I recently spoke with Bethany Saltman about her book, Strange Situation: A Mother's Journey into the Science of Attachment. She covered so many facets of this tricky, wonderful, complicated, perfect topic of attachment that it’s impossible to fit it into a single blog post (or even a single discussion with her, for that matter).
So, I’ve taken the wisdom Bethany Saltman offers and pieced it into a bit of a puzzle, pulling out parts that resonated strongly with me.
Unlike a puzzle that’s hard to solve, though, attachment shows us how we naturally fit together when we allow ourselves to experience vulnerability, connection, and most of all, delight.
Make sure to watch the full interview for details.
In the meantime, here are some important things to think about. I’m bringing you into the middle of our interview where we were discussing patterns of attachment. We discussed patterns we learned in our own upbringing as well as the parts of those patterns that we’d like to redirect, or perhaps redo entirely, with our own families.
“You may be thinking about your childhood a lot and have a lot of feelings about your childhood -- but so much so that you get a little bit clogged around that. So, any little bit that we can do to try to thread some story into our lives, and to try to value attachment and to feel that valuing inside, will help us become more secure.”
Let's think about that in terms of some of the stories that we tell ourselves as mothers in particular, especially If we were raised in a home where maybe we didn't feel that we mattered much, or we didn't feel we had a voice. Many of us were raised to be seen but not heard.
And now, we have a child of our own. We know what didn’t feel good to us when we were growing up. We want something different; something better for our children.
How can we use this information that we have about our past and morph it into something that's going to put us into into a place where we can show up for our child, where we can be present, where we can break some of the habits that might have been going on for generations?
Here's the thing.
This is the answer nobody likes. You can't. By trying really hard to move in another direction, it ends up often -- it's like the same pot of stew just slightly different flavor.
And because we're still fixated on one thing, [we’re stuck there]. My mom, for instance, was an obsessive cleaner. Clean, clean, clean. I always felt like, “Gosh, why are you more interested in the house than you are me?”
And if I try really hard to not do that with Azalea [my daughter], I'm going to become so obsessed with the filth of my house. I am going to be more fixated on that than I would be if
I'm just myself, who happens to be someone who has to clean a lot.
So, a lot of times when we try to do those corrective measures, we're fighting ourselves.
I think the better answer is to really become curious about that and to bring some light and some awareness into that pattern; into that habit; because we're not so easily deterred from the things we really want.
Especially these days with COVID, I'm [easily annoyed by the mess] and it's hard because we're all living in the house together.
And yes, I can certainly work on my delivery. I can you know work on recognizing that Azalea's 14. She's in a brainstorm, to use Dan Siegel's term.
Her executive functioning is not at its finest right now. So, I can educate myself and have some compassion, but I'm not going to change who I am -- which is someone who has to have some order or else I'm going to go insane.
It’s better to know ourselves more and, like I said, inject more awareness into who we are. Trying to change ourselves -- it doesn't go very well.
I love the stew analogy because you know, let's face it. Like you said, we're all basically making the same pot of stew generation after generation. But it maybe, let's say -- I love analogies and metaphors so bear with me here -- we can make a stew and say, "Yup, basic ingredients are pretty much the same as they always have been, but today I'm going to try it without carrots."
All of these other familiar ingredients are still in there. I can't pretend that I get to toss the whole thing out today, but I can make it without carrots.
And maybe for me, in this moment, carrots might be when I go downstairs after this interview, I am going to expect -- rather than go down and think, "What happened to my clean house?"
Instead, I can think, “I'm going to go downstairs and expect it's going to be messy. How can I prepare myself for that so I can be peaceful around it?”
Exactly. Instead of trying to become a different person between now and then, accept that you want the house to be clean, and it's probably going to be a mess.
...If you're really worried about creating an environment where your child can have an optimal experience and be securely attached, then you'd do well to put all that aside and take care of yourself.
Be the kind of loving person that can pay attention to another human being -- your baby, your child, your teenager.
The way that we do that is we learn to tolerate our own feelings in the presence of another. That's where attachment lives. It has nothing to do with what we do. It has everything to do with how we feel. It's a state of mind. It's not an activity.
"Bethany Saltman's Strange Situation: A Mother's Journey into the Science of Attachment is enlightening on every level. The scientist in me was fascinated by the research she shared; intellectually, it was everything I craved. My tender mama-heart responded to her vulnerability and honesty, drawing me into her story. Very well done."