The other day, my daughter forgot where I parked our car in the garage when we visited the library. Inside, I did a little cheer.
Not because I didn’t have to climb yet another flight of stairs, arms overloaded with books (ok, a little bit because of that).
But because, after three and a half years together, this tough, resilient little girl lowered her guard for a second. She trusted me to get her the five miles from the library to our home.
For this moment, skipping in a parking garage, she was just a child.
Sometimes, you see, I feel like I am parenting backwards.
With children who are securely attached, parents spend the first eighteen years of their kid’s lives helping them become more independent.
My daughter came to me at age four. She was more independent than any other preschooler I have known.
And I’ve spent every single day since trying to coax and prod her to let me do things for her—even things she can already do for herself.
Because I am her mom. And that’s what moms do.
Securely attached children learn in their first years of life that the world is safe. That their needs will be met. That mamas can be trusted.
This is a much harder lesson to learn when that safety has been violated. When those needs have not always been met. When you’ve learned, of necessity, how to do things for yourself.
As a tiny child, my daughter learned that she must always have an escape route. She learned that she better know exactly where she is at all times and exactly how to get back to someplace familiar. She would never, ever fall asleep in the car. She was always looking, studying, making sure she knew where she was.
Old habits are hard to unlearn. Especially ones that you truly believe kept you alive. Trust is built slowly. Moment by moment over thousands of moments, thousands of needs met, thousands of little things that say, “I’ve got this. I will take care of you. You can just be a kid.”
And so I turned my head as she insisted that we were on the wrong level of the parking garage. And I smile. Because it meant that she is learning to trust. This is childhood.
I turn my head as she picks out an outrageous outfit—complete with mismatched accessories. And I smile. Because it means she has better things to think about than what her friends at school will say. This is childhood.
I turn my head as this big girl, almost as tall as I am, crawls into my lap and snuggles close. And I smile. We missed four years of this physical affection. But we are making up for it now. I sniff her coconut-smelling hair and nestle my chin on top of her head. This is childhood.
I will keep on parenting backwards.
Independence is good. But today, for us, attachment is better. Trust is better. Childhood is better.