I Was Thinking…
I am just now feeling back to normal after a week of BIG stress. As a lot of you know, my Dad had surgery a week ago Monday. It was an especially big surgery in that it was in his brain. BIG. SCARY. STRESSFUL. Stuff! A week and a half later, I can say he has come through it well! Now we wait and see if it helped take care of the constant pain he was in. We are thankful that he came through this far as well as he did!
I spent the week pretty much dedicated to taking care of both of my parents in the way they each needed it. Making sure my Mom didn’t get too tired taking care of Dad, staying at the hospital with Dad and helping with his cares. It was interesting to watch how they each handled the stress of such a huge life event.
Mom is a doer and fixer. She always puts herself last - even at the expense of herself. She is often way too critical of herself. When life gets stressful, she does more, fixes more and doubts herself more. It is just who she is. Well those things in addition to beautiful, strong, smart, faith-filled, curious, insightful and so much more.
As I watched my Mom deal with the impending surgery, she “looked” calm. I knew on the inside she must be spinning. She was having to consider the loss of her partner of 50 years. Lost either to death or to one of the main complications of this surgery, stroke. One false move and he could be changed in personality forever. This is STRESS! When I asked her about how she was, it all came to the surface. Of course she was scared. She had not voiced her opinion about what he should do as she “felt” it was his decision – it wasn’t her place. She held it all in. She did tell me she told Dad that she would probably cry when they wheeled him away…he told her he didn’t understand why.
In the weeks before the surgery, Dad was very matter of fact. He made the decision to have the biggest and longer lasting of the three surgery options by the time he got home from the doctor’s office. He didn’t ask Mom what she thought. As far as he was concerned, it was his decision to make. My Dad is first and foremost independent and self-reliant. When life gets stressful, he is more independent and goes more into himself. It is just who he is. Those things and confident, strong, wise, reliable, insightful, a great provider, the “EverReady Bunny” and so much more. Dad didn’t talk to anyone about his emotions about the surgery either, but for such different reasons than Mom. Dad didn’t see the need; he really didn‘t see how it affected anyone but him. Not in a bad way – just through his attachment filter!
As we moved from the waiting room through pre-op, Mom was constantly looking for something to do to make everything better - magazines, pillows, repeated questions and concerns to Dad about his glasses, phone, hearing aids, how hungry he must be, and so on. Dad’s technique to pass these hours consisted of reading with his head down or just sleeping through everything. Wow – such opposite styles!
When Dad was finally wheeled to surgery, I gave him a kiss and said see you later and left to let them have their space. As I walked away, I heard him say to her “You don’t have to cry.” She caught up to me wiping her eyes. Then, we began the wait.
When we finally got to see Dad post-op, he was in pretty rough shape and I saw Mom click into action. She wanted to DO. To MAKE THINGS BETTER. To FIX IT for him. However, Dad didn’t want anyone touching him or his pillows or his bed. It was so clear that in one of my Dad’s biggest trials of his life he HAD to do it himself. He wasn’t sure she understood his needs or had his best interest in mind – even after 50 years together. When Mom did try to help him, it was not right and he was not gentle in telling her so. I totally get this about my Dad and Mom. Dad’s attachment quality really goes to avoidant when he is under stress. He goes into himself – he takes care of himself at the expense of others’ feelings because that is the style of attachment he formed with his Mom. It still plays out so clearly in defining moments like this.
On the other hand, when pushed to such a trial Mom really felt like her job was to make it better for him. She kept trying over and over. Even though he was gruff and critical, she didn’t give up. She was hurt and lots of times didn’t understand his treatment of her, but she took it and kept fixing. Mom’s attachment quality really goes to ambivalent when stress is high. She fixes and fixes at the expense of herself. She doesn’t often say anything to Dad when he is hurting her with his words. She doesn’t stop. She just does more and more in moments like these.
This is NOT about whether my parents LOVE each other or not. My parents love each other a lot – that is not in question. They have suffered much pain and loss throughout their marriage and have always remained steadfast and true to each other. I am truly so touched by their commitment to one another! I mean 50 years - that is awesome! Love is not at question here.
What I am writing about, what I observed through the past few stressful weeks, are the remnants of some of the very basic tools my parents brought to this relationship 50+ years ago. Those tools are from their relationship with their primary attachment figure…their Mom. Those foundational beliefs, attitudes and techniques that we all use to do all future relationships. I mean we fine tune them and tweak them throughout life so that they work as well as possible. We become secure in ourselves, our relationships and our abilities, but when under stress we pull out everything we’ve got! We go back to what we know. NONE of it is GOOD or BAD, RIGHT or WRONG; it just is!
I am pretty sure that my parents don’t know the term “attachment style.” I am quite sure that they don’t think to themselves, “I have to be aware of my attachment style and know how I handle stress so that I don’t hurt my spouse.” Nor do they know to be able to identify a choice of the other as just part of their style rather than a purposeful choice to hurt them. It is evident that their attachment styles are at play within their marriage and that they do still have an effect on how they handle stress. Within that they have figured out how to accept the other right where they are emotionally and move through it for 50 years. But, I really believe that the divorce rate of today’s society would be highly affected if people were educated about this phenomenon.
Stress and how we deal with it is absolutely affected by our attachment style – there is no way around it! As we are coming to the end of the stress of this big life event, I am inspired to look at myself, my style and how I do stress - how my style affects my marriage, my parenting and how I do all of my relationships! I believe that it is always good to keep working on being the best me I can be!