There are many articles on the internet about the type of attachments that a child can form. There are the types of insecure attachment: avoidant attachment, where the child learns to avoid emotional connection, ambivalent attachment, where the kid is very anxious about their relationship, and the disorganized attachment, where the kid is scared of their primary caregiver and behaves erratically towards her. You’ll find tons of lists, telling you what to look out for, and plenty of vague recommendations on how a parent can securely attach the child to herself.
As terribly helpful as those articles are, they don’t address what the attachment looks like in the adult. What is mom’s attachment like? What does it look like when she has an unhealthy attachment to the baby? ‘Unhealthy,’ in this instance, can mean both distant and way too involved.
One way is downright neglectful, leaving the kid convinced that Mom would drop her off at the nearest gas station and leave if she could, and the other is that eerie condition where the umbilical cord might have been cut, but Mom still thinks they are connected. These unhealthy types of attachments create patterns of behavior in parents that should be looked into before they get entrenched, which causes insecure attachment all around. Here are a few things that, if a mother routinely does them, should indicate a need for therapy.
15 Ignoring Baby's Cry
Most moms want to parse every infant movement and squeak. They take a baby’s fussing as a sign that they need something, and they take time to find out what the infant needs. If the child is genuinely in need of a nap and some alone time, they will give the little one some alone time.
Other moms assume that if it isn’t an obvious physical need, then the child should be ignored. It’s the start of a pattern: baby’s needs don’t count, and they won’t count when the child is older, either. As far as the mom is concerned, Baby is like a Betsy-Wetsy doll: if they aren’t sitting in a puddle, you can leave them in the toy chest forever. The kid catches on to this fact quickly.
14 Ignoring Toddler’s Requests
Within a year or so, the infant starts to talk, and they can communicate very clearly what they want, generally by saying "I wan dat." Sometimes you don’t even have to spend time guessing what ‘dat’ is, as they will point. Most parents with a secure attachment will take the child’s desires into account. They don’t actually give the kid everything he wants, but they do acknowledge what the child is asking for and accommodate what they can.
However, if a parent isn’t particularly attached to the child in question, they won’t care what the child wants and will ignore whatever he says. This is a great way to discourage a child from saying anything to you, ever, and a clear signal that the child doesn’t matter. The parent views the kid as a small chore that is best dealt with as quickly as possible, and chores don’t have opinions. It’s another pattern that will persist long after the kid is old enough to decide what college she’s going to.
13 Ignoring Baby's Feelings
Watching to see what the infant is feeling is the only concrete advice that the attachment papers have for parents who want to boost a child’s mental well-being. Acknowledging that a child is a separate entity and that his emotions count, is the first step in making him feel secure in his relationship with you and himself. Infants can’t talk, so that means looking for non-verbal cues when they are babies, but it normally doesn’t take long for children to be able to tell you directly how they feel. The parent who wasn’t attentive to the infant’s non-verbal cues probably is not going to ask the non-verbal kid how he is feeling. Why would she? It’s easier to focus on whatever is more important to her and pretend that the child always agrees with her if she never looks too closely at the actual child.
12 Controlling Her Child
Child-rearing is a narcissist’s dream occupation: they get total control over someone who is programmed to think they are the greatest. There is a whole other person whose appearance they can micromanage so that people praise the mom’s clothing sense. It’s also an enmeshed mom’s dream: she can guilt-trip a kid into never leaving her, and the kid doesn’t realize that there is such a thing as a boundary, so the kid will approve of wildly inappropriate behavior.
Having a kid acting as your personal brand and mirror is very tempting if you aren’t particularly attached to the kid and view children as personal property. It does require a little work, but everybody loves children, so they make great spokesmodels.
11 Being Unreliable
Babies need their moms to take care of their needs. They can’t do things for themselves or talk about what they want, so it is really up to a parent to pay attention. If the attachment is weak between the parent and child and the parent is absorbed in some other problem, she won’t be paying attention to the child’s health or long-term needs. She won’t take the kid to their doctor visits, she’ll forget to administer any medicine that a doctor recommends, and she’ll ignore signs that the kid needs medical help. She won’t be quick to wash or bundle up the baby, and she definitely won’t be spending a lot of time meeting the emotional needs of the child.
This not getting done what needs to get done can become a tragic situation, but it is mostly the base of a very insecure attachment. Starting with these little omissions, the baby is learning that her parent is not looking out for her and won’t take care of her, and Mom is not bonding.
10 Always Judging As Baby Grows
There are a number of reasons to harp on someone, or at least there are many reasons a person may give. They might claim they are helping a kid reach their real potential. They might claim that they need to keep the child in check. But mostly, they are simply acting out an inner misery on a defenseless child. They are mad that they are stuck with a burden, and they are jealous of the attention that a cute little kid gets. And sometimes they are just miserable human beings who like to criticize someone who can’t talk back.
Regardless of the reason for the constant harping, acknowledged or unacknowledged, the mother is setting up a pattern of always looking for something to complain about. This habit creates a feedback loop, where the mother isn’t fond of the kid, finds reasons to be less fond, and finds herself even less fond of the kid afterward.
9 Being A Complete Control-Freak
There are some people for whom the most important part of a relationship is how much control it allows them to have. They are never really close to anyone because they see only what they can ‘fix.’ When you have an infant, you will be in complete control of him or her because they literally can do nothing for themselves. A parent who is seeing the kid and developing an attachment will limit their control to what is definitely beyond the child’s abilities. Other parents assume the child can never do anything, even if the kid is technically old enough to go to school, and the parent wants to control everything within a 5 mile radius of the kid. Such parents will claim that they want only the best for their child, and maybe they do, but since they are always busy managing things, they never really get to know the kid and can never get attached.
8 Pretending She Can Feel What Her Baby Feels
The books always talk about being attuned to how the kid feels and being aligned with their feelings, but you are not psychic. You most certainly can’t know the kid ‘better than he knows himself.’ At least one psychiatrist cringes every time a parent says ‘I know him better than he knows himself’ because it is a sure sign that the parent isn’t paying attention to the actual kid. The parent is projecting how she feels and thinks on the child and is refusing to acknowledge any boundary between the two of them.
There’s a name for this. Being unable to tell the difference between what you feel and what the baby feels and not giving any emotional space to a person is called enmeshment. It stunts the child’s autonomy, and, as you can see, it’s a sign that the parent doesn’t so much have an attachment to the child, so much as assumes the child is an extension of herself.
7 Using Her Baby As Emotional Support
People are encouraged to talk to their children, but there is a limit to the things that are appropriate to share with a kid. Most people realize that they cannot use their children as sounding boards for life decisions, nor share their deepest worries and self-doubts with them. They aren’t ready to be burdened with your problems.
Nor are children supposed to be how you entertain yourself- it’s not the toddler’s job to keep you occupied. Some parents have trouble identifying appropriate boundaries in a relationship between 2 adults and in the relationship between a parent and their child, and it leads to an unhealthy attachment that won’t let a kid develop. It can only be shallow if you don’t recognize that a kid needs a caregiver and not a friend.
6 Always Wanting The Baby's Company
This is a sign of all kinds of problems. When one parent prefers to spend their time with an infant, rather than with the person they married, they generally have troubling reasons. The marriage, for one thing, is in trouble. For another thing, the parent is over-identifying with someone who can’t talk and is in a subordinate position. That isn’t a sign of healthy personality.
This preferment tends to go hand in hand with getting emotional support from a toddler, ignoring a child’s needs, and being overprotective. Mostly, though, it is a sign that the parent has a poor sense of the boundary between her and the kid. They will keep the child with them long after he or she is ready to get out on their own because they don’t want to lose their ‘best’ (read, captive) friend.
5 Wanting Her Child To Mother Her
Sometimes mothers exchange places with their children. They are sickly or in a difficult situation, and they think that their child will save them. They will say how much they need the child. They’ll insist they need the kid’s help in doing things they can and should do themselves, and they’ll neglect basic caregiving. It isn’t particularly common, but when it happens, it tends to get worse over time. With such overblown expectations for children, the attachment is going to be weak. After all, the parent is too absorbed in their own problems to bond much with their child.
It isn’t terribly common until later, as babies make terrible help-mates. But it is always a bad sign when a parent carries on about how much they need the love of someone who is already guaranteed to love them.
4 Not Keeping Grown-Up Friends
If you are an adult, you need a few adult friends. It is much harder once you are out of school, and a mom who quits work to rear the kid will find it even harder to hang out friends. But most people take time to keep up adult relationships for their sanity’s sake. For some, though, giving birth is an invitation to withdraw from society, glomming onto the new baby as their only companion. The attachment between mother and child becomes a stranglehold, and the Mom’s perspective becomes warped without other adult input. We humans need more than one other person in our lives in order to keep healthy, and particularly, it isn’t healthy to have that one relationship be one where one person is completely dependent on the other.
This retreat may be very tempting to a parent who never really got along with other people and always had trouble dealing with the public. It sounds romantic, but the consequences are never good, least of all for the parent and child in question.
3 Treating Her Child’s Achievements As Her Own
Tiger moms get a lot of flack, but at least these ladies, while obviously pushing way too hard for something that the kid may not want, want something for their kid and are proud of their child for achieving things. It gets far worse when the mom thinks the child’s accomplishments are hers. This mom talks endlessly about how she is the source of the child’s first words. She insists that when the kid takes her first step, the mom was willing the first step. Child makes a tower of blocks? Somehow, the fine motor skills involved were directly beamed in by her. It shows a dismissive attitude to the child and an inability to accept that she is separate from the child. It establishes a pattern of behaving like mom and child are one, and that the child completely disappears.
2 Competing With Her Child
It seems the tiniest bit churlish and ridiculous try to out-cute a toddler. Of course, if you are out in public, the toddler is going to get all the attention because they are the most attractive part of the couple. Leaving the toddler or infant at home so you don’t have to compete for the attention comes across as immature. That would be because it is immature, and shows a troubling lack of attachment to the kid. If you feel a need to compete with the kid, you don’t feel much of a bond with them.
It also sets a pattern of trying to outdo someone who wants desperately to have the parent’s support and affirmation. It’s a lousy basis for a relationship that will last for decades and will involve living with someone.
1 Yo-Yo Parenting
Giving birth does not change a person. If a woman was having problems in her life earlier, the problems won’t disappear after she gives birth. This leaves a mother who sometimes cracks down on a child, sometimes acts as though the child doesn’t exist, and sometimes smothers the child with attention. What will her behavior be today? Depends on what kind of day Mom is having. There isn’t anything the child can do about it either, because the mental health of their mother is the only determining factor.
The relationship between parent and child starts with belief that the child can rely on the parent. With a mom who is too involved in her own problems to get attached to the child and too erratic to provide a safe environment, that relationship is going to be bumpy, if not non-existent.
Sources: psychologytoday.com, fulsheartransition.com, odessawellness.com