The formation of relationships is both a conscious and a subconscious process. It is also a physical process requiring the mutual release of the hormone oxytocin. From a physical point of view, you feel good when
oxytocin is released and when a particular person’s presence or touch makes you release oxytocin, you naturally want more of it. The more you release, the more you want, and the better you feel – you are falling in love!
But oxytocin is blocked by adrenaline and adrenaline is the hormone that we release when we’re frightened, so you’re not likely to fall in love with someone who is threatening to you. But people can be threatening to us without us really being aware of it.
Just to clarify here, I am talking about the formation of healthy, deep relationships, not relationships that are damaging and built on a damaged foundation – the sorts of relationships we form if we have big inner issues that cause us to crave partners who treat us badly. No, I am talking about relationships that are nourishing and that are good for us.
It is harder to form one of these nourishing, healthy relationships with someone who we feel subconsciously threatened by and it is the niggling feeling that we can’t quite 100% trust someone that can provide that threat.
As adults, we can sometimes become aware of that feeling – ‘something’s not quite right here’ – but we often brush it aside, particularly if we can see other positive sides to forming a relationship with that person.
But this feeling of mistrust needn’t be anything significant – it could just be that that person is holding something back from you about themselves; that they’re trying to behave in a way that is not really natural to them; trying to be someone they’re not.
Now we all do this, don’t we? We all on occasion act in a way that is not the way we would naturally act. It’s good for society that we do! It’s important that we don’t huff and sigh impatiently when the young supermarket cashier takes forever to count out our change; and that we don’t burp in front of our prospective new boss.
But when it comes to forming deep relationships, it is very difficult to really build something strong and trust-filled when the person we are falling in love with is keeping something back from us because our sub-conscious knows there is something ‘not quite right’ there and that perceived threat blocks the free flowing of oxytocin.
Again, as adults, we can work on that. We can talk openly with our partners and gradually we both begin to be more genuine with each other until we reach a depth that is mutually enriching. However, when it comes to forming a relationship with our children, the matter is somewhat different.
Our children haven’t yet learned the art of forming relationships and it is our job as parents to teach it to them, which is easier said than done. But the easiest way to teach our children how to do it, is to build that sort of deep, nourishing, rich relationship with them ourselves in the first place.
The relationships we build with our children are the first relationships they’ll ever have, and the stronger and deeper and more trustful they are, the stronger, deeper and more trustful relationships they’ll be able to form in later life.
And the aspect of relationship forming that has the biggest potential to get in the way of that, in my opinion, is lack of genuineness on the part of the parent. The reason I believe this is because we are sold so many different parenting philosophies and techniques, that many of us find ourselves going for the one that our friends or peers have chosen, even if it doesn’t sit right with us. But we are convinced by good arguments and ‘evidence’. But if something doesn’t sit right with us, then when we do it, we’re not be genuine.
If we do controlled crying even though we’re sitting outside the bedroom trying not to vomit in distress, then we’re not being genuine.
If we bed-share with our babies even though we’re lying stiff with worry and terror, then we’re not being genuine.
If we send our children to school even though we can’t bear to let them out of our sight, then we’re not being genuine.
If we carry our babies in slings even though we feel utterly touched out by the experience, then we’re not being genuine.
If we breastfeed our babies into toddlerhood even though the thought of it makes our skin crawl, then we’re not being genuine.
If we put our children in nursery at the age of three even though we are sitting at home desperate for pick up time to arrive, then we’re not being genuine.
I really, really feel this so strongly – we are all a product of our parenting, our environment and our culture and we are therefore all completely different people. What feels right to one parent may not feel right to another, but our children know when we’re not being genuine and it worries them.
You may be totally convinced by the argument for ‘attachment parenting’, but if you hate being close to your baby, then your baby will know it just as well as if you employ a nanny or au pair to care for her and your relationship stands a far better chance of being strong and true if you are honest with your baby or child.
I’m not suggesting that you should just do what you like in parenting or be 100% honest about your feelings. I’m suggesting that it’s important to be true to yourself and your feelings. It’s not just OK, but vital, in my opinion, that if, for instance, you are feeling touched out by your children that you honour those feelings and allow yourself to feel them. Don’t suppress them – your child will know. It’s almost more about not being dishonest about our feelings, I think.
If you are always honest and never force yourself to cuddle your child when you really don’t want to, then your children will really, really trust the times you do cuddle them and those hugs will be so much richer for it, and the benefit they bring to your relationship with your children will be so much stronger.
In addition, by being true to ourselves as parents, we’re teaching our children good lessons about being true to themselves and being honest about their feelings when they’re older, which will stand them in good stead when they are put in a position when they may say ‘yes’ to something simply in order to please someone else.
It has suddenly become really important to me that I write this post, but I would love to discuss the issue further – please comment if you are moved to!
Images: Kira.bell, daemonsquire, Flickr