child how to choose safe people in the future. It is within these familial relationships that the child will learn to obey authority, stand up for himself, negotiate, handle disappointment and experience joy.
- The dangers of the lack of attachment. Children who do not learn to attach risk unhealthy relationships in the future. They may trust the wrong people or no one at all. They may be a target for predators who will use their lack of connection to their favor.
- The warning signs of unhealthy attachment. Children who have experienced trauma may show signs of detachment in many ways, such as by being indiscriminately affectionate, withdrawn, rigid, fearful, charming, manipulative, or explosive. Others may not see the lack of attachment for what it is, especially if the child is outgoing and charming. People outside our close circle may mistake the behavior as a sign that the child is well adjusted rather than a warning that the child is using a survival tactic.
- Limit time with those who sabotage the trust you are building. Once you reach out, invite, and educate those around you, you may find that some people will continue to sabotage your efforts to build healthy a relationship with your child. Limit your time with these people.
- Lean on those who support you and your child. When you find the group of people who truly support you and your child, lean on them. They will encourage you as you navigate this journey to building trust.
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