‘The abuse was bad, but the effects more damaging because my mother was not available’.
Mother was at home but wasn’t able to listen to or address the needs that she had. This lack of response to core needs send messages of worth and worthiness.
In this environment, a child attempts various strategies to connect. All will be designed to attract mothers attention and test her availability. Sometimes this might present as ‘bad’ behaviour mother might become upset and use corporal punishment or other types of behaviour control to get the child to respond in a way that will be ‘acceptable.’
In this scenario, the mother did not present as a safe place to share her sorrows, and to her, this was more distressing than the abuse she experienced.
Being present is not the same as being available. Parents can be present in that they are around physically doing all that is needed for the child to survive. However, this doesn’t equal emotional connection.
What does it mean to be emotionally available? And how would a child perceive it?
When a mother is emotionally unavailable, they are not able to respond on an emotional level to the needs of others. Being emotionally available is vital to a relationship being healthy and balanced.
Being available to children gives them a sense of identity and belonging; it helps them feel wanted and secure. When you can respond positively to their needs, children feel loved and accepted by you.
Below I discuss three important things that prevent some mothers from being able to connect with their children.
Blocks in the parent
A block could be as a result of any number of things; it could be because you are going through difficulty right now and is not able to access emotions. You might be living in an abusive relationship, and the needs of your partner consume all your energies, and there’s not much left over for the children.
Maybe you are experiencing challenges with your health and these, and other concerns occupy your thoughts and attention, leaving little time and energy for connection.
You might have fears around secure connection or the vulnerability that context requires. Perhaps it typical to hold some of yourself back and therefore, a vulnerability in any relationship is challenging.
Having children make us aware of the deficits in our childhood. We may be aware of the shortcomings, but it doesn’t mean we have the skills to fix it. Your child call for connection might be problematic because you cannot meet their expectation.
Sometimes postnatal depression can impact the way we connect with our children or our ability to connect.
Despite that, the child will respond to how you present. Sometimes their reply might be found in behaviour classified as ‘bad’. It’s important to note that their response to your internal struggles could manifest itself in a variety of ways.
Your attachment style
Our attachment template will significantly influence how we connect in general. For example, As an avoidantly attached parent, it is unlikely that you will know how to do secure attachment or present in a way that is secure to your child. You might be more comfortable with tasking and meeting physical needs but is unsure how to respond to emotional needs or invite connection.
It is possible to heal attachment injuries. In the first instance, you have to become aware that there is a problem and learn ways to fix it.
It is important to note that several things can impact attachment. One study shows that a mother diagnosed with depression have implications for connection. Additionally, parents with twins with one left in special-care experience broken attachment. These are unplanned, unavoidable out of your control situations.
Unresolved trauma refers to traumatic events that you experienced but hasn’t processed and healed. Pain can show up in parenting in many ways. It could present as a block in that it affects how you perform and often dictates how available you are as a parent. It will disrupt attachment and change how you respond to the emotional needs of your children.
Unprocessed pain could lead to the mother’s inability to respond positively to the child’s needs. It is a significant factor in secure attachment and impacts whether you connect with the child or not.
Mothers need to process their pain to be available and be a secure place for children to connect.
When you haven’t given yourself permission to feel and heal from any painful events, it makes it difficult to respond to similar pain in someone else. To have the ability to connect you first need to identify the effects of your struggle and put things in place to look after you. Addressing your pain will help you mitigate the adverse effects of it unto others.
Unresolved pain not only affects how people connect but can dictate how people discipline and generally respond to the child’s behaviour.
When we haven’t addressed our pain, we cannot see someone else’s pain or respond appropriately to the injuries that they show. Instead, we will be dismissive and harmful; perhaps no one saw it in you or believe. Therefore you so are unable to provide the advocacy that the emotional needs require.
Work through your pain, whatever it is. Whether you are dealing with rejection abandonment or trauma, abuse, you are worth the effort that it takes to heal and to rebuild.
I’ve met many parents who had to leave their children for various reasons, for some they went to build a new and better life in another country. Some shared that the economic conditions of the countries they lived in hampered their ability to provide adequately.
Others left to study aboard. The outcome that they want is similar to the above; the course they are pursuing will put them in a better position to be able to offer more to their children.
Still, others give the child to be raised by grandparents or a childless aunt who could offer more. Parents leave for many different reasons. It is important to note that whatever the reasons are though they are valid to you, the children will experience your absence as rejection.
Rejection is devastating for a child and could take years to restore. This broken connection needs work on both sides to mend. Repair is possible. Attachment injuries can heal, and you can enjoy a secure connection with your child again.
It is important to note that maternal separation, whatever the reason can cause behavioural and psychological challenges over the life of the child.
‘The quality of attachment between infants and their mothers has significant consequences for relationships at later stages of life.’ Robert S. Feldman, child development, 176