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What Happens When Bonding Isn’t Automatic?

Art by Rivka Korf Studio

Considered to be an essential element of parenting, “bonding” is the process of developing emotional closeness, which can begin at the moment of birth and continue throughout the lifetime of a parent and child.

But if parent and child did not bond at birth or infancy, can that still occur at any point in the relationship? Does this process ever end?

Here are three important questions people have asked me about bonding:

After I had my child, I was severely depressed but scared to get help. My child is now a year old, and we have not bonded as I would have liked to. What can I do now? Is it too late to reverse the effects on my child?

From the episode of Pesach Sheni, we learn that it is never too late. Never. You can always go the extra mile and give even more time and affection to your child. Try your best to stop dwelling on the negative. Try to cleanse your mind of guilty, fearful thoughts.

First and foremost, release yourself from the bondage of the past. Tell yourself you did the best you could with the tools that G‑d gave you at the time. Remind yourself that when you were a child, your caregivers also did the best they could for you with the tools they had.

Forgive them and forgive yourself.

Accept the fact that this particular child was meant to go through that particular experience for that particular period of time and for reasons beyond your grasp. You can always go the extra mileEvery time a negative thought comes in, try your best to switch it to a more positive thought. Say to yourself, “Thank G‑d, at this point, I am more aware and enlightened. Even though I appeared to be less capable than I would have wished during that period of time, it is the past. I choose to live in the now.”

Finally, take action. Make every extra effort to bond with your child through eye contact; hold and caress or massage the child; spend more time on the floor, closer to their level, with play activities. Bath time should be as long as necessary for your child, and should be conducted in a very calm and loving manner (try not to use frenetic energy, giving your child the sense that you are hurrying to get to the next task at hand). At meals, point out and describe the kinds and colors of food, and why they are healthy. Always, make lots of eye contact.

Consider joining a “Mommy & Me” class or a similar activity focused on gathering mothers and children together. These are very helpful as they familiarize you with new ways to bond with your child, while at the same time allowing you to relate as an adult to other adults.

I am finding it difficult to bond with my child. I think this is because my mother was never really there for me. Can I ever heal from the neglect I suffered so that I can bond with my own child?

An 80-year-old woman cried to me about how her mother never loved her and the regret that she herself felt since she had never addressed the difficulties she faced in bonding with her own child.

Trauma in childhood can definitely take an emotional toll on the adult you become. We are all born with the capacity to love. This may manifest in having difficulty bonding with others, especially with your children, and even more particularly with children who are generally challenging.

We are all born with the capacity to love. Take the steps now to heal your heart from childhood trauma in order to prevent your children from suffering as you did.

Childhood experiences can negatively affect our psyche, but not our soul. We have been gifted with an unlimited reservoir of holy energies with which to overcome the obstacles and challenges that G‑d sends our way.

Our deep faith can help us come to terms with the challenges of our past and prepare us for the challenges we may face in the future. We can work on being more at peace with the fact that our limited intellect cannot fathom the infinite intellect of the Almighty. With this awareness and deep faith in G‑d’s ways, you can take negative experiences of the past and build them into stepping stones by which to reach your potential.

A person whose mother did not bond with her can be even more motivated to take the steps necessary to bond with her own child. It is likely that she may even be able to reach a much greater level of bonding to compensate for what was lacking in her developmental background.

The heart of a person who suffered such a lack of compassion from the important adults in his or her life may be more sensitive to this situation, and consequently, all the more compassionate towards those around them than someone who has never experienced such a lack.

Throughout my childhood, I received only negative input. How do I rid myself of this deep-seated imprint in my psyche? It feels like I have a toxic roommate in my head, 24/7, who is always on top of me, trying to belittle me into believing I am a loser.

It is definitely possible to develop a positive emotional bond with yourself even though you may have been conditioned into feeling like a loser by repeated bombardment of negative feedback.

Perhaps your parents were habitually critical, which led to your developing a constant internal monologue of seemingly endless fault-finding.

At any point, an adult can have perceptions of herself that are neither objective nor rational. The faculty of imagination runs wild in one’s present life, associating and connecting current events and experiences to totally unrelated past events and experiences. Train yourself to be a virtue-finderYou may be completely convinced of these mistaken associations, thinking, “Who knows my failures better than me? Who knows what I have not been able to accomplish yet better than me? Who knows the opportunities I have missed and the chances I have messed up better than me?”

The goal is to get into the habit of catching yourself when the negative, demeaning thoughts appear. Push them away, as if with two hands, and contradict them with positive thoughts about yourself while embracing yourself with beautiful, warm regard.

Train yourself to be a virtue-finder and to rid yourself of the irrational, distorted self-image that was based on a faulty perception of reality. Here’s how:

  • Give yourself feedback that matches the emotional pain you have experienced. For example, someone just ignored you and feelings of past rejection start to surface. Say to yourself, “I am human and not a robot. I feel the sting.”

  • Do not be too quick to sweep it away. Validate and support yourself while the old hurts are surfacing. Embrace the moment.

  • Say to yourself, “I can choose to release the pain now. I am free to choose to release it.” As you do, feel triumphant; it's a freeing moment.

  • Remind yourself often that this is a training process. Like any program, whether you are training to ride a bicycle or to become a surgeon, it will take time and effort.

Eventually,a person can reach a quiet, peaceful destination where there are no limits to how accepting and content you can feel about yourself, where you can truly feel secure in your sense of self-worth and a complete, majestic sense of self-love. True bonding with yourself has been achieved, and now you can truly bond with others.

Be patient with the process. With G‑d’s help, we can reach our greatest potential.

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