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We asked our Facebook community to pose their questions about attachment-related issues. We selected the top three and asked Dr. Jessica Zucker to lend her expertise to the community.
From Shelly J. Appet:
Question: “My son is 5 and I will be starting a job on Monday that is an hour and a half away, 11 hour days and 5 days a week. I feel horrible about this because of how much time I will be away from my son. I have him full time weekdays and every other weekend. I worry that I will lose that attachment that I already have with him and really want to know that he will be okay without having me around as much. Thank you!”
Dr. Zucker’s Response: Thank you so much for this poignant comment. This is an incredibly important, often thought about but under discussed concern for parents. You might be relieved to hear that attachment research has found that it is the quality of our interactions with our children rather than the quantity of time spent with them that makes the greatest impact. It sounds like you have had the opportunity to spend enriching time with your son during his formative years when attachment relationship imprinting is most vital. This likely laid a positive foundation for the attachment relationship. You may find that due to the closeness you have created together he will thrive in his new surroundings. Of course you may each have conflicting feelings about being away from one another. Keep in mind that by age 5 your son is able to hold you in mind when the two of you are apart. He can maintain the closeness within him. The relationship is firmly embedded in each of you. Another important thing to keep in mind is that as parents it is key to be mindful that we don’t confuse our own anxiety with our children’s experiences. In fact sometimes these milestone transitions are more challenging for parents than they are for their children. Being present with your feelings as well as his reactions and feelings about the changing dynamics will prove fruitful in paving the way for gracefully navigating future transitions.
From Stacy Tomson Rispin:
Question: “How do you continue to work on attachment as children get older -- 8, 9, 10 -- and are beginning to try and separate?”
Dr. Zucker’s Response: Separation is a natural and healthy part of development. We want to nurture in our children a sense of comfort and curiosity as they move into the larger world outside of the home environment. As role models it is enlivening and growth producing for kids when parents embody open communication and emotional sturdiness. The attachment relationship is ever-changing throughout the lifespan. Ideally, the parent-child connection is firmly established in the early years and serves as a springboard for subsequent healthy exploration – in friendships, academically, and interpersonally. As parents we have the privilege of being a “secure base” for our children, a relationship that provides encouragement, nourishment, and a place to recharge. It can be tough for parents to remember that separation is often the hard-earned result of secure attachment. In other words, when we provide consistency, predictability, and conscious care for our children we are hopeful this will result in laying the foundation for relational trust, internal stability, and an overall ease in their own skin. When this occurs, children feel freer to jubilantly explore the world around them. Attachment and separation go hand in hand.
From Kelly Bartlett
Question: “What can parents do to create a secure attachment with their kids? At what age is attachment most relevant? Is there a "window of opportunity" for creating attachment...that is, is it ever too late? Are there certain parenting strategies that break (or function against) attachment?”
Dr. Zucker’s Response: Parents frequently ask me these questions because on some level everyone harbors a bit of worry that it may be “too late” to repair aspects of the parent-child relationship. Here is a link to an article I wrote titled “The Building Blocks of Connection” that addresses some of the vital questions you have posed:
Research has found that attachment relationships are thwarted when the caregiver is appreciably inconsistent, unpredictable, chaotic, threatening, emotionally and/or physically abusive or negligent. Under these compromised conditions, children come to learn that connection is potentially scary, that love is conditional, and as a result become confused by what it means to be in relationships. However, attachment research has found that attachment difficulties can be mended and shifted over time. Caregivers can positively impact a challenged relationship by investing in their own growth and development- delving into emotional potholes and sifting through historical pain. By reflecting on one’s own childhood history, caregivers have the opportunity to make subtle and profound changes along their parenting path.
If you’d like to connect with Dr. Jesssica Zucker, here are some ways to do so.