“No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you.” A mother says to her child, who then adds, “After all, you’re the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside.” Pan to the child with his head on his mother’s chest-burrowing into a place of safety and security.
As I write, I feel the depth of “the sacredness of pen touching paper” so eloquently stated by Dan Allender, a Christian therapist, and author. It is sacred to me because this writing is an overflow from a book I’m writing for my own children, per their request, about the ups and downs of parenting the Couch boys. It is titled Safe and Sound: and Everything between Grace Based Parenting and The Huxtables. It is sacred writing because every move we make with our boys is God-breathed. The intention behind the book and even this blog entry is to address how having a Mother’s Heart is a calling for mothers to be safe.
One of my favorite classes in my Master’s program was called Spiritual and Clinical Integration which involved marrying clinical testing and research to support Scriptural truth and God’s word to give in order to understand humanity better. In particular, I loved learning about what psychology calls Attachment Theory. John Bowlby, a psychologist, and psychoanalyst believed that early attachment between a child and their caregiver played a critical role in later development and mental functioning. The Attachment Styles he developed are Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent, and Disorganized (you can learn more here https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/attachment-theory/). As we dig deeper into this idea, I hope that the reader will gain an understanding of clinical research and, at the same time be inspired by Scriptural truth, to create a safe place for their kids. In Attachment theory terms, this means creating a secure attachment. So, how do we do this?
Secure Attachment is a deep, abiding confidence a child has in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver. The three areas that foster Secure Attachment are Attunement, Containment, and Repairing of Ruptures. Let’s look at the clinical explanation, the Biblical representation, and the practical walk with our children down the path of instilling Secure Attachment.
One of the first ways to create a secure attachment is Attunement- the interpersonal, emotional connection in which the receiver feels seen, heard, understood, joined, and cared for. We can see ways in Scripture where God attunes to his children. For example, Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Father God attunes to the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:20-24 and Jesus attunes to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:3-11. An example of attunement with my own children is when one of our boys began life with a smartphone and we hit our first bump in the road with technology. Pornography found its way to our child’s eyes. At the moment he was caught, my first words were, “We need to talk about this.” As I walked to my room knowing he’d be joining me soon, I felt God say to me, “The first words you say to him will be some of the most important words you will ever say.” No pressure! He walked into my room, I still didn’t have the words, so I hugged him. I can do that! As we pulled away from each other and I locked eyes with that sweet 13-year-old of mine, I felt the words come to me: “I get it… I get it.” God breathed and inspired those three simple words that allowed me to connect with my son at that moment that allowed him to feel seen, safe, secure and cared for when I could have created distance, shame, and rupture-this was Attunement.
Another key ingredient for creating a secure attachment or being safe for your kids is providing containment. Containment means having the capacity to remain strong, stable and regulated in the wake of another’s emotions; to create a container so that whatever arises is respected, held and processed. Scripture shows us how Jesus exemplified containment so sweetly in John 11:32-33. After Lazarus’ death, his sister Mary was at Jesus’ feet and weeping. There He contained her emotions and all those around by being present and letting them know that He would be there with them in their pain. After I uttered the words “I get it” to my child, we sat on my bed, I held his hand, and began to share with ease my understanding of his curiosity because I remember feeling the same way as a teenager. My ability to stay grounded in his emotions ushered in grace, like-mindedness, and camaraderie which answered the question within him asking, “Am I Safe?” Yes, son, Yes you are.
Another piece of creating safety or a secure attachment involves Repairing of Ruptures. Ruptures in relationships with ourselves and others are unavoidable which means that our goal in creating safety becomes less about being perfect and more about knowing when and how we need to repair those ruptures. In Luke 4:18, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” As my boy was sitting across from me, I felt the urge to pray with him over any thoughts in his mind that would create shame, embarrassment, disgust with himself and ultimately disruption and disconnection in relationship with me and with himself. We prayed that God would usher in His grace over any place that the enemy would try to steal, kill, and destroy my boy. Our eyes opened to look at each other, and I could see the lightness within him as I stayed connected to him and proclaimed freedom and recovery. We joined hands, as a team does in a huddle, and I stated, “We are going to take loving actions of protection with this phone, you are supported, we are a team… now go see your daddy, he’s got you from here!” That is Repairing a Rupture.
I thank God and incredible clinical research affirming to me that I have Him Attuning and Containing with me so that I can be the mother that my boys need me to be. Moreover, I REALLY thank God for the Repairing of Ruptures, so that I feel the freedom of His grace when I miss the mark.
God created a Mother’s Heart to be a place where a child feels secure enough to feel Seen, Safe, and Supported.
Ali Couch, LAPC