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Being Emotionally Available builds Secure Attachment


Josh is going to get a little personal here.

In 2018 I ran for city council. It was an excellent experience that I will never forget but it was also a dramatic stressor on my family.

The night of the all candidates forum, just as I was about to walk out the door, my then seven-year-old son looked at me and said, "when is normal dad going to be back?"

Those words went straight to my heart.

It was difficult to explain to my emotionally vulnerable son why I was doing what I was doing, and how after campaigning, even if I got elected, I would be more available to him- or at least that was the plan.

When I didn't get elected, my children joyfully celebrated (punks). They weren't celebrating because I lost, they were celebrating because they believed their dad was going to "be back". Routine and structure might return to what it looked like before this whirlwind year. Their dad was going to be emotionally available.

Emotional availability, simply put, is being there for your children. It doesn't mean that you answer to every beckon and call with over jubilation. But it does mean responding to their bids for your attention. It's nurturing them when they are sad or scared. It's the positive interaction during the transition to school. It's knowing that if they are sick at school, that they can call you, and that you can come and get them if they require it.

Emotional availability is a necessary component in building a secure attachment with your child.

So, let's back up, why is it important to be emotionally available and how does this relate to attachment?

Do I belong? Do I have value? Am I worthwhile? - These are all questions children's emotional systems ask at a young age and form their attachment- or sense of security in primary relationships. When bids for connection are made as an infant, such as responding to their crying, these responses tell them that they do belong, have value and are worthwhile. These make them believe that relationships are safe and they are worthy of having them.

As a child grows, those questions, regardless of how they have been answered in the past, are constantly being revisited. The cues to connect look different as the child ages from infancy to toddler-hood to the teen years and beyond.

In Harry Harlow's classic research on rhesus monkeys, an infant monkey was provided with two options for care: one was a wire parent that provided milk to drink and the other was a heated terry cloth surrogate parent that did not provide food. What they found was the infant monkeys spent more time with the cloth parent than the wire parent that provided food.

Harlow interpreted these findings to illustrate the importance of warmth and safety as more important to attachment and relationship than meeting physiological needs.

Going back to my experience, while I was continuing to provide shelter, food, and their beloved internet; I wasn't responding to their bids and cues for connection. They needed to know that they were safe, valued, belonged, and worthwhile.

We all are torn by the many demands of the world and at times it can feel like we are running ourselves ragged to provide for the necessities our families need. However- if we want to have safe, meaningful and warm relationships with our children the thing that matters most is our ability to be emotionally available to them.

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