One of the most crucial steps in creating a secure attachment in your home is understanding how your attachment style impacts your adopted and foster kids. This sort of introspection can feel uncomfortable – it’s far less intimidating to look outside of ourselves when seeking solutions for our kids’ challenging behavior. It’s much easier to take a “fix the child, and everything will be okay” approach.
However, when you’ve parented for any length of time, you know that this approach crafts an incomplete picture of what happens in family relationships. The adults we have become are rooted in the way we were raised. Our history carries patterns into how we parent our kids. Logically that includes our past traumas and the nature of attachment in our homes of origin.
What is Attachment Style?
We know that a secure attachment is key to an adopted or foster child’s healthy development. Our working definition of attachment is the bond that a child has with his parent and that parent’s sensitivity or attunement to the child. If our goal is secure attachment, what influences our ability to be attuned and sensitive to our child’s needs? That’s the heart of understanding this thing called attachment style!
Attachment styles are the “internal working models” we develop to understand how relationships function. Our attachment style influences the way we relate to significant people in our lives. The parental attachments we form in childhood will impact our feelings (like insecurity, confidence, anxiety, fear, avoidance, competence, and satisfaction) in our most significant adult roles, like parenting our own kids.
Triggers Can Feel Like a Minefield
We are all susceptible to feeling “triggered” by events or experiences that happen in daily life. These triggers will often call up our attachment history, which consciously or unconsciously shaped our behavior and responses. How we react or respond to those triggers impacts the attachment between our child and us.
To further complicate our parenting experience, it’s important to remember that our adopted and foster children have their own triggers, too. They might have come to us with a trauma and attachment history that can prompt challenging responses, behaviors, or attitudes. Their experiences before joining our families might have formed an attachment style that contrasts with ours. It can be painful and distancing to our parent-child attachment when our styles clash.
Your Attachment History Is Not Permanent
When we respond to our adopted or foster child’s behaviors or needs, we bring our past attachment experiences – secure or not – to that interaction. The good news is that if you did not have a secure attachment with your parents as a child growing up, your attachment style does not have to remain fixed.
Resources like this Creating a Family radio show/podcast can help you explore your attachment style and how it impacts your parenting. You can move the needle on the spectrum of attachment styles toward a secure attachment for yourself and your child. It takes mindfulness and intention, but your attachment history does not have to be set in stone.
What is Your Attachment Style?
The research is definitive: your attachment history is the most significant predictor of the attachment style you will have with your children. The goal of understanding your attachment style is not to excuse your current attachment style or to rewrite history. Instead, we hope you will use the information for the mindful intention to improve or repair your relationship with your child and move toward secure attachment together.
Here’s an overview of the four attachment styles to help you get started. Remember, these are just brief summaries and not meant to be diagnoses. We highly encourage you to seek a professional to appropriately assess your style if you are struggling with attachment in your parenting.
In a secure attachment, our parents made us feel safe, soothed, seen, and confident. Affectionate physical touch, praise, encouragement, hope, and commitment are characteristics of secure adult attachment styles. We can recognize our parents weren’t perfect; however, they modeled confidence, connectedness, and responsiveness in healthy ways. We can give and receive love and nurture from a foundation of security and trust to our kids because we experienced it ourselves.
Our parents were sometimes present for us, but sometimes they were not. We experienced them as intermittently available or rewarding at times. But then they were inexplicably unavailable and out-of-synch. This inconsistency left us feeling confused and frustrated. Sometimes our parents looked to us to meet their emotional or physical needs, which creates an anxious attachment. Children often feel pushed away and then pulled back by the parent’s mixed messaging. As adults, we might repeat that pushing and pulling in relationships. The inconsistency can give our kids the impression that other things are far more important than the child in front of us.
Your parent may have met your basic needs, but he struggled to respond to you at an emotional level. The child of a dismissive attachment may learn that the best way to get his needs met is to act like he doesn’t have any needs. “I can take care of myself” is a typical attitude in this dynamic. Parents who have an avoidant attachment style might raise a child to be too independent, too early. Parents can come across as detached, reserved, or unfeeling with their children.
A disorganized attachment style forms when a child feels that the parent is scary, unpredictable, or unsafe – or when a parent feels emotionally frightened by a child’s needs. When parents act unpredictably or dangerously, the child feels a sense of chaos inside. The child wants to turn to the parent for safety. But the closer they get to the parent, the more fear the child feels. A parent with a disorganized attachment style may struggle to feel connected to or invested in their children.
You Can Learn More
There are several resources to help you understand each attachment style in depth. We like the following supports to help you learn more. If you recognize yourself in one of those descriptions, you may consider seeking a therapist who has attachment training.
- The Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) – a tool used in relationship with a mental health professional who has specific training to administer and interpret the information. Adults go through a battery of questions with the therapist to describe their childhoods. The therapist assesses the client’s attachment styles through the telling of those stories.
- Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive, by Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell**
- Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do, by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy** (a faith-based perspective on attachment styles)
- How Your Attachment Styles Affect Your Relationships, a youtube video overview by Psych2Go
- TBRI® Animate: Attachment, a youtube video overview by the Karyn Purvis Institute for Child Development
We also have resources to help you find a therapist who has attachment training and is adoption/foster competent.
“Progress Not Perfection.”
One of the most common sayings we have here at Creating a Family is “progress, not perfection.” It’s an encouraging reminder we offer each other as a team and the families we serve. When choosing to walk toward a deeper understanding of our attachment style, we recognize the need to set reasonable expectations. After all, this is a vulnerable process of exploration.
You have learned how to offer your adopted and foster kids space and grace to learn how to be part of your family and find their roles in your home. Now, give yourself the gift of time and patience to learn and grow in this area.
**As an Amazon Associate, Creating a Family earns from qualifying purchases, but we only recommend books that we value. Thanks for your support.
Image Credits: Saúl Alejandro Preciado Farías; Till Krech; Scary Side of Earth; Brian Kelly