The foundation for healthy relationships begins at a very young age but affects individuals throughout their lives. So, how do healthy attachment relationships form, and how do you effectively maintain them?
Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. Attachment is at the core of a healthy relationship.
In this blog, we will look at a real-life example that displays the formation of a healthy attachment relationship and look at what we can learn to inform how to develop healthy attachment relationships in different individuals.
Discover BLOOM’s course on attachment called Parent-Child Relationships–click here to learn more and sign-up.
A Healthy Grandparent Relationship
Miriam (Manela) Frankel had a very close relationship with her grandmother, Omi. Omi was a regal woman of the utmost warmth and grace and was a constant presence in Miriam’s life. As the youngest granddaughter growing up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, Omi was also the de facto babysitter. When Miriam’s parents had a wedding, or out-of-town trip, Miriam would go to Omi’s apartment, often sleeping overnight. Omi and Miriam spoke almost daily throughout her life. She was also the person Miriam turned to for inspiration, solace, or an emotional hug.
Miriam was blessed with a very strong, healthy, secure attachment to her grandmother, Frieda Kalter, who recently passed away at the age of ninety-nine and a half years old. Born in 1915, Omi was lucid until her last day in the hospital. Shortly before she died, Miriam reminded her that she’d promised to dance at an upcoming family wedding, so she had to stay with earthside, and she said to Miriam: “Miriam, you know we can’t be greedy.” To say Miriam was heartbroken doesn’t begin to describe the loss she felt, but as close as Omi and Miriam were, Miriam was far from the only one. Her tens and tens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren felt and still feel a powerful bond with Omi.
Omi and Miriam display a very healthy grandparent relationship. Let’s now dig into what we can learn from Miriam and Omi’s relationship and why strong attachment is so important in healthy adult-child relationships.
The Importance of Strong Attachment in Relationships
Reflecting on her strong relationship with Omi, Miriam became interested in pediatric development, specifically children’s behavior, and made behavioral and occupational therapy her career.
The substance of what Miriam does is to help parents and children discover healthy ways to bond in a way that’s unique to and required of their particular relationship. Each parent-child relationship has to take into account the child’s development level and their individual abilities and predilections as well as their parent’s.
This is what Omi did for Miriam—she intuited what she was capable of yet allowed Miriam to grow, never holding her back.
What can we learn from Omi? The core elements of Miriam’s healthy attachment to Omi hold true for other healthy relationships.
6 Things To Know About Healthy Attachment Relationships
- Be Sensitive to Your Child’s Feelings: Omi would respond sensitively to Miriam’s distress and never made fun of or belittled what was important to her. She provided comfort, not criticism when things didn’t go as she had hoped. It isn’t always easy to relate to your child’s worries and disappointments, especially when they’re little, but letting your child know you understand he’s feeling sad or angry without dismissing or invalidating him is vital to the development of secure attachment.
- Let Your Child Know You’re There: Omi always checked in on Miriam from time to time, whether she was sleeping in the other bed in her bedroom or traveling around the world. By just showing her face or making a quick call, she let Miriam know she was there for her. She was always there "behind the scenes" to provide support. Just knowing you’re there will give your child a sense of security. For example, for a toddler a hug or eye contact across a crowded playground; for a child, a touch on the shoulder, a hug, or just being present as they tell you what happened in school that day. And for a teen, a quick text can help them feel loved and supported.
- Give Age-Appropriate Assistance (And Know When To Step Back): Omi allowed Miriam to do her own thing without trying to take over and micromanage. She never undermined Miriam’s confidence or stifled her growth by doing things for her that she was capable of herself. Whether your child is about to take his first step or graduate from high school, allow him the space he needs to try out his skills and discover new ones.
- Offer Encouragement: Omi was a constant source of encouragement and accepted Miriam’s goals. She allowed Miriam space to make mistakes yet never made her feel her mistakes defined her or made her “bad.” She boosted her self-esteem, and this sense of basic self-worth has sustained Miriam through some pretty hard times. Encourage your child, and let him know that his failures or his achievements don’t define his worth as a human being.
- Don’t Make Unreasonable Demands: Sometimes Miriam forgot to call Omi even though we had an unspoken, loving (and no-pressure) agreement that they would touch base daily. So, Omi would call her. She was never one to stand on formalities despite her dignified bearing—and love beat out rigidity every time. Find that loving place, somewhere between best friend and ruling overlord and parent from there. Sure, respect is essential to any relationship, especially the respect a child should feel for his parents, but sometimes it’s more important to let the rules slide.
- Tell Them You Love Them Unconditionally As Well As Specifically: Omi told Miriam frequently that she loved me and was proud of her. It was not lip service, and she meant it every time. Her love taught Miriam how to be there emotionally for her own children and her clients and how to love them, valuing them for the precious beings they are rather than projecting her own wishes on them. Think about the wonderful qualities your child has. Is she generous? Is he willing to try new things? Is she loving or tidy, or gentle? Does he make you laugh? Remind yourself often about your child’s unique good points (especially when he’s having a rough day), and let him know you love him for who he is. Yes, a parent’s love is unconditional, but it can also be specific. Your child needs both kinds.
Support for Healthy Parent-Child Relationships
There is a secret to creating a solid, healthy, loving relationship with even the most challenging child. The secret is understanding your child’s navigation route when it comes to relationships–also known as attachment style–and how you can connect and heal together is the key to forming healthy parent-child relationships.
It is possible to enjoy your child again. At BLOOM, we provide proven strategies for struggling families and children. We offer more than just treating symptoms–we support children and families everywhere, providing unique resources to meet you at your point of need.
Discover BLOOM’s course on Parent-Child Relationships. Click here to get started today.
In honor of Omi.