Memories and physical pictures remind me of my relationship with my Dad. From sitting in the pew next to him in church or on the couch for a movie, Dad wanted to squeeze my ears, arms, and fingers. As I grew up and became more aware of my Dad’s way of loving, I grew to hate physical touch. I shrunk from it. I claimed he made my ear lobes bigger. I resisted his effort to care in this manner.
This took a toll on our relationship, which began to suffer in my teenage years.
My interest in the family unit began early in my own development and eventually, I decided on majoring in Family Studies as an undergraduate. This has helped shape my view of my father’s actions and has left me in deep appreciation for his rare, yet powerful way of loving.
My greatest advice now would be to create visible and healthy secure attachments with your kids. Yes fathers, even you.
Attachment responses are distinct behaviors shown in a relationship between two people.
For example, when a baby cries in their crib, a parent may respond by picking up the child in consolation. That child learns that their parent cares and can comfort them. They show distress when separated from their parent, and receive that comfort upon their parents return.
Reversely, if a child is rarely or never consoled in this manner, they lose the ability to trust the parent. A child might respond as withdrawn, showing signs of detachment.
You may be asking yourself at this point, how can I avoid detachment in my relationship with my child? Well, you should know that oxytocin is a chemical released in the brain through physical touch. Oxytocin is not solely prevalent in mother-child relationships. Caregivers, close friendships, and intimate relationships can produce oxytocin. It is in physical touch and closeness that a strong attachment is created.
All of those times I felt that my dad was just trying to bug me, was actually his way of showing affection. In fact, over time it created a chemical release that gave me a sense of security and trust. Although he didn’t show his love like my mom did, I came to know that my dad loved me.
A further look into 4 domains can help us identify ways we can strengthen our attachment habits.
When I think about my relationship with my father, I remember the evenings playing basketball on the driveway until our hands were dark with dirt. I remember the mornings he ran with me around the neighborhood at obscenely early hours of the morning to help me condition for basketball. Or when he volunteered to be my 8th grade basketball coach and drove me to school each morning in his old Mazda truck.
Quality time isn’t about the big fancy vacations. It’s about time. It takes cognitive awareness of your child’s needs, passions, and goals and then doing something about it- with them. Not every dad is a basketball dad, and not every kid is a basketball kid, but genuine interest, or a desire to learn from your child’s passions, is quality time and is worth every minute.
Quality time does not make up for quantity time. Being able to afford a trip to Disneyland does not diminish the value of quantity time spent with your child. Long car rides, and simply your physical and mental presence are enough to make a world of difference for a child. Choose to put your phone down, and be mentally and physically present.
In my youth, I had an experience where I babysat for a family while the parents were on vacation. I struggled to get along with the oldest child, who was 9 years old. He rarely responded to my authoritative behavior and I couldn’t understand why. I soon realized the importance of allowing a child to lead out in conversation. He wanted to be heard before he would ever trust what came out of my mouth. Once I gave him opportunities to talk about his day at school or a toy that intrigued him, I began to gain his trust. I asked him questions and showed genuine interest. When children lead out in conversation, they feel empowered because parents verbally respond to their interests.
The final point that was mentioned previously is the importance of physical connection in parent-child relationships. This does not have to be an ear and arm squeezing. It can be seen in hugs goodbye, cuddling, placing your hand on your child’s hand or shoulder, or in putting a band-aid on your child’s scratched up knee.
Each of these elements help to promote strong parent-child bonds where relationships have the ability to endure healthily. Take the time to evaluate how you are showing your children you love them. How are you doing with quantity and quality time? How are you responding to their need for attention or love? Are you showing them in meaningful ways that you are present? Striving to make small changes will influence your relationships for good.