To fulfill the requirements for my Ph.D. program I have to be “in residence” for one year. What that basically means is that I have to be full time, the equivalent to taking three classes each semester. When I looked at the semester schedule for fall 2011 I discovered that to be full time I would have to take a class on Wednesday nights. I discarded the idea entirely. Why? Wednesday night is one of Jon’s busiest nights at work. Trying to coordinate childcare would be…complicated. The idea of trying to navigate those arrangements caused me anxiety just thinking about it. So despite the fact that Jon wondered if it was indeed the best year for me to do the residency requirement, I threw the idea away and thought that I would fulfill it later. As August approached, the possibility came up again. Was I really going to do this thing (the Ph.D. program) or not?
I decided that if I could get help, I would go for it. So after a few phone calls, I had five family members eager to rotate offering help for the four months of class on Wednesday nights. Once a month my mom, my dad, Jon’s parents, or my brother comes to stay with the kids, take them to church, and then bring them back home while Jon is at the church working. As a mother it has been very difficult to ask for and accept this help. Too often we are told that we should have it all under control on our own…that we should know all of the details, have our children monitored by only us all of the time…and I, unfortunately, buy into this cultural idea too often. By giving up some control on these Wednesday nights my children are getting the chance to spend time with grandparents and their uncle. And, I am getting to pursue a personal and professional goal. Win-win.
Things were going very well the first few weeks. I was tired and working hard, but the plans were working like clockwork. Then one Sunday night I was putting the girls to bed, anticipating with them the great week ahead of us, and Eloise anxiously asked: “Mom, is tomorrow Wednesday?” “No, why?” “Well, I know that I just have to make it through Wednesday and I’ll be ok.”
What followed, in short, was a conversation in which Eloise explained that she was not too happy about our arrangements. “I’m glad you are going to school and all, but I just don’t like having someone different coming each week to take me to church. I would rather it be the same person each time.”
As it turns out Eloise had in her mind that we would be following this plan for two years. I am not sure where she got this idea, but the idea of having someone different coming to take her to church on Wednesday nights week after week for two years was just a little too overwhelming. I explained that we would not be following this plan for two years, but only until Thanksgiving, which was three months away. That information seemed to help and she went to bed.
Eloise is my daughter that needs to know who, what, why, when, where, and how. I am fairly certain that she thinks she knows more than I do. If she does not have the details about what is going on ahead of time and/or she thinks that I do not have it all together, she gets a little anxious. If coordinating a situation is going to be…complicated…she would rather just avoid it. She likes things to be calm, orderly, and well planned.
These Wednesday nights are stretching her.
Which is not a bad thing.
As I listened to Eloise share her anxieties I was not too alarmed. I know this girl. I know that this is what she does. I know that her anxiety does not make me a bad mother or mean that I am doing something wrong. What I do know is that I would love for her to trust me. Like so many other times in the past I would love for her to just know that I’ve got this. She can relax. Daddy and I have the details covered. She is not the third adult in the house. I would love for her to rest in all of these truths because I know that ultimately this trust will be best for her. I know that in her trusting she won’t get silly in her anxiety, she won’t become exhausted by the heightened emotions, and she will have more energy, more time, more space to just…be…be adventurous, be playful, be a little girl.
I would love for Eloise to slip her little hand in mine and say: “Ok, Mama. Let’s do this (whatever “this” is).”
If you have even grazed the field of psychology in the past couple of decades you are well acquainted with John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. It seems that it is the “hottest thing” in the field these days. And, like most theories of science it has made its way to pop culture with some unfortunate packaging. Some people tend to think of Attachment Theory as being about how much time a mother spends with her infant every day and week. While it is true that some research explores this factor, this preoccupation is not what Attachment Theory is about. Attachment is about relationships, trust, and security. It is about feeling safe enough to explore…to be. Attachment Theory explores how early relationship patterns create a sense of security (or not) in a child. How much time a mother spends with a child does play into the picture in certain ways, but it is more about the relationship. I have seen stay at home mothers raising anxious and insecure children and working mothers raising secure and confident ones. It is about creating a space where children learn that they are safe…enough to rest, to relax, to explore, to just…be…be adventurous, playful. There are two parts to secure attachment: security and exploration.
One of my favorite parts of being a mother is holding my child’s hand. I know their hands well. I reach for them when we cross the road, when we are waiting in line at the grocery store, when we watch movies, and sometimes just because I want to tell them I am there. And, I love what it tells me when their hand relaxes in mine. I’m ok, mommy. I know you are there. I will go along with you. I can trust that we are going in a safe direction. I know that you’ve got the details covered.
Emmett’s hands are soft, warm, and a little pudgy with left over baby fat. Lillian’s are strong, usually warm and sticky…with left over mess from whatever adventure she has had most recently. Eloise’s hands are slender and cool to the touch. Lillian is most likely to let me hold her hand, often grabbing my hand first. Emmett is too active to think about it, usually takes my hand on instinct. Eloise is eight and not sure if she wants to hold my hand or not. Oh, she does, but she doesn’t. But, she does. Then again, maybe she doesn’t. Is she supposed to? For how long? Why? What? When? Where? How?
I would love for her not to think so much…just take my hand already.
I’m pretty sure God says something like this to me, too.
I would love for you to stop thinking so much. Just take my hand already.
Often I have those same questions for God… who, what, why, when, where, and how. Oh, how often I have those questions. It probably comes across that I think I know more than He does. I get anxious and tend to worry that He does not have the details covered. That He does not really have it all together. If it looks as though coordinating a situation is going to be…complicated (for God)…I would rather just avoid it. I like things to be calm, orderly, and well planned. I want to know….just know.
Life itself pretty much stretches me.
Which is not a bad thing.
As God listens to me share my anxieties I am fairly certain He does not get too alarmed. I know this girl, He says. I know that this is what she does. What I do know is that I would love for her to trust me. Like so many other times before I would love for her to just know that I’ve got this. She can relax. I have the details covered. She is not the other God in the universe. I would love for her to rest in all of these truths because I know that ultimately that will be best for her. I know that in her trusting she won’t get silly in her anxiety, she won’t become exhausted by the heightened emotions, and she will have more energy, more time, more space to just…be…be adventurous, be playful, be my girl.
I would love for Emily to slip her little hand in mine and say: “Ok, God. Let’s do this.”
So, I’ve been thinking about Attachment and Eloise and me. I’ve been thinking about how much I want her to trust me, to be secure, secure enough to relax and explore, to live life, to just…be. And, I’ve been thinking about how much I want that for myself, too. I’ve been thinking about what it tells me when my children reach for my hand. I’m ok, mommy. I know you are there. I will go along with you. I can trust that we are going in a safe direction. I know that you’ve got the details covered. And, I want that kind of trust, too. I want that to be my message to God. So, I’m thinking about all of these things in the midst of a very, very full week of classes and work and loving on my family and I find myself in the car driving. I am exhausted and on my way to a field trip with one of my girls, following the bus to the museum, and I desperately need to know that He’s got this, that He’s got the details covered. And, for a moment, I imagine I lift up my hand, pretend to grab His hand, and I know that He’s been saying it all along: “Take my hand. Go ahead. Take it. I’ve got this.” And, I choose to take His hand, choose to rest in it, choose to go along with Him and say one more time: “Ok, God. Let’s do this.”