My son, Edward, comes from a place of trauma. For the first three years of his life, he attempted to attach to caregivers who rotated in and out of his life on 8-hour shifts. He endured countless surgeries and hospital stays, not knowing who would be present to support him when he awoke from anesthesia.
He used charm and his adorable eyelashes to gain attention and acceptance. Being cute has gained him more love and attention than his peers.
Until he nervously toddled into my arms the first day we met, he had not known the stability of unconditional, ever-present love.
Edward has a few behavioral issues he confines to our home. He’s comfortable here, so it’s where he can truly let his guard down.
In our home is where he’s the most frustrating and disobedient. But it’s also where he requires the most reassurance.
You see, Edward is waiting for my 8-hour shift to end. He cannot possibly understand staffing and schedules and rotating shifts. He is not privy to the knowledge of labor laws and vacation time.
All he knows is caregivers always leave.
Did he upset them? Were they mad at him? Where did they go? And, most importantly, are they coming back?
This week, Edward’s behavior frustrated me. He blatantly disobeyed me and committed a repeat offense. He’s five, so it’s expected, but I’ve also employed every parenting technique I know on this offense. None are working.
So, I got angry. I yelled and took away privileges.
He cried. And screamed. He threw a forty-five-minute fit repeatedly announcing the injustice of it all.
But near the end of his tirade, he choked back a sob, stood at the top of our stairs, and declared, “Mama, I want you.”
Yes, his behavior was disappointing. Yes, I lost my cool and let him know exactly how this made me feel. He cried injustice and pushed me away.
Until he needed me.
To an outsider, his request might seem backward. Wouldn’t he want to remain far from the source of his discipline?
But not my boy who lived a thousand injustices before he could even walk.
Not my boy who has never known love to continue, to fight, and to remain.
My boy wants to lay his head on me. He wants to feel my chest rise and fall. He wants to know I’m not leaving. He wants me to kiss his thick hair as he cries. He wants my legs to intertwine with his as we sit together on the floor.
Edward wants the reassurance my 8-hour shift isn’t ending, just because he is imperfect. He needs to know I’m not walking out, even when I get upset with him.
You see, this is attachment. Children who have survived the 8-hour shift changes or multiple foster homes live in constant fear of abandonment and loss. They push love away and then pull it close.
This is attachment. This is the reality that adoptive and foster families live every day. Even infants who are separated from their first parents at birth experience loss. They too struggle to attach.
My Edward is further along in his attachment journey than many trauma survivors ever will be. He can verbalize when he’s done pushing me away and when he’s ready to pull me close. Not all kids can do so.
Do you know an adoptive or foster family? Will you pray for them right now as they work to love their children even as they are being pushed away?
And adoptive/foster families, I see you. I understand. You’re not alone. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep pulling them close even when they try to push you away.
This is attachment.