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Friday, March 4, 2011

Secure Base : Confidence = God : Vulnerability

There is a theory in parenting which some psychologists call ‘secure base’ or ‘attachment parenting’. It says that when the child feels safe and protected by her primary caretaker, she feels more able to go out, explore, be adventurous, try out new things, make friends with new people. This is because she always knows that she has a safe place to come back to in case of need; a place that has never failed her. My experience with Isha and other children over the last 20 months tells me that this is so true. How to create this ‘secure base’ is through a lot of caring, comforting touch, always being there for your child when she needs you, always informing if you have to leave, always keeping your word with your child. There is safety in a relationship based on such deep trust.

Now, many of us have been told that these sorts of things could make a child too clingy and attached, less out-going, less independent, etc. When Isha was born in a hospital, the nurses came and advised me one after another. “Please leave the baby in the crib. If you put her by your side, she will get clingy. Life will get very hard for you, and you won’t be able to go to work!” I cried to myself “Please give her a break! She is only a day old!!” Imagine being out in the world full of new faces, lights and sounds, when all you had known thus far was your mother’s womb’s warmth, her heartbeat and her voice. And by the way, I do not intend to leave her and go to work.” None of them seemed like they cared to be engaged on this, and so all I managed to tell them was “It’s okay! I know what I am doing!!”

Here are some of the things I managed to do, especially in the first one year of her life. I was always there when she woke up from sleep with an ‘Amma’s here!’ or some such thing. I held and hugged her a lot. I was always there to pick her up and comfort her when she was distressed. Like when she hurt herself, or felt scared about something. At the same time, whenever she was in a position to come to me (if she was not so badly hurt that she could not move, for instance) I refrained from picking her up but just made myself available in case she needed help and comfort. Interestingly, many of those times she just needed to see me and hear my reassuring voice. (This is important to let the child learn to ask for help if needed, and not always passively sit around feeling victimized demanding comfort. This also teaches them self-confidence and self-respect, without letting them feel abandoned.) I always informed her when I went out leaving her with a caretaker she was completely comfortable with and returned with ‘Amma’s back!’ In our culture, there is this perverted practice of provoking a child to feel ‘scared, insecture, jealous, angry’ etc. (and I am convinced that adults who do such a thing are deeply insecure inside, themselves, without being in touch with it¬). They say things like “I will take amma home, and you stay here!”, or “This is my Sangee, not yours!” or some such thing. I always stepped in proactively to reassure Isha “Aunty is only joking. You know amma will never leave you right?” and then she would be ok.

All the above was in past-tense, not because I stopped doing any of it. But enough trust and security has been established that I’m needed to do these things less and less. Isha just takes many of them for granted. Like she knows that when I go out, I will definitely be back soon.

Isha is generally more adventurous, risk-taking, experimenting, creative, sings a lot and makes friends with new people (while keeping her safe distance with strangers) than most kids her age. She is rarely scared or anxious, but always curious and cautious. She finds it easy to say ‘Bye!’ to me unless she is in distress and I am not replaceable for some reason. I realize that a child is very unlikely to simply throw a tantrum about the mother leaving. It is almost always a matter of how safe she feels. She rarely reacts when other kids take her toys. She has never reacted possessively when I’ve picked up, held and cuddled other babies. She’s quite comfortable with it, and in fact celebratory about the love I share with them, joyfully singing “Amma, Meenu pappa huggy!”

Along with attachment and trust-building, there is another thing that helps children feel secure. Something we have been taught quite the opposite about. It is that of ‘boundaries’. Isha is not said ‘No!’ to, when she wants to explore and express, as long as she is not in danger, or does not damage property or violate other people’s spaces. Enforcing boundaries means saying a non-negotiable ‘No!’ during these times. Psychologists say (and I agree) that kids who have strict boundaries (who know their limits) feel safer than kids who have no boundaries. I am not very good at enforcing boundaries, because it is an area of struggle in my own personal life. But I am learning and getting better at it, and find it quite rewarding.


This theory in parenting that I have confirmed for myself over the last 20 months has given me deep insight into human nature itself. It got better articulated in my head when I heard Brene-Brown’s brilliant talk on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. The gist of what she has to say after decades of research is that, those of us who feel ‘safe and secure’ deep inside are more able to make ourselves vulnerable. This ability for vulnerability means that we are willing to ‘put ourselves out there’, ‘exposing ourselves as we are’ without much fear. So, we are more easily able to propose to the girl we love without fear of rejection, to wait for exam results without anxiety, speak in front of a crowd without fear of making a fool of ourselves, try out new things in life and so on. The power of such vulnerability is a doorway to authentic living, true joy, deep love and compassion, courage and empathy, and all the goodies we are all after! Those of us who are constantly working hard to project (even to ourselves!) our “perfect” selves, which appears to “know” and to be “confident” are actually crumbling inside. We end up living ‘false lives’, which can get plenty of dry humour and laughter, but never true joy!

Those of us who find it hard to be vulnerable carry a deep pain inside, from insecurity through abandonment, abuse, lack of love or by subtle pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘be good’ that we’re struggled hard to live up to.

If it is true, as it is in my case, then it does not help thinking about our past (childhood or later), blaming this or that for it. I’ve been finding it important to find the divine in this moment, which can offer unlimited unconditional love; a secure base. This base holds the magical power to healing from our insecurities.

There is no more secure base to keep returning to, than the Divine Presence that will arise whenever we align with the moment. The Presence that I choose to call God.


Bhuvana Murali said...

Amazing thoughts Sangee.. I respect and appreciate your methods and you sharing it with us...

Some of us speak in cliches. Some of us love. said...

Thanks for this post, Sangee! Great, great help!



Preetha said...

Hey sangeetha, that made good reading. I ve very surely felt the same way in many many occasions. Sometimes other people tell us exact opposite things about this security thing. As if we are there 24 *7 with the child, the child will be very secure - thats also wrong. Very nice, and very true - things that I have experienced with my children too!!! The closer they are and true care they know - they can explore by themselves in a better way!!!

Aravinda said...

Lovely essay Sangeetha. Just today I came across another piece that reminded me of yours. Here is an interesting paragraph: "When the brain’s safety needs are met, it will allow its neurons to moonlight in algebra classes. ...
Roosevelt’s dad held him first, which made his son feel safe, which meant the future president could luxuriate in geography.”

- quoted in "Superwoman was Here Already" http://un-schooled.net/?p=488