by Lisa Weiner (March 11th, 2021)
Dr. Neufeld says that we need to offer our children two invitations. The first is the unconditional invitation to exist in our presence and the second is the invitation to become fully who they are. This same sentiment is sometimes represented imagistically: we are helping them grow both roots and wings.
Some parents find it natural to extend the invitation for deep, dependent relationship: “Your problems are my problems,” “there is nothing you bring here that is too much for me,” and “let me help you find a way,” capture the essence of this invitation. Others naturally invite a child to become who they are: “Let’s see what you create!”, “Oh, that is an interesting way to look at that – tell me more,” and “I can see why you don’t like that” are phrases that welcome individuation. For most of us, one of these sets of phrases comes more naturally than the other. It is part of our growth as parents to find both invitations inside ourselves so that we can extend them to our children.
As they grow, children shift between these two drives–to attach and to individuate–day-to-day and, sometimes even, moment-to-moment. We can see these polarities most strikingly in our toddlers and our teenagers as both are times in life when integrative functioning capacity–the ability to hold two opposing feelings at the same time–is low. I remember vividly my two-year-old son insisting on dressing himself–slammed drawers and shouts could be heard through the closed door of his room–only to slip and fall on our walk twenty minutes later and want to be carried and sung to.
I am reminded of this toddler time when my other son, now sixteen, excitedly tells me about the gap year he is planning – biking and birding solo across our home state of Oregon – just before I tuck him into bed where he loves hearing the same song I’ve been singing to him at bedtime his whole life. Deep attachment fuels the drive towards individuation and, after some time spent in individuation mode, our kids (be they toddlers, teens or in-between) need to “fuel up” with attachment once again.
As always, being the parent our child needs calls forth the best in us, propelling us forward in our own development. We are called to access our own integrative functioning, our own power to gracefully both welcome dependence and celebrate independence back and forth, again and again, as we support our children in their healthy maturation.
One or both of these needs in our children may stir us up. For some, the preschooler who wants to be carried all day may bring us face-to-face with our frustration.For others it could be the “do it myself!” insistence of the toddler (or teen!) that tries our patience. As always in parenting, when our own feelings get big we need to find outlets for emotional expression (be it journaling, kickboxing or listening to melancholy music). That way, we can provide both the fertile soil that our children need to root in and the celebration and appreciation of their unfurling wings.