Within the creation account of Genesis is the striking conversation God has within His Being: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God who is relational in nature, loving and serving the other within Himself—Father, Son, and Spirit relating and caring for each other—from this foundation of who God is, He creates us. And we are created to reflect the same relational nature of God Himself.
One of the ways we see this created design in us is through the early stages of infant development after birth. As our most recent addition has grown (now over 3 months old! time flies) I’ve been thinking about this created design we have to relate with and care for one another.
Psychologists have studied the desire of infants to connect right out of the womb, in what is known as attachment theory. Attachment theory is basically the idea that we were born with a desire to connect and be loved in a secure environment, but not all of us receive that, and relational issues of trust and intimacy later in life can be connected to struggles infants had early in life.
I’ve been known to jokingly refer to attachment theory by saying it’s a good way to blame my parents for all my problems, but honestly, I find it helpful to consider as a parent and a pastor. Here’s how Richard Plass defines attachment theory in his wonderful book The Relational Soul:
“The quality and character of the programming we received early in life establishes a pattern of attachment that controls our relationships later in life.”
In other words, God designed us to not only connect with others but to absorb their presence into our lives, especially when we are young.
Infants try to establish a connection with their environment. so that they can develop trust and stability, through the primitive instincts of sucking and eye contact. Primitive instincts are essential things humans do without being taught. They just happen. The sucking aspect is fairly important because it is also how infants feed themselves, and the eye contact instinct is obvious enough because you’ll always lose a staring contest to an infant.
One of the tensions of parenthood is trying to create an environment that allows for meaningful connection between child and parent, but also produces children who are independent enough to make their own (smart) decisions. Balancing these two tensions is difficult and differs from child to child, moment by moment.
My life has undergone an incredible shift in the last decade since I started writing in this space. At the time I was attending graduate school, gaining work experience so I could have something on a resume. My marriage was also young, with no children in the picture.
Fast forward to today, I’ve built the work experience necessary to advance my career, I’ve finished school, and my marriage has advanced from years to beyond a decade. The family picture now includes 5 people instead of 2.
I’ve gone from thinking through experiences based primarily on how they impact me, to instead think about how they impact others. I’m no longer advancing for the sake of moving up, instead my advancements are to help others.
I share these pieces of information about attachment theory because previously I would think about attachment theory out of a curiosity of how my environments as an infant might have shaped me as an adult. But now I think of attachment theory in terms of what kind of environment I am creating for my children and the other people in my life.
Let this not be a discouragement in a “look another way I can fail in life” way, but the encouragement to ask the question, what kind of environment am I making for the people around me?