The term attachment, when applied to parenting, is often misunderstood. Instead of thinking of attachments of the heart, some people associate the term with such things as glue or Velcro. As a result, they think of the attached child as helplessly dependent, unable to develop necessary self-sufficiency, instead of resilient, even adventurous, going out into the world secure in the knowledge that they are cared for. This confusion got me thinking about what my metaphor for parenting might be. What image could evoke the attachment that involves no bindings?
I was probably at the park at the time, where my son likes to run and run and run — away from me, back toward me, in circles around me, as though he were a bird, and I a tree … And there was my metaphor!
Admittedly, I have always wanted to be a tree: rooted in the earth, reaching toward the sky, full of the wisdom of the seasons. But truly, aren’t there ways in which I am like a tree to my little bird of a boy? At first, he spent his time nestled in my branches. Then, a fledgling, he began to venture outward, away from me. And even as he learns to fly farther and farther away, I will always be here to take him up, hold him, give him shelter.
The metaphor isn’t perfect, of course. A tree doesn’t feed a bird or teach it how to fly. But the metaphor does get at some ideas that are very important to me.
First, a tree is steady. It steadfastly holds its ground, even on the coldest winter days and even through the wildest storms. No matter what, its branches seek the sun. I want my love and commitment to my son to be just as steadfast.
Second, a tree is flexible. In fact, a tree’s flexibility is an aspect of its strength; a tree that is brittle is a tree that falls in a windstorm. Similarly, I want to be able to give up my ideas about what should be — who I think my son should be, say, or how I think our day should be going — so that I can respond to what actually is. Can I see beyond my son’s obstinacy (or whatever), or my own crankiness (or whatever), or the myriad ways in which our day seems to be going wrong to find what he — and what I — really need now?
Third, of course, I want to be like a tree to my little bird of a boy in that so long as I live, I will be here to give a home to him.
What about you — what is your metaphor for parenting?
Rachael is the work-at-home mother of a vivacious two-year-old boy. As a freelancer, she edits and writes educational materials for K–12 students and teaches online creative writing classes through The Writers Studio. She is also a poet who was foolish enough to have married an artist. Though Rachael never planned to do anything other than attachment parenting, her pre-motherhood self probably would be surprised to see her happily nursing a toddler — and in a family bed! She is grateful to have found an online community of others doing much the same. Rachael writes about making her way toward work-life balance in a family of artists at The Variegated Life.