Kids sometimes ask the deepest and most direct questions, the ones we refuse to ask ourselves. This is what my 11-year-old son asked me one day as I was preparing dinner-
“Mom, why don’t you hug and kiss me like other mothers do?”
I kept quiet, acting like I was a surgeon doing complex brain surgery on the onion I was slicing.
My son kept at it.
“Come on mom, tell me why? Kiss me now, kiss me .”
And that’s when I froze.
I felt very uncomfortable, like as if he had just asked me “Where do babies come from?”
My child was begging me, his mother for physical warmth and I couldn’t give him any. I continued to act busy and told him to not disturb me. But I KNEW him. He wasn’t going to stay quiet.
I liken my son to my CONSCIENCE. He will call me out on anything if I err and tell it like it is.
He will bring it out to the LIGHT and force me to look at it.
It is so annoying that he is JUST LIKE ME! The apple didn’t fall far from this old tree.
“What kind of a mother are you? You can’t even give a kiss? You are a bad mother!” he said, anger and tears clouding his beautiful brown eyes.
I told him to stop it.
Then I fled the scene ……because he had brought it to the LIGHT and I couldn’t bear it.
I knew exactly what he was talking about. That question had kept me awake many a night.
Here is my shameful confession as a mother.
I struggled with showing affection to my kids, especially to my son. I saw warmth brim over in the many perfect parents around me while my insides turned slowly into frost.
The gentle way they caressed their child’s hair, their attentive body language, gentle demeanor, sometimes it was just their relaxed presence.
Why was mother Earth experiencing global warming, but not me an earthling mother?
As an introvert, I pay deep attention to my emotions.I couldn’t rest till I figured out some plausible explanation to my behavior. What was behind it?Was it my upbringing?
I come from the Asian culture where love is demonstrated less through touch but more through actions. So as a child, there were no hugs, kisses or sweet words, not even much talking, when I think of it.
My parents’ parents must have showed them even less attention. But you understood your parents loved you, for all the parental things they did for you and for all the sacrifices they made for you.
Your loyalty to them was beyond question. And you never questioned them.
But still, as every child I yearned for that warmth, when I saw it demonstrated around me.
The unspoken message of “Everything is going to be okay, I’ve got you. You are special to me.”, that a child gets when big arms surround them, must give more security than 10 bodyguards.
I had never felt that invisible power of security, so I didn’t know how to provide it.
I knew I loved my kids, but if I didn’t show it, how would they ever feel it?
Distraught, I typed into Google’s rectangle box ‘mother unable to show love’. Just reading those words made me hang my head in shame.
My son was right. I was a bad mother.
I sunk like a dead weight into my imaginary therapist’s couch, resting my remaining hopes on Google’s algorithm with a boring name-Page Rank.
Now this is something I had no idea about as a new mother. I wish that along with ‘Breastfeeding for Dummies’, I had read up on ‘Child Parent Attachment’.
John Bowlby, an early psychoanalyst argued that the way parents treat their offspring could have long term implications on how their children approach future relationships.
Individuals with reliable parents view others as potential sources of support. Individuals with unreliable parents tend not to see parents as a potential source of support.
They are categorized as having anxious or avoidant attachment.(Journal of Human Relations)
Bowlby & Mary Ainsworth identified 4 different types of attachment- secure, anxious, dismissive, fearful.
Secure-This style of attachment usually results from a history of warm and responsive interactions with their attachments.Securely attached people find it relatively easy to become emotionally close to others. They tend to have positive views of themselves and their relationships.
Dismissive-avoidant– In an avoidant/ dismissive attachment, the parent may meet the child’s basic needs, but he or she will have trouble responding to the child on an emotional level.
For the child, the parent may feel like an ‘emotional desert’.
In this style of attachment, the person is comfortable without close emotional relationships. They tend to distance themselves emotionally from their loved ones.They desire a high level of independence.
They often ward off partners attempts to be close, experiencing them as “needy.” When faced with rejection, they distance themselves almost immediately from the source of the rejection.
It was easy to see, I had an avoidant attachment style.
I clammed up when my kids tried to cuddle near me.When they were babies, I couldn’t stop fussing over them, but as they grew older my physical displays of love lessened.
I would talk to them hours on end on matters of the world and life, but had I failed to connect with them on an intimate level?
Intimacy made me uncomfortable because in my mind I was allowing myself be vulnerable.
“If you don’t get close, you can’t get hurt.” was the mantra that played over and over in my mind, probably since childhood.
From my perspective, my defense mechanism was doing a good job of protecting me from any incoming asteroids.
But from my child’s perspective they were seen as the monstrous asteroids, unlovable and harmful.
How damaging was that to a child?
My son even put it perfectly once when he told me, “You feel embarrassed to show love.”
I should just make this kid my psychologist!
I could see the end effects of my poor parenting. My son had developed an anxious attachment style.
He was constantly seeking assurance that he was loved and special. He would get jealous at the drop of a hat.
“You smiled at her, you didn’t smile at me.You talked to him, you didn’t talk to me.”
Jealousy doesn’t arise in children because the parent is paying someone else more attention, but because they haven’t paid enough attention to the child.
It made a lot of sense. A secure child would not bother. If a child was feeling jealous, it was coming from a place of insecurity.
I have learnt when it comes to children, whatever they are feeling is to be taken as a valid feeling and not to be dismissed, because it is their personal truth.
It didn’t matter if growing up I didn’t get the warmth I needed as a child.
I was NOW a parent, an inadvertent co-author in my child’s biography.
Chapters already written in his life could not be deleted or even edited. New chapters could however be written, learning from the past.
Parenting my son flooded the spot lights on me. It exposed all the well concealed imperfections hiding in the minute crevices of my flawed existence.
I needed to have this realization.
But, old habits are often set in cement.Would I be able to blast through the hard rock? Would I be able to change ME?
Well, that was the hope. That was the dream.