Gordon Neufeld’s integrated attachment-base developmental paradigm, and the many wonderful courses he created to share the knowledge within it, is geared to help us make sense of our children. His aim is to equip us as parents and caregivers with the the necessary insight to raise up children, bringing them to their full potential and maturity.
However, Neufeld’s paradigm is more broadly a story of human maturation and development. So as I look at my kiddos, I can’t help but notice a few bits about myself.
Nowhere do my personal weakness and lacks show up more clearly than in my marriage. There’s something about being in intimate relationship with someone and being seen and known day after day for 16 years by that same person that really shines the light on who I am being. And not being.
After an intense 3 week international trip with my family, another week of my being sick and exhausted from the journey, and then an additional week of my husband gone on business travel, this week has been a little rough in our relationship. I could not be more grateful to have Neufeld’s clear paradigm to help me make sense of myself and my behaviors.
Here’s what Neufeld has helped show me about myself in general. When alarmed or overwhelmed, I get stuck – very quickly and easily – in alpha. Meaning I want to be in charge of everything that is going on that relates to me (and often everyone connected to me). I am demanding about household routines and chores, driven about family scheduling, and I completely lose my sense of humor. My expectations about how things should look and taste get very rigid. And honestly, I really start to wish my husband were less human and more a programmable robot that will do my every bidding in exactly the way I prescribe.
What the Neufeld material has shown me about myself is this is my brain trying, in it’s own loving way, to protect me. My brain thinks by being in über charge I can keep myself safe from the things it perceives as likely to hurt me or that might be too vulnerable for me to bear. To further protect me, my brain turns off my willingness to depend on others, especially letting anyone take care of me. And it hides away my soft feelings, especially for my feelings of missing people.
After the aforementioned 5 weeks of alarm-provoking situations, exhaustion, and separation, my alpha was at full-steam. Just understanding Neufeld’s paradigm allowed me to see myself, with compassion and humor. And then, as an adult (this is something kids can’t and shouldn’t do for themselves), it enabled me to clearly see what I needed to return to being open, vulnerable, caring and soft in my marriage.
Away from my kids, with someone else in charge of them, I made space to feel some of the fear I’d held onto from the trip. I also allowed myself to feel sadness for the things that didn’t go the way I’d hoped they would. Facing both of these feelings freed me from the frenzied cycle that amps up my alpha tendencies. Once I was drained of these feelings that my alpha had so carefully been protecting me from, I had one final frontier – depending, letting someone else take care of me.
And here is where relationship comes in. As an adult, I can make space for many of my own vulnerable feelings. But I cannot provide for myself the rest and comfort that comes with depending. My husband’s gifts of love are essential. In moving to take care of me – making me tea in the morning, creating a few moments to share a drink and connection in the evening, and setting my alarm clock that night for me – he created space for me not to be in charge of the universe and just relax.
I admit, it takes courage for me to rest in his provision. My alpha wants to complain that the tea’s too hot and needs more stevia, the drink is too strong and too cold, and what if he didn’t set the alarm right? But I know that’s not good for me. So I sipped and savored the tea, allowed myself to enjoy the coolness of the glass as accompaniment to the adult conversation and figured if the alarm didn’t ring when I expected it to, he’d be providing me with some of that extra sleep I needed.
The end result? Our family, directed by Bill and lead by my now warm and caring provider/alpha (I am The Mama after all), enjoyed a friendly, connected and relaxed weekend. The end of our Sunday evening seemed perfectly fitting. Settling down to admire our extravagantly decorated tree, we all snuggled in one arm chair together. Bill sitting in the chair, me on his lap and the kids snuggled on top of us, a pyramid of hierarchy, connection and dependence.