As parents, you want your child to be healthy, joyful, safe, and successful. What that means to you and how you strive to support your child in these ways can have the opposite effect. It can be challenging! Sometimes when a parent attempts to direct these outcomes for their son or daughter, it’s because of an attachment. How do you know when you’re being too controlling? This blog will discuss what parenting with healthy and unhealthy attachment looks like and provide guidance about when and how to ‘let go.’
Your child is practicing a new hobby. Maybe it’s roller-skating, oil painting, or animating home videos. Whatever the scenario, you may look for teaching moments. What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy attachment in a teaching moment with your child?
Unhealthy attachment scenario:
Your child seems to be at ease in practicing their new hobby. They don’t seem confused, awkward, rebelling, or in danger. However, you interrupt them to give a helpful suggestion, demonstrate a method, question their process, and critique their effort — or all of the above. This behavior is often done repeatedly within a short time when there’s no apparent need for it.
According to science, when this type of attachment happens over the long term, it weakens their child’s executive functioning. This functioning includes the ability to plan, manage, and successfully reach their goals, as well as foster independence.
Healthy attachment scenario:
When your child is actively enjoying learning their new hobby, you tell them that you are proud of or excited about their progress. Or you give them an encouraging word with a supportive statement – like, ‘Good job! Let me know if you need a hand or have a question. I’m happy to help.’ Then you leave them to continue their practice and exploration. You may make a habit of this encouraging dialogue every few days if the child hasn’t asked questions or for help — if only to show your support and interest in what they are doing. Additionally, this method isn’t just about being a cheerleader. Parenting with healthy attachment includes setting limits when your child breaks a rule; they are not paying attention or half-heartedly engaging in a task.
Why Letting Go is Hard
Healthy detachment may seem ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ to a parent with unhealthy attachment.
At first attempt, it can:
- Feel like you’re abandoning your child.
- Seem uncaring/cold.
- Feel like you don’t matter/matter to them as much.
- Bring up feelings of parental failure.
- Lead to self-blame if you feel your expectations for your child are unmet.
You may fear that their child may not love you the same when you make an effort to let go. This fear may also include a fear of change. As you know, all of life changes -your child, too, despite any efforts to try to control situations. Control is an illusion. Attachment to outcomes — like an ideal life you have planned in your head for your child can lead to heartbreak or at least dissatisfaction.
Parenting with Healthy, Loving Detachment
Healthy detachment starts with good communication between you and your child – See the earlier example in the beginning of this blog. This communication includes actions such as:
- Accepting and supporting your child in becoming their own person.
- Allowing for greater risk-taking over time.
- Increasingly allowing your child the freedom of individual self-expression.
- Letting your son or daughter face the consequences of their actions.
Some final questions to ask yourself in the pursuit of acting with healthy, loving attachment:
- “Do my actions help my child to take or avoid responsibility?”
- “Am I allowing my daughter or son to learn their own life lessons?”
- “Am I intervening with my child because I’m afraid their actions are a reflection of my parenting vs. their having independent will and personality?”
When you employ healthy attachment, you are gifting your child with more teaching moments that support their growth into joyful, disciplined, productive, and confident adults.
The art of ‘letting go’ is not easy, and the steps you take to parent with healthy, loving detachment won’t likely be a straight line. However, it can get easier over time. If you have questions or concerns related to parenting and family dynamics around this, the staff at Deschutes Wilderness Therapy is glad to assist you.