Experiencing each age and stage of my three children’s lives teaches me something new each time about parenting. It proves that parenting is not an exact science and that, at least for most of us, we are “building the ship as we sail it.” I know I am. Oh don’t get me wrong. You have to have a plan. (You know I love parenting plans!) But part of the parenting learning curve is experiential. During the last few months my 15 year old accidentally taught me more about pull close parenting for teenagers.
We often describe “pull close” or “close proximity” parenting to adoptive parents. We encourage them to parent with their child close so as to place themselves (the parents) in a position to turn need cycles to completion and build attachment. We also explain that parenting in close proximity helps to ensure that parents are there to assist in “turning off” internal alarms that might sound more easily, more often, and more intensely in the child who has waited for a family.
This concept is easily understood when referring to older infants, toddlers, or even preschoolers, but when talking about a school aged child or teenager it is perhaps a bit harder to conceptualize and even more difficult to put into practice. And yet, we know that children in these populations still benefit from this type of hands on parenting.
Years ago I read the book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by author Gordon Neufeld. I loved the book as it validated much of the parenting I was doing with my oldest daughter who at the time was in her teen years. It all made perfect sense so me then since we had been practicing intense attachment style parenting with her since adopting her from Russia at the age of 6. Neufeld maintained that kids could only focus their primary attachment in one place –their parents or their peers. It didn’t mean that the other didn’t matter. It just meant that the primary attachment mattered more. Neufeld maintained that for safety, security, and completion of the child’s development parents must maintain that primary attachment. Validated and strengthened by his words I continued to parent my “at risk” child close to the hip.
Fast forward 8 years and now my second child is a teen. This child has had a firm foundation of attachment since birth. I admit sheepishly that perhaps I haven’t felt as “vigilant” in the last few years about “overt” forms of attachment style parenting because I never felt like we were making up for lost time. I didn’t feel that she was “at risk.” I felt lucky that my first child had taught me so much and that my second and third children would be benefiting from that education. I still considered myself to be an attachment style parent. I just didn’t have the same sense of urgency. You could say I became a bit “lazy” because parenting her had presented very few challenges.
But just as I was relaxing into what I thought was going to be a breeze of a teenage experience with my second child I began to see her internal compass move towards the undeniable pull of teen culture. Lately I’ve found myself watching as she wrestles with deciding whether it is more important to align with her friends or her family and yes I have been shocked in the instances where she chooses peers even though the choices put her in direct contention with her parents. What had happened? I thought this was my “easy” child. NO FAIR! !
Maybe not fair, but indeed a reality. The focus (or as Neufeld puts it “orientation”) of a child’s primary attachment will shift if parents are not vigilant about remaining in this primary position. Many parents consider this typical but I knew only too well that typical does not always mean optimal and that my daughter (and all teens) still needed the firm grounding orientation offered by parent (not peer) primary attachment.
So I’ve spent the holiday break with a very clear plan for my second child. It was time to gently help her reorient. Time to pull her close. Time to exercise pull close parenting even though we were talking about a teenager. So what exactly did that look like? For us it was really just an exercise in getting back to the basics. Here are some of the concrete things we did:
- Cell phones are a blessing to me as a parent in that they keep me in communication with my kids. But they become counterproductive when the kids are home and using the phones to stay connected to their peers and disconnected with their parents. We went back to an old rule that has the kids placing their cell phones on a table in the family room when they come home. If they need to use the phone or get a call the phone is available but the focus is not on the phone.
- We reestablished “living” in the living room. This sounds simple but we called ourselves back to consciousness by having family time in the living room. Even if our daughter was reading or doing her nails we encouraged her to do be with us in the same room.
- It wasn’t our goal to isolate our child from peers but it was our goal to have quality time with her which meant that we greatly reduced what would have normally been her “very social” holiday calendar.
- We made a point to put ourselves in the position to be working on common goals with our daughter. We made dinner together, shopped together, planned holiday family gatherings together, cleaned the house or folded laundry together, and more.
- We found ways to laugh together. We broke out the old family games and made time each night to play.
- We returned to old bedtime rituals. No we didn’t sing silly songs or pat her back until she went to sleep. Yes we did recite her bed time blessing, and say a prayer with her each night.
- We made it a point to find more opportunities to express affection whether it was a simple touch of her hair or a great big dad bear hug as he walked through the door from work.
I could go on and on with this list but the point is that it is not rocket science. It is just “being” with your child. I mean really being present and expecting them to be present too! It is interesting to note that during one of these times over the holiday break my daughter voluntarily ended up cuddled up with me on the couch. While her head was on my shoulder and my arms wrapped around her I gently told her I had figured out why so many teenagers were troubled in our world. She looked up puzzled and asked me why. I told her I thought it was because parents stopped holding them. She laughed, put her head back on my shoulder, sighed, and said, “I think you’re right.”
Tags: adoption, Adoptive Parenting, attachment, bonding, close proximity parenting, discipline, general parenting, internal alarm, international adoption, older child adoption, parent planning, pull close parenting