Who's In Charge, Anyway?

There are a great many confused expectations of society which have contributed to the widespread breakdown of the family in our times, among which one is of significant importance if we would inoculate our own families against this plague. That is the idea that it is the child who is responsible for the relationship and anything that goes wrong within it. In "Our Babies, Ourselves" Meredith Small relates how Freud purported the notion that it was actually the baby who initiated and sustained the attachment with his mother and father. Freud believed that it was the baby's sucking that triggered the mother's maternal response, creating the bond between them, and that so long as he looked to her for nurturance he sustained that bond. If this were so then it would only be logical to believe, further, that any rupture in the bond was instigated by the child, as well. At the core of this notion is another idea just as preposterous: that man created God and God depends on man for His existence. No wonder Freud was so twisted!
Paradoxically, this idea is very evident in the authoritarian parenting paradigm, whereby all the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of the child, and he is expected always to be the one to make amends for "initiating" any conflict between his parents and himself. If he is unhappy, he is labeled "ungrateful." If the parents are unhappy the child is labeled "difficult" or "rebellious." There are no "bad" parents, only "bad" children; or the only bad parents are the ones whose children "don't know their place."

Actually this idea that children are the ones responsible for the relationship and all the problems in it is inherently horizontal, or perhaps inverted, but definitely not mutually beneficial or sanctifying for parent and child. This idea has been formulating in my mind for months: since the Protestant Reformation, French Revolution, etc. there has been a gradual re-orientation of the world from it's once vertical orientation to one that is decidedly horizontal. As a race, man's ability to experience mixed feelings, love of self counter-balanced by love of God, has all but disappeared. Men no longer love God for love of God, but love Him for love of themselves, or love their neighbors for love of themselves--in other words, man no longer loves God, but himself. This is precisely an effect of punitive relationships--we "learn" to do the "right thing" for fear of what we will suffer if we don't. This creates but the facade of virtue, whilst beneath lies a hard and stony ground covered with thorns in which vice takes root welcomely (Lk 8, 4-15). This is what happens when we love our neighbor and/or God for love of ourselves. I include "or" in that statement because it is well nigh impossible to love them both for love of oneself, the neighbor being an obstacle to loving God because of all the temptations he represents, and God being an obstacle to loving one's neighbor, His laws being too burdensome to keep when all you're really interested in is avoiding suffering and experiencing as much pleasure in this life as you are able.

What this all boils down to is a call to conversion--or we will suffer the natural consequences of our horizontal (narcissistic) orientation in the anarchy--the great chastisement--toward which we are quickly heading. To be vertically oriented--attached to God, the author of life--we have to be willing to suffer--as Christ suffered--to die to ourselves. And we cannot love some for love of God, and not others. We cannot honestly say to God, "I love some of those you love, but not others." Again, this is loving for ourselves. We must love ALL of those whom God loves--EVERYONE! Like Jesus said, even our enemies. If we are not loving everyone for love of God we are loving only ourselves. We love only those who please us, and we love in them only that which pleases us. This is why man is constantly engaged in an effort to change those around him--in order to make them more easily lovable to himself. When we love everyone for love of God we have faith in the transformative power of love, the example of which Jesus demonstrated to us time and time again. Mary Magdalen was a prostitute, for heaven's sake! Jesus didn't tell her He wouldn't allow her into His company until she forsook her sinful ways, or remind her that being stoned to death was the natural consequence of her actions. He told us all to cast no stone unless we were without sin. "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."

It's important to remember that blaming our friends or relatives for the unfortunate sutuation in which we find ourselves is counterproductive--we must love them exactly as we are aspiring to love our children (a task more difficult than loving our children because of it's inverted nature). They have always done they best they knew how, just like we're doing. They are "victims" of the skewed orientation of society, just like we are. This is something I've always known deep down, but until I understood attachment and orientation I don't think I really understood just exactly what is the nature of the beast. There is no disconnect between attachment theory and theology. Attachment theory is to inter-human relationships what theology is to man's relationship with the divine (and horizontal orientation is the devil's play ground). God provides for all our needs, spiritual and physical, and He loves us selflessly, and it's this love which makes us good--not just act good, but really and truly be good. God has His own set of attachment rituals--the sacraments. He feeds us with his own flesh and blood. He provides for our "nurturing touch" with the sacrament of matrimony. He listens with empathy through the priest when we confess our sins. He bonds Himself to us through baptism--attachment is nothing more than faith, hope and charity between two souls. Attachment theory proves His existence and the Divinity of Christ by demonstrating that the faithful application of the Gospel, even to our children, is mutually sanctifying for both in the relationship. The only reason we don't "just do it" is that we're afraid. We're afraid it won't work; we're afraid our own needs won't be met; we're afraid of being taken advantage of; we're afraid of hell, pain, suffering, etc. Well here's another truth for us:

The saints didn't become saints because they were afraid of the pains of hell, they became saints precisely because they were not afraid of the pains of hell. They loved God fearlessly, desiring to suffer everything for love of Him, without expecting anything in return for themselves. They loved Him only because it pleases Him to be loved. And this is precisely the love we have to bear for one another--especially our children who will learn to love from no one else but us.

God has taken full responsibility for His relationship with us, providing for all our needs, though he delegates to parents first and foremost some of the duties of demonstrating that love and distributing those provisions. And when parents love as best as God has provided them the wherwithall to love, it will transform their children without the need for fear inducing punitive force (this, btw, is the secret to attachment parenting many children close in age). Our parents never heard of attachment parenting and so made use of the best methods available to them at the time. But we have been given a "new" method that is 2000 years old! I believe God has provided the theory of attachment to teach us what love is again, because it's been lost on a vast number of past generations. We have lost our bearings because the world has turned its back on God, and none of us is "without sin." This doesn't change any of the boundaries we are so attached to--right is still right and wrong is still wrong. It simply provides us a way of transforming one another, or rather being instruments of the transforming love of God, which brings out the best in one another instead of--well, less than that.

Virtues flourish in a climate of charity. Vices flourish in a climate of fear. Parents are the greatest influence on that climate in the lives of their children. When St. Paul told fathers not to provoke their children, this is what he was talking about. We may not make our children sin by the way we treat them, but we can certainly tempt them, just as the immodest woman tempts a man. We've been so focused on protecting them from the temptations that the world lays before them that we are blind to the temptations which we lay before them. There is a better way available to us and Hold On To Your Kids, amongst others, lays it all out there for our benefit and our children's. It could have been entitled, "The Case For Attachment Parenting" but if you read between the lines you'll find another book entitled, "The Case For Christ."

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Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

"...to turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."