Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 3:53 am | Mostly Cloudy 51º


Alana Walczak: Despite Heartache, There’s Much to Celebrate This Mother’s Day

I admit it. I’m a little ambivalent about Mother’s Day. During my young adult life, it was a very confusing and difficult holiday for me. I didn’t have a close relationship with my mom, so it felt strange to “celebrate” a day that brought me pain and left me feeling alone and empty.

In more recent years, having worked through a lot of heartache, I admitted to myself how deeply I wanted to become a mom myself — only to learn that my body wasn’t going to comply. Struggling with fertility issues for several years, Mother’s Day felt like a cruel joke. It was a sad reminder of the joy others felt while silently I struggled to accept loss after loss after loss.

But now, at this point in my journey, I am happy to say that Mother’s Day has finally taken on new meaning for me. It’s a reminder of how fortunate I feel to be a mom and to be so in love with my kids. I adore the off-key songs at the annual school celebration, and I treasure the homemade gifts, the hand-drawn cards and the hand-picked flowers. Most importantly, I revel in the special relationships I’ve built with my two daughters.

At CALM, we say that our work is “protecting the most important relationship in the world.” Ideally, that’s the relationship between parent and child. But not always. Children need a reliable caregiver, whether that is a mom or dad, a grandparent, a foster parent or even a loving teacher. Evidence shows that a secure attachment to a stable adult is the key to building a resilient child.

“Attachment is not a set of tricks,” says Alan Sroufe, a development psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota. “It is the deep, abiding confidence a child has in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver.” A secure attachment has at least three functions: (1) it provides a sense of safety and security for the child; (2) it regulates children’s emotions by soothing distress and creating joy; and (3) it offers a secure base from which to explore the world.

At CALM, we work to encourage attachment at every stage of life. When parents are struggling with a child’s behavior, it can be incredibly difficult to connect. Yet, it is that reconnecting, that “time-in” rather than “time-out,” that can help kids take control of their own feelings and behavior.

I never felt a secure and stable attachment with my own mom, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to create a strong and healthy bond with my own girls. But, the good news is that it’s absolutely possible. Here are some tips I’ve learned.

First, the most important ingredients in building connection are my time and approval. It’s creating the mental and physical space for my full self to be present with my children. When Sydney and Alix were babies, I soothed them when they cried and I reflected their emotions of pleasure and joy.

Although it was amazingly difficult to be available to twin babies (that’s a whole other article!), my girls learned that there were loving adults available to help them when they were hungry, cold or tired. Or, just when they needed a little extra love and attention.

Now that they are almost 8 years old, we enjoy reading books together, playing card games and making art. We have fun dance parties during dinner and play at the beach on the weekends. Every day, I remind them of how special they are to me. And every night at bedtime, I tell them that I love them and that I’m here for them — no matter what.

As they get older, I’m sure we’ll connect in new ways. We’ll volunteer, we’ll travel to new places, and I’ll take a genuine interest in the things and the people they choose to care about.

And, here’s the wonderful thing about attachment: It creates a virtuous cycle. The more connected and secure my children feel in their relationship with me, the better I feel about them. Additionally, this attachment translates into confidence and strength. Because they know they are safe and loved at home, they’re willing to take risks and try new things out in the world.

Back to Mother’s Day. I recognize that this is a Hallmark holiday that unfortunately leaves out so many people. For those of us who don’t have a mother we are connected to, we might feel angry. For those who have lost mothers we love, we might feel sad or alone. For those who are desperately trying to create a family without success, we can feel hopeless or depressed.

Despite these realities, I am looking forward to this Mother’s Day. I will appreciate my children, my good fortune and all the choices I’ve made to be a different type of mom. I will send love and support to the many people in my life who will be struggling on this day. And I will honor the people in my life who provide unconditional love to me and my family — the mothers of my heart.

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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