At the top of our agenda we must place the task of collecting our children — of drawing them under our wing, making them want to belong to us and with us. — Gordon Neufeld, Hold On to Your Kids
In our busy culture of independence, it is easy to lose connection with our kids and with our partners. As early as their toddler hood, we start to detach from our children. We spend way more time directing or prohibiting them from doing something than we do working on their attachment to us.
Our adult romantic relationships are similar in that after the relationship is deemed serious or permanent, we stop working as hard to keep our partners close to us. We take the relationship a little more for granted. We start pointing out what to do and what not to do.
Collecting our loved ones is especially important after a physical or emotional separation. School and work are two common physical separators. Sleep counts as a time of separation as well. That is why bedtime rituals are nice for children and adults.
When my children return from a weekend with their dad, I’ve noticed a bigger need to re-collect them on Monday. We’ve been apart for a few days. They have distanced subconsciously. I try to greet them with lots of eye contact, a smile and a loving touch or hug. Re-establishing connection makes me feel better too. I’m closing the void or gap that formed while they were away from me. The same goes when my fiancé travels or is with his sons for a few days. An intentional effort to reach out to each other goes a long way toward re-bonding us.
If there has been an argument or bout of anxiety/depression for example, re-collecting our special people is necessary, as well. Emotions run high or low and feeling connected calms us.
Gathering our loved ones to us essentially hones the attachment bond. According to doctors, Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, authors of Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, the attachment dance has four steps.
Getting in their face or space
The objective of this first step is to attract a child or lover’s eyes, evoke a smile and hopefully get them to nod. Greetings serve us well in this regard. When we greet our child or partner, we want to use good eye contact to make sure they feel seen. With infants and small children, we literally get in their faces and make goofy gestures. With older children we have to be more subtle, so they don’t feel the need to move away from us. This, as with adults, may look more like getting in their space (versus face), in a friendly way.
They may be distracted by television, their phone, their own mind, etc. but it is our job (as the mature parent and/or more secure partner) to collect them with our eyes, voice, touch and time. Activities together go a long way toward keeping them away from distractions.
To connect with anyone, the goal can’t be to get them to do something or act a certain way. It will backfire. The goal has to be to improve the relationship. It’s important it be about being together and enjoying each other in a long-term nurturing way.
Give them something to hold on to
Children and partners need something that they can hold on to that makes them feel like they are holding on to us. Attention and interest are two top options. Signs of affection work well too. When we express warmth and delight at our loved one’s presence, we give them something special that feeds them. They feel appreciated and valued. They will want to maintain that, i.e. hold on to it.
If your child or romantic partner are insecurely attached (avoidant ), they may not react as positively to the above. They may feel smothered or long for autonomy. A less openly affectionate approach may work better.
You can point out what you have in common or align with them when taking sides is necessary. They will notice the similarities and loyalty and feel reassured.
According to Dr. Neufeld, we cannot collect a child by giving what is expected or demanded. That is conditional collection and indulgent. You behaved this way so I’ll give you love. You demanded attention so I’ll pay attention. The child knows that kind of attention may go away and is based on behavior and not pure love of them as they are.
The key is to take initiative and gather them to you when it is not expected. Let them see us with a twinkle in our eye simply when they enter the room.
Let them know dependence is OK
We all fear looking needy. We want our children to grow up and leave the nest. Both of these make it embarrassing to ask for help. The truth is we are dependent creatures. We need others to help us grow and survive.
The more OK it is to rely on someone, the more autonomous and secure we feel. We know we have someone to back us up. Children raised with this kind of security, have an easier time leaving home.
Secure couples are eager to offer a hand or listen to each other’s problems. This increases connection. If we told our partners they should be able to handle everything themselves and be independent, the relationship would suffer.
Serve as a compass point
Offering guidance gives children and partners relief. Pointing things out, explaining what will happen next and introducing them to others, gives our loved ones important information about the world.
Some phrases that guide our children and our adult loves are: “Let me show you how this works”, “I have planned this for tonight”, “I would like you to meet so and so”, “You are the kind of boy who…”
Using our guidance to learn things about the world and themselves, builds confidence and attachment.
There is security in having a guide we trust. When we don’t collect our children and they turn to their insecure peers for guidance, everyone loses. Our maturity and consistency make us the best and most reliable resource for them.
We can’t be passive parents or partners. We have to collect children and lovers by staying in their space or face, giving them something they want to maintain (ie the relationship), letting them depend on us, and lastly, offering our guidance when needed.
Do your kids or your partner need re-collecting? How have they gone astray? What could you do to bring them close to you again?
I’m excited to announce my latest courses on brendaknowles.teachable.com:
If you have wondered why you or your partner drift away from intimacy and togetherness this course will have answers for you. If there is withdrawing or distancing between you and your loved one and you would like understand why, Is It Introversion or Is It Insecure Attachment? will help.
Are you or your partner an introvert? Does he get tired and want to go home after a few hours of socializing? Does she seem happy to be intimate one day and need space the next? Introverts Explained can help you gain understanding about yourself or your partner.