Recently, my wife and I attended a parenting conference specifically for foster and adoptive parents. This is the second year and, just like last year, the time was well spent.
Just like last year, the keynote speakers brought a subject that was new and very relevant – attachment. For those who may be scratching your heads, attachment refers to the way in which a child bonds to their parents from day 1. It is developed by a very basic and foundational cycle of stress and soothing. It goes like this:
- The baby cries because they are hungry (stress; adrenaline; cortisol; heart racing; muscles tensed)
- The parent soothes and provides food (calm; serotonin; relaxation)
Researchers estimate that this cycle is repeated 10,000 times in the first few years of life and if the stress cycle is allowed to occur for short periods, attachment is securely established and cognitive and emotional health is much more likely.
If; however, the stress cycle is allowed to continue and escalate, the neurochemicals produced start to change the brain and with each cycle, the damage increases and the likelihood of long-term health diminishes and the bond the child has to the parent is not secure and develops into one of three types.
One of these dysfunctional attachment types is called ambivalent and is characterized by an unnatural independence. One study looked at how various one-year-olds reacted to mom leaving the room and then coming back a few minutes late.
For the securely attached child, leaving produces an incredible amount of stress that continues until mom returns and is immediately met with happiness and soothing – completing the cycle.
For the ambivalently attached child, their outward expression to both leaving and coming back expresses utter carelessness. On the inside; however, their heart is racing, their muscles are tensing and stress chemicals are being produced in the brain – they are stressed on the inside, but have learned that an outward expression does not bring soothing.
It occurred to me that there is an incredible analogy to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This planet; our life is stressful – filled with things we cannot overcome on our own. We require soothing and yet are denied it – at least deep, true relief and are left to seek relief somewhere…anywhere – on our own.
The promise of Jesus Christ is to be the answer to our stress; to complete the cycle and bring the relief that calms, soothes and builds security…perfectly, personally. With Him, there’s immediate response, incredible and unconditional love, and a bond that lasts for eternity.
Prior to my relationship with with Jesus, I was an ambivalent child – reacting to the world with a calm, cool exterior and yet utter chaos just under the surface.
There’s good news – both for the one-year-old and for me. Attachment can be (has been) restored over time with the stress/relief cycle being completed. I cry out; He comforts.