I will never forget that moment. Three hours earlier I had given birth to my firstborn, and now the nurse was walking into the room for the first time with my baby. He was crying, but upon hearing my voice, he immediately stopped even though I had not touched him yet.
I had just experienced one of the most sublime moments of my life—the beginning of a new relationship with a human being whose safety, security, and protection depended entirely on another human being, his mother. Without realizing it, I was stepping into a new dimension of marriage and the family.
A Belief Like No Other
Families are not typically remembered as a fundamental belief because it is something we live out daily, we are in it—we do not usually pause to ponder it as an essential doctrine. However, Seventh-day Adventists acknowledge that “marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus.” We also affirm that “God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity.” Furthermore, we believe that “increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.”1 As we approach the final stages of the great controversy, it is this closeness we should strive for, foster, and emphasize. The obvious question, of course, is how to do it.
A Resource Like No Other
In 1950 the World Health Organization asked English psychiatrist John Bowlby to study the mental health of homeless children in postwar Europe. In his report he noted that in order to be mentally healthy, it is essential for an “infant or young child [to] experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”2 Over time Bowlby named this bond “parent-child attachment.”3 Every single human being in the world was designed by God to seek a secure base in their caregiver, especially when feeling distressed, and it is thanks to this secure base that a person can develop the confidence to go out and explore the world. The parent-child bond is affectional and social; it takes time to build, and lasts a lifetime.4
When a baby is born, he or she has certain needs, mostly physical. However, these needs are interpreted by the baby as also psychological. When mom and dad feed, warm, and protect their child, he or she will feel safe and secure. If those needs are met consistently, babies learn over time—usually the first few years of their life—to trust others. Likewise, they learn to trust themselves, realizing that the cues they are giving to make their needs known are the appropriate ones.
As mom and dad care for and love their baby adequately, their child begins to understand his or her worth. The child begins to comprehend, and thus self-esteem starts to develop. At the same time, babies begin to esteem or value the person who is taking care of them. When children experience these significant situations of intimacy in which care is given, they learn how to connect appropriately with their caregiver, as well as future intimate relationships.
Another important dimension of attachment is that of control and how to exert it adequately. When babies’ complaints are met adequately, they learn to exert control in their immediate surroundings in a healthy way, controlling both themselves and others.5
A Design Like No Other
This is God’s perfect design for young children to develop secure attachment with their caregiver, originally designed by Him to be mom or dad. As a child grows older, he starts to expand his attachment, or deep affectional bonds, toward others, be it relatives, peers, or teachers. As adolescence or young adulthood is reached, this attachment bond is increasingly directed toward the opposite sex. When as parents we follow God’s plan to care and love our children, we prepare them to be responsible, self-reliant adults who can choose with sound criteria. They will be secure individuals who trust and value themselves and others, who know how to interact with appropriate intimacy and how to adequately control themselves and their surroundings.
It is very likely that young people with a secure attachment will choose their life partners wisely because they have the tools to do so. When you have a good, sound marriage, chances are that you will have a healthy family, raising securely attached children. And so the circle comes to a close.
Following His Design
God’s perfect design for families to thrive is based on relating and connecting to each other, because He is a relational God who seeks connection with His children. He says: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13); “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Time after time, biblical authors remind us that the secret for a successful relationship with God is based on closeness and attachment (see, for instance, James 4:8; Heb. 4:16). We were created in God’s own image (Gen. 1:26), which includes the essential need to bond, to connect, first with our caregivers and then with our peers, relatives, and friends.
These bonds cannot always be explained. “The link is a mysterious one which binds human hearts together,” wrote Ellen White.6 But even as we struggle to single out and name every component of God’s model, we are asked to follow His ideal. And within that context a secure attachment bond is the best legacy that parents can leave their children: a legacy threaded throughout a person’s life, knowing no boundaries or cultures. The design is perfect. It depends on you and me to ask God’s help to carry it out as He first intended it (Ps. 25:4).
1 See wording of fundamental belief in sidebar. (Italics supplied.)
2 John Bowlby, Maternal Care and Mental Health (Geneva: World Health Organization, 1951), p. 11.
3 See John Bowlby, A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development (London: Routledge, 1988).
4 See Graham Music, Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural and Brain Development (Hove, Eng.: Psychology Press, 2011).
5 See Laurie Anne Pearlman, Trauma and Attachment Belief Scale Manual (Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services, 2003). 6 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 587.
Cintia Paseggi worked as a counselor for college students and as a psychologist in Argentina before she moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where she is the proud mom of two young boys.
This article originally appeared in Adventist World in the January, 2012 issue.