For the last three years I have been on an endless quest to “fix” myself so I do not hurt my children with my Depression and Anxiety. I research, I write, I often judge myself harshly and then I study some more and find something else to beat myself up about. But hopefully through this process, what I absorb is changing my parenting for the better. I still see my behavior toward my children through the lens of my depression but more importantly, I see it also by the light of what I’ve learned. And while it may be difficult in the moment, I can course adjust as needed so we’re not headed completely off the rails as a family.
Through my research, I have learned a great deal about Attachment Theory and its relationship to Depression and Anxiety in children. First analyzed by John Bowlby decades ago, it has since been studied by many psychologists and written about by countless experts in the field of child development. In the case of secure attachment, the primary caregiver (in our culture this is most often mom), provides a secure base from which the child can explore the world and safely return as needed. A securely attached child feels loved and protected from the earliest stages of life by their primary caregiver. An insecurely attached child, which sometimes results from the mother’s emotional unavailability, can have a great many resulting difficulties including a deep sense of rejection and a lack of self-worth. Often the worst outcomes include children later diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety (Ahhh, my life in non-fiction). Many times insecure attachment results from the child having a depressed or anxious mother. After learning about this from my own doctors, I read a book entitled the “Emotionally Absent Mother,” by Jasmin Lee Cori, during which I simultaneously saw my own childhood unfold on her pages as well as what might happen to my own children if I didn’t change my behavior.
One of my favorite authors, who wrote a great deal about such topics, was John Bradshaw who recently passed away. He had a traumatic early life and understood intimately the damage that could be done by ill and/or withholding parents. He wrote:
“We need to know from the beginning that we can trust the world…If we had a primary caregiver who was mostly predictable, and who touched us and mirrored all our behaviors, we developed a sense of basic trust. When security and trust are present, we begin to develop an interpersonal bond, which forms a bridge of empathetic mutuality. Such a bridge is crucial for the development of self-worth. The only way a child can develop a sense of self-worth is through a relationship with another…In our earliest stages of life we can only know ourselves in the mirroring-eyes of our primary caregivers (Bradshaw, 2005).”
I need to be that predictable and mirroring caregiver. But it is so hard when it was never modeled for you. It is not innate for me like it is for some Mom’s I watch. I despise living my life like a science experiment, but I am an observer of parenting now…always searching out the correct behaviors because I never learned them in my first family. W0rst of all, I cannot be around my own mother for any length of time anymore because it causes me to regress. I’m no longer the striving good mother when I’m in her presence. I am the rejected child. I become the middle-aged, “under-mothered” child to borrow Jasmin Cori’s phrase and I forget how to act. I simply react to her endless selfish behaviors. I become angry and lash out or I withdraw completely. I am 16 again and hate the world and everyone in it.
No matter how old you get, maternal rejection has the ability to crush your spirit and devalue your accomplishments in a manner unlike almost anything else…if you let it. Some people stronger than I may be able to blow it off…ignore the crazy old lady. I am so jealous of such people. I cannot do this. Somewhere inside me, there is still a screaming child who just wants her mommy to love her. And the only way to calm the child is to remove my mother from the picture and re-mother that child myself. This used to make me even more upset and resentful. But I’ve learned…So what? So what if I have to re-mother myself. It’s good practice for the ones who matter most…my own kids.