I recently wrote an article to reach out to parents as well as teachers and sent it to a popular parent blog that is full of articles like Eight Science Backed Reasons to Let Your Child Play Outside. Perhaps they did not accept this article because I used the term "energy field" in trying to describe the actual experience of becoming bonded to a child. I may yet find a publisher,, but in the meantime here it is:
What Tim Taught Me
Tim and Paul came into my life when I was 28 years old and longing for a child of my own. My husband and I had applied for adoption after many months of trying and failing to get pregnant. I remember vividly the morning the phone rang and our social worker’s voice announced, “Anne, I have good news. I’ve got them for you.” “Them??” “Yes, beautiful three-month-old twin boys. I think you are the right mother for them.”
Four hours later, she put Paul into my arms, and I looked into his big brown eyes and accepted my fate. Tim arrived moments later. “And here is your little worrier”, she said. “Well, why not?” I thought. “Brothers. They will always have each other.” We said, “Yes”, and went home to assemble a small nursery, trembling with the awareness that our lives were about to change dramatically.
As an oldest sister and experienced baby-sitter, I was aware of the work involved in raising young children, so I was not surprised to be plunged into a routine of formulas, bottles, diapers, feedings and naps that swallowed up my days and many of my nights. What I hadn’t thought much about was the process of bonding; I took it for granted that I would love these babies and that they would love me in return. That, I thought, would be the easy part. And, in many ways, it was. They were both very lovable, beautiful, healthy little boys.
Weeks and then months passed in a busy blur with little time to ponder, but I finally admitted to myself that I was worried about my little worrier. Timmy had a very hard time relaxing and seemed to need to cry (at an intense decibel) in order to go to sleep. Rocking and holding did not comfort him and I would often find myself putting him safely into his crib and rocking it instead of him to get further away from the piercing intensity of his wail. Dr. Spock informed me about colic and reassured me that this stage would pass, and I tried to reassure myself that I was doing all that I could to be a good mother
The crying did begin to subside as Timmy learned to scrooch and crawl and sit up and climb. But new situations and people could trigger inconsolable tears, so we stayed close to home for the most part. Then one Saturday morning my husband took Paul for a morning jaunt, leaving me with Tim. Instead of starting chores, I curled up with him in a big leather chair in front of the television. We watched several episodes of Sesame Street, and Mister Rogers had just begun when it happened. Tim gave a deep sigh and relaxed; his little body melted into mine and a deep feeling of relief and joy flooded through my being. For the first time in our six months together, he was safe inside my energy. On the outside, we hadn’t moved. Mr. Rogers was still telling us a story, but inside everything had changed.
Again and again through the years that followed Tim would teach me lessons, but none more important than this first one. I couldn’t become his mother fully, his safe haven and source of ease, until I relaxed and stopped trying to make it happen. He needed the fully relaxed presence of my being in order to feel safe enough to begin to relax himself. It is so obvious in retrospect.
Research into early childhood finds that strong nurturing relationships are the primary basis for learning and healthy development, but the nature of that connection is not always made clear. Bonding is both a process and an incredibly intimate experience. Securely attached infants and young children are literally held within our energy fields and venture bravely forth from this secure base. If this connection is weak or nonexistent, the child’s experience of the world will be inevitably curtailed by anxiety.
In their wonderful book, Hold on to Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté tell us that “the secret of parenting is not in what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child. When a child seeks comfort and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher or a coach. For a child well attached to us, we are her home base from which to venture into the world, her retreat to fall back to, her fountainhead of inspiration.” (Ballantine Books, 2004, 2005, pg. 6).
With some children, particularly sensitive ones that have experienced trauma, this bonding process may take considerable time and patience. But it is an essential process for healthy development, like breathing clean air and eating good food, that sustains us as our relationships evolve, and the children in our care grow up and move with increasing confidence into the world.
Tim’s lesson served me well as a mother, in my decades-long career as a teacher, and in my current role as loving grandmother to ten grandchildren. I still need to remind myself to be quiet, to listen, to wait and to make a space for those precious moments of deep connection. And I am still overwhelmed with gratitude and joy when they occur.