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I Really Don’t Know: A Post About the Challenges to Attached Families

If you’re familiar with Attachment Theory for children, you’re probably not surprised to hear about Adult Attachment Theory.  This is a pretty new area of study, and the basics are outlined in a pretty reader-friendly book called Attached by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A.  It’s really marketed as a self-help book, claiming it “can help you find- and keep- love.”  The book is interesting even if you’re in a relationship, though.  I may write a review soon enough, but for now, I just wanted to mention that adult attachment exists.

My view of attached relationships (commonly termed “co-dependency” by psychologists seeking some sort of disconnect from biological needs, treating them as bad habits needing to be broken) is that they are healthy.  The research thus far shows us that a relationship which is secure soothes our nervous systems, helping our bodies and minds function with relative ease.  Who wouldn’t want this for their marriage?  In an era of skyrocketing divorce rates and little hope for preserving life-long commitments, I think we need this science to emerge a little faster.  A lot faster.  However, what we do have right now is a foundation: marriages can be secure, attached relationships, and they can be better understood.  We have hope for improvement.

One of the biggest challenges to a healthy marriage, however, is the social atmosphere of our culture.  By this, I mean that people are just not designed for commitment or healthy social interaction these days.  Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like it’s very rare to find a person who values relationships enough to make the effort to maintain them.  If the relationships are not even their own, such as a mother who is a peripheral part of her son’s marriage, then all bets are off- why should she try and protect or even respect that relationship?

I know that this post started off all educational and seemed like it might be an introduction to some valuable information, but this is where that stops.  This is where I say, “I do not have any of the answers I need.”

I do not know how a marriage is supposed to be a healthy one if outside relationships are competing with the marriage.  I do not know how to resolve conflict with competing people.  I do not know how some people can be over 60, yet act like they are barely more emotionally mature than a 2-year-old.  No, friends, this is not an educational post.  This is a flame fest.

This post goes out to all the baby mamas whose children have grown and started their own family, but those baby mamas somehow think they have rights to that family.  This post goes out to all the parents who insert themselves in their childrens’ marriages with the intent of dividing them.  If you take nothing else from this post, take this: you are losing.  You are probably succeeding in creating problems in that marriage, in that family, and you are definitely succeeding in creating problems in your own relationship with your child.  Everyone loses, but you are the biggest loser.  Gone are the days when the elders received unquestionable superior status- everything is questioned today, and the answer to the question of an impossible family member is simply to remove them.

Families today have to contend with so much negativity just to stay together, without people who claim to love them also attempting to destroy something they’ve worked hard to create and maintain.  We have to educate ourselves on how to have happy lives because a large portion of the previous generation has failed.  We have to sift through overwhelming amounts of bad advice and do what’s right for our families.  America is unlike other cultures in that we cannot trust the practices and knowledge of our parenting generation; it’s no fault of theirs, but their parenting and relationship advice got its roots in the worst kind of revolution.  The “medical revolution” turned our natural instincts and healthy traditions into jokes, and we have suffered for that.  Our generation faces a massive number of struggles with parents and in-laws over parenting and family choices because of the discrepancies between what we now know to be true and what was taught to previous generations as a result of the medical model for families.  (Try to explain this unbiased, scientific observation to your mother, however, and you’ll probably get scolded.)

Parents: DO NOT FEEL GUILTY for requesting that your children be cared for in the way that you know is best.  Do not accept the notion that your parents did alright with you, and thus can be trusted with your children.  Do not feel like you have to accept destructive behavior from parents or in-laws simply because they are family.  These are our challenges.  To set healthy examples for our children and help them build healthier lives for themselves, we have to stand our ground and demand that those involved in our children’s lives respect our decisions.  Same goes for marriages- a secure marriage is valuable.  Make that clear by protecting it.

And to those who oppose the notion that the older generation is “not the mama,” so to speak, I will say this once: grow the hell up.  Whatever you might have experienced, and whatever issues you might have with someone else’s (even your child’s) decisions within a marriage and a family, you have no right to take thoughtless action against them.  I am appalled by how common it is for parents, mothers especially, to try to divide a marriage, or compete with the wife.  Get over this!  If you were doing what’s truly best for your children and grandchildren, you would be supporting the marriage and listening to and respecting them.  This means there is no room for trash talking your son’s wife to everyone who will listen, including him; no room for blatantly disregarding parenting wishes; no room for manipulation with gifts and charity; no room for guilt trips; no room for treating someone like dirt and expecting there will be no consequences.

My choices are not only my own; a ridiculous number of people have cut off parents and other relatives for the same sort of problem.  We are taking a stand against this treatment.  We are protecting our families and their future.  We’re modeling the good and throwing out the bad.  And that does not make us bad people; that makes the opposition bad people.  The fact is that a family member is not going to be shoved out of another’s life based on one or even a few little mistakes- you’ve probably done many very offensive things, been asked to change your actions repeatedly, and shown no progress before someone is willing to cut a family member out of their life.

So to all the friends and family out there feeling like victims because you’ve been removed from a family’s life, this is for you: you are the problem, and you can find a solution.  It’s time to stop pretending that you shouldn’t be taking responsibility for your actions and learn how to relate meaningfully and responsibly.  It’s time to fix your mistakes or back off and let the well-meaning, hard-working parents, husbands, and wives be.

For all the parents/grandparents who have respected their children’s family and marriage, KUDOS!  Congratulations on being a thoughtful, caring individual who your children probably look up to and respect tremendously.  Keep on setting the example you set, and one day we will aspire to be the kind of grandparent/parent you are being.  We need many, many more of you…

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Aside
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Tonight’s post is partly a response to this post on Mama Birth (someone I read often, and mostly enjoy), which is a response to this article.

Both of these were a pain in my butt.  The article, mostly- because I don’t believe that a woman’s success is defined by her career and hindered by a family.  That’s incredibly narrow-minded.  I don’t believe that women who turn their cheek to abuse from men, no matter how well they play with the boys, are to be admired.  I don’t believe that women developing personalities that mimic those of the most obnoxious men is really the answer to the question of gender equality.

Nope, there’s no doubt that article made me roll my eyes.

On the other hand… the extreme response at Mama Birth, and mostly the comments on “immorality” in a “hook-up culture” also upset me.  I definitely don’t think women should use sex to validate themselves, or practice unsafe sex, or use sex as a means of manipulation.  However, Mama Birth never mentioned anything about these specifics- we just got a general statement about hookups being immoral or something.

I know that much of the Attachment Parenting/Natural Family Lifestyle community is religious, and I know that the bible has much to say on sexual involvement.  I don’t have a particular religious affiliation.  I do, however, take much issue with parts of the bible- usually the Old Testament, especially when taken literally.  Reading about marriage in the Old Testament is reading a slave code.  I am not exaggerating, and I think the majority of people are aware that women were traded away into arranged marriages and treated as property (just check out the bible verses mandating a woman who was raped to marry her rapist– it’s the punishment for the rapist, apparently!).  Does this mean the entire bible and the entire religion of Christianity is evil?  Certainly not, but I do feel like it’s enough to beg us to consider that the “morals” of these particular passages are no longer relevant.

That Old Testament thinking, by the way, is what crushed me after my first relationship, since the world had told me since forever and ever that any girl who lost her virginity and didn’t marry the guy was a tramp.  The “good girls” don’t give it up easily.  The best of them obviously only give it up to their husbands on their wedding night!  If you don’t love a man you sleep with, you’re a whore.  Your age and the amount of men you’ve been with is directly proportional to what you’re worth.  Your virginity is something you treasure, and only give away if you’re SURE he’s not a jackass.  If he leaves you, you didn’t wait long enough to give it up, and he obviously left because you’re a slut.

Nevermind that our culture and our biology pushes us toward sex.  Nevermind that expecting these things of young women (expectations born in a time when women and their vaginas were property) is unfair and setting them all up to fail.  When a young woman inevitably gets that v-card punched and then gets her heart broken, she’s left to wonder why her special gift wasn’t enough to keep him around.  She mourns the loss of her first love and the label she proudly carried: “the good girl.”  She no longer knows who she is.  She may cut herself off emotionally from any type of intimacy, having been hurt so severely from her first intimate experience.  And often, rather than having someone there to guide her through the heartache and tell her that she is every bit as beautiful and valuable as she was before he came along, she has brainwashed women parrot to her that she should keep her legs closed next time, make them wait longer.

It’s heartbreaking.
Ladies, we are no longer property.  We are expected to take full responsibility of our sexuality- and why are we so ashamed of that?  So many women have complained before me about the double-standard of sexuality; men are worth more when they’re more sexually active, and precisely the opposite seems to be true of women.  But what is so inherently, inarguably immoral about a teenage girl sharing her first time with someone she loves (don’t forget the protection)?  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the girls who choose to do it.

I must concede, though, that women who have meaningless one night stands are just simply immoral, right?  No… definitely not buying that.  Why should I?  If a woman is having a good time with someone on a particular night and feels a physical attraction, she might want to see where it goes.  She might intend to keep up some sort of relationship.  She might be under the impression that he’ll stick around like she wants him to, or she might just be enjoying the moment.  Single nights can mean something.  They can be lovely memories alone, or they can turn into many nights.  Where, in any of the above, does one arrive at the conclusion that a person who wants to connect with another person is evil, wrong, or immoral?  And above all, who is the authority who gets to decide that any of someone else’s sexual experiences are meaningless?

I will say this: I know that it’s harder for women to remain unattached, emotionally.  Our hormones push us more in the direction of commitment than men’s hormones do for them.  For that reason, I will make sure both of my little girls know that they should be smart about who they get physical with.  I will make sure they know that their precious hearts are on the line when they decide to cross that line… but I’m not going to pretend that teenagers haven’t been sexually active since puberty was placed right at the beginning of those teenage years.  I’m not going to pretend that any teenage girl who falls in love won’t want to share that experience with the surely-undeserving guy (because no one is ever good enough for our children) she falls for.

And I certainly don’t want them to feel worthless if they don’t marry the first guys they sleep with.  If guys end up breaking their hearts, I’m sure it won’t be because either of them are “sluts”, or some other goofy word with an ever-changing, offensive meaning.  I don’t want them to suffer a debilitating identity crisis when they’ve only just begun to define themselves.

So, to summarize what I want for my daughters: if you marry the guy you lose your virginity to, that’s wonderful.  I hope you have a happy relationship for the rest of your life and never have to deal with heartache from him.  But, if you’re like most of us who think we make solid and researched decisions and still don’t get our happily ever afters on the first try, please do not think you are immoral.  Please don’t think you’re a bad woman for not choosing the right man, or not being able to keep the one you thought was right.  Please don’t build your self-esteem upon your ability to abstain (an intimate relationship with the right person is not something to be ashamed of).  And please don’t ever be afraid to come to me with your broken hearts, so I can help you pick it all up and point out just how beautiful it is, and how amazing you are.