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Attachment as a Tool of Dominion

  • Chalcedon,
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When John Bowlby pioneered attachment theory in the mid 1900's, he proposed that intimate, affectionate mother-infant and mother-child relationships produced secure, loving children who respect both their parents and the thoughts and feelings of others. He showed that children with unaffectionate, unresponsive mothers failed to develop trust or senses of guilt for wrongdoing and often became abusive, neglectful parents themselves. He taught that mothers should be physically affectionate with their little ones, and he coined the term “contact comfort” to describe the critical, maternal, attachment-inducing behaviors that differed from basic care-giving behaviors such as feeding, changing, and bathing. Comfort is the loving care provided by mothers who generously touch their infants, who readily sooth their fears and anxieties when they cry, and who consistently offer relief and consolation to their little ones when they are distressed. Interestingly, the Scriptures reveal that God manifests Himself in this ever-present, comforting manner towards His children. Christian mothers should be encouraged to adapt mothering styles that induce strong, comforting attachments with their children because these attachments are powerful vehicles by which God's laws and God's ways can be transmitted to covenant children. Such secure attachments are critical for the reconstructing of motherhood in the midst of a detached, self-absorbed generation.

In Isaiah 66:10-14 (NASB), God shows forth His comforting nature and affectionate attachment with Zion, metaphorically comparing this relationship to a mother's with her infant:

Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her; Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her, that you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts, that you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom. For thus says the Lord, “Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall be nursed, you shall be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Then you shall see this, and your heart shall be glad, and your bones shall flourish like the new grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be made known to His servants, but He shall be indignant toward His enemies.

Depicted in this passage is an image of a joyful, comforting mother who generously suckles and tends to her thriving infant, a child who is to be fattened, carried, and held. It is noteworthy that the pictured infant in these verses is not characterized as “spoiled,” “demanding,” or “over-indulged,” but as “flourishing” in “the bones.” This passage shows that God's covenant relationship with Zion is richly attentive, responsive, and comforting. He nourishes Zion and cherishes her, and He evidences His rescuing hand of deliverance readily to His people. Likewise, Christians should not fear promoting an inordinate dependency in their infants by being lavishly responsive to them, but, on the contrary, should readily adapt parenting styles that demonstrate God's nurturing qualities to their little ones, and believe that they will produce whole, joyful children.

The Apostle Paul exemplifies God's comforting attributes when he speaks to his disciples in Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 2:7,8), again using the maternal metaphor:

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for (cherishes) her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives because you had becomes very dear to us.

Paul declares in these verses that he, Sylvanus, and Timothy had been like “nursing mothers” to the church. “Nurse” denotes that which stiffens, fattens, cherishes with food, pampers, rears, brings up, feeds, and nourishes. The connotation is that behavior of a nursing mother, and Paul assumes that the church has familiarity with such a mother. This passage also shows a Biblical connection between mothering and transmitting values. Paul's affection for the church caused him to desire to impart the gospel to them. And, as a nursing mother, he did not impart only (spiritual) food, but his very life. When mothers are tender and strongly attached to their little ones, their children desire to receive not only their comfort, but, as they grow older, their instruction, as well.

It is no revelation that American culture sorely lacks Biblical examples of attentive, affectionate mothers who really know their children and who spend time with them, comforting, soothing, and talking to them. Moreover, mothers who give their very lives for their children, ministering to them with their time, talents, and teaching, are rare treasures indeed. Instead of intimately relating to their children, American mothers concern themselves with how they may speedily and adequately detach themselves from their children, securing personal time for their careers and business trips, hobbies, and pleasures. Popular radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger calls this separation-style of mothering, which requires the extensive use of daycare and baby-sitters, “mothering-by-proxy.” Mother-substitutes are employed to perform basic care-giving tasks, while actual mothers rarely see their little ones, let alone care or them. Many Christian mothers unwittingly fall into this worldly, “mother-by-proxy” mode — even as stay-at-home mothers. Instead of focusing their time and energies on building loving, tender relationships with their infants and children, they neglect their children, choosing instead to spend their time on their hobbies, women's ministries, and “visits with friends.” Christian liberty allows for women to enjoy these activities as part of their lives in the kingdom — but not at the expense of disciplining their children. True maternal discipleship requires what Bowlby (who certainly did not speak as a Christian authority) was calling for from mothers decades ago: nurturance, attention, responsiveness, and time. Moreover, truly Biblical mothering requires that which Lemuel's mother (the mother of Solomon) imparted to him according to Proverbs: sound instruction in God's law (Proverbs 31:1), which suggests that mothers must allot time for their own study of God's statutes and kingdom. For mothers to fail in these endeavors is to risk the future apostasy of their children.

God's Word encourages mothers to respond affectionately and consistently to their little ones' needs and to lay down their lives so that their children can spiritually mature (as Christ did for all of His people, John 10:11-18). Mothers should cultivate faithfulness toward their infants, nurturing a heart-felt attitude of patient loving care towards them, which, in turn, models to them the care and comfort of God. A strong mother-child attachment is a tool of dominion, given to mothers by Christ, enabling them to transmit their faith to their children and to enjoy them as well. Fervent, Bible-based mothering enables women to contribute significantly to the propagation of Christianity across several generations.