From the time our children emerge from the womb, we’re bombarded with questions about how well our babies sleep and eat. These questions sound innocent enough, yet seem to seek that deeper question of how much our children depend on us, how needy they are, and how independent they are from day one. It is unspoken, but it seems that the better our answers are alluding to the un-neediness of our offspring, the “better” we are as parents. And new parents are vulnerable. Even if we don’t believe that our children shouldn’t be needing us, doubts can creep in unwillingly to even the strongest parent whose baby is getting up again in the middle of the night at (gasp) 8 weeks old. Or 8 months old. Or 18 months old.
My oldest son was colicky. He rarely slept well, seeming uncomfortable most of the time. Eventually, I found he had a severe dairy allergy. This explained it. I felt validated as a parent again. It wasn’t “me” and “my parenting,” it was “reflux” and “allergy’s” fault he wasn’t sleeping well. Or so I told myself.
The bigger unspoken problem is that babies and young children, in particular, are not designed to be independent. And here’s the real shocker: even as adults, we are not meant to be independent, a rock and an island, as Simon and Garfunkel sang about so long ago. Like it or not, we’re designed to be interdependent. And all that early programming about how we weren’t supposed to need other people that is so pervasive in our society that most of us don’t really know what interdependent means.
“Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.” -Mohandas Gandhi
According to the Free Dictionary, interdependence means to be mutually dependent.
Ugh. Not dependent. We aren’t supposed to be dependent on anyone. Right?
But what is dependence? One definition I found stated: “Relying on or requiring a person or thing for support, supply, or what is needed; dependent children.”
Yes, we may accept that our children do require a lot of us in terms of support and supplies and lots of other things that are needed and wanted, like legos and Vans shoes with the bright blue laces. But we, as adults, also require support from others in our lives. This is normal. But it is not common in our society to actually reach out to others on a regular basis.
For most of us, it takes something big, such as breaking a femur or having open heart surgery to allow someone to support us and even then you’re most likely to get help with childcare and a casserole (which I’m not knocking at all- we all need a good casserole now and then made by someone else to help get us through…). But when we are in emotional pain, the last thing most of us want to do is to reach out to someone else. And you’re probably not going to get a casserole for your emotional pain unless you specifically ask for one. We don’t want anyone else to know that we’re vulnerable and might need some support. We’re independent, after all.
When I mention words/ideas like allies, forming a partnership, creating emotional connections with others, you might not flinch. These are good things. We need to work together with others. Allies has a positive vibe to it. And we know that emotional connections with others can be a good thing. But we don’t know what it means to be interdependent and we don’t know what we’re missing by insisting that we’re independent.
When we realize how much we truly need each other in daily life- how much we need to connect deeply with one another- we hold the key to the possibilities of deep healing for ourselves and our families. Nothing is more important than connection and relationship. Nothing. Independence is a myth that justifies defending ourselves against actually connecting with others and from facing more hurt inflicted by those who say they love us. But most of us have patterns of relationship with our partners in our current life that keep us in those locked in those same patterns of isolation. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The pioneering work of Dr. Sue Johnson with Emotion Focused Couple Therapy leads the way in helping us to understand that even as adults, we need to claim our attachment needs and our interdependent natures. In her book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Johnson helps us to understand that most of the conflicts we have in our intimate relationships are really about the deep need we all have to be connected.
It is never too late to begin to explore our interdependent nature and to start creating opportunities to reach out to others. Even if you’ve never really reached out for support before, it is never too late to start. The brain is always capable of changing and creating new patterns. Remember that now. It is never too late!
If you’d like to hear more on this topic, check out our When the Unexpected Happens series. Week 4: We’re All in This Together, dived into this topic of our interdependent natures, but the entire series is all about how we can work together in our relationships to heal after something unexpected happens in our lives.
And let us know what you think about this blog topic. We love to hear from you!