We moms can learn a lot about the spirit of momfulness from animals. One of my favorite recollections is the joy of observing the playful spirit of a baby Asian elephant at the zoo when my daughter was about 4. This little one was playing with a huge tire. The tire was chained down, but the little guy just didn’t give up. He rolled it around, went through it, turned it upside down. Then he’d stop and go over to his mom as if to say, “look what I did…”
In Momfulness, Roy tells the story of a baby hippo rolling around in the water and then connecting with its mother, rolling around in the water and then connecting with its mother, over and over. In the continuation of Project Momfulness, my task this week was to observe the play patterns of my children in sync with their connection patterns. It was a perfect week for this since it was spring break and we were on vacation. The two of them had more fun with this sole balloon than anything else. The funnest part was to make mom’s hair stand on its end with static electricity!
I noticed the exact phenomenon in my 6-year-old daughter as Roy describes with the hippo. She would come snuggle for a while, then go do her own thing, then reconnect with some kind of physical affection, then engage elsewhere. This pattern went on the whole week…and I had never noticed it before! She knew what she needed from me and she just came to get it when she wanted to…be it a hug, snuggle or moment of silliness.
This experience reminds me of the phases of individuation-separation by theorist Margaret Mahler. When a baby is born to about 5 months they are at one with the mom (Symbiosis). Then they launch into hatching and practicing as they become mobile and go explore the world outside mom (Differentiation). At some point they become aware of themselves as separate than mom and experience moments of anxiety. They will anxiously explore, then come back for connection. (Rapprochement). Finally, in a secure attachment, by about age 3, the child will have embraced themself as separate, but secure and loved by mom/dad at the same time (Consolidation). What I observed, blessedly, was the secure attachment she had within herself as a separate, unique person and in our relationship.
I recall this moment as clear as day with my son. He was between 3 and 4, had his own little personality, and began to engage with me differently. He was past the tantrums of the 2s and 3s and all of a sudden was this “big boy” who knew who he was and knew he was loved. I recall the day so clearly. He brought a ball over to me to play and there was a new sense of solidarity in his eyes about himself. I also saw it in the way he said his name…like it was his and only his.
The week I observed them during spring break I saw how they would do the same thing to each other. They would alternately connect and play well together and then go their own way at times to play by themselves.
Ironically, “secure” attachment is really about freedom. Only through security, are we are able to stretch and separate. It’s insecure attachment that is suffocating. The magic of great relationships is finding the balance between our drive for connection and our drive for separateness.
Another famous child theorist attributes play as the key factor in helping a child develop both language and self-regulation. Lots of research shows these two abilities “together form the most powerful predictors of children’s academic achievement and of their emotional well-being” (Whitebread). Creating space for play, being open to playful interaction and valuing play as an important part of children’s development is what momfulness is all about….in the moment “the plays the thing.”
On our family trip for spring break, we observed a lot of nature as we walked the halls of Chicago’s great museums.
I love how nature shows us the best in life…these images depict the spirit of momfulness more than words ever could…enjoy!