The beauty is in repairing our relationships, not about being perfect.
This year, I began a new part-time job working with a postpartum mood disorder program. Surrounded by new parents, I couldn’t help but think about all the joys (and horrors) of pregnancy and that first year after my son was born. For those of you who know me well, you’re likely aware that I can be a perfectionist. I fought many battles in my head during those months – Am I spending enough time with my son? Does he feel enough love? Am I disciplining enough, or am I being a pushover? Is he crying too much? Why don’t I have the skills to make him stop crying? Will this kid ever go to bed? Unfortunately, the relief came to me after I returned back to work and started reading more on attachment theory. While I’d love to believe that I’m totally in sync with my kid and can respond effortlessly, he and I both know I’d be lying. Ed Tronick (psychologist behind the Still Face Experiment) and his team completed some research in the 80s focusing on parent-child interaction. They found that parents are only correctly “in tune” (correctly understanding and responding to our kids’ emotional and social cues) with their kids about 20-30% of the time.
Sure when our babies communicate with us we try to respond, but we all make mistakes. Sometimes our kid wants to play, and we fail to respond (also known in my house as 5 AM when I’m too focused on gulping down my first cup of coffee to truly care about the world of Hot Wheels). Luckily, research shows that my lack of enthusiasm towards plastic cars (often followed by a whiny complaint from my charming toddler) will not destroy our relationship. The key to a good relationship with our kids is in the repair work. This may mean we read a story together after I’ve inhaled that first cup; or, I do some mindful breathing to help me regulate so I can handle the tantrum. Most of our errors get repaired quickly when we tune back in with our kids and understand their emotional needs. In the grand scheme of things, a negative interaction will not make or break our relationship, so long as our kids feel the repair work.
So, what’s the moral of this story? As parents, we just have to try our best. Some days we’ll be great at picking up on our kids’ emotional cues, and our attentiveness and empathy will be on point. Other days, we screw up. So long as we continue to work on getting back in sync, we’ll be okay, and so will our kids. My son will not care about the one morning when I growl at a hot wheel or lose my patience when we’re running late for work. The ratio of this ‘attachment rupture’ is balanced out when I join him in belting out the Spiderman theme song in the car every day.
Would you like to learn more, or chat about parenting?