In Hold Onto Your Kids, (HOYK) authors Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté argue that all children need attachment. If they will not receive that attachment from their parents, they will find it in peers. The job of parents is to press in and attach themselves to their children. If they do this then those children can resist the pull of the teen culture. The book is broken into five parts: The Phenomenon of Peer Orientation, How Peer Orientation Undermines Parenting, How Peer Orientation Stunts Healthy Development, How to Hold On to Our Kids, and Preventing Peer Orientation.
In the first section, The Phenomenon of Peer Orientation, they state that “The gap opening up between children and adults can seem unbridgeable at times.” “The secret of parenting is not what a parent does but rather who the parent is to the child. It is not a lack of love or of parenting know-how, we are told, but the erosion of the attachment complex that makes our parenting ineffective. We will come back to these insightful overstatements later on.
Neufeld and Maté argue that we all have a need to be attached. Parents are intended to be the primary recipients of that attachment. But as peers press in and parents withdraw, the attachment shifts. It is a natural development of our culture but not healthy.
More of their statements have a biblical tone:
- Absolutely clear is that children were meant to revolve around their parents and other adults responsible for them, just as the planets revolve around the sun. And yet more and more children are orbiting around each other.
- Understanding attachment is the single most important factor in making sense of kids from the inside out.
- The fundamental issue we as parents need to face is that of the competing attachments that have seduced our children away from our loving care.
HOYK argues that the power to parent is slipping away. “This power flows not from coercion of force but from an appropriately aligned relationship with the child.” Peer orientation is not only preventable but in most cases reversible.
Negative Consequences and Solutions
The third section of HOYK lists the negative consequences of having peer attachment rather than parental attachment. They include immaturity, bullying, sexual involvement, and lack of mental curiosity. In the fourth section, HOYK actually tells us how to hold onto or reclaim our children.
We start with “collecting” them. I would call this connecting to their hearts in many different ways. And, they argue, no matter where your children are, it is the parent’s responsibility to keep the children close. Means of connecting include greeting one another, protecting family outings, having family sit down meals.
As for preventing peer orientation, the authors debunk many of the notions that push parents to send their children out into the world of peers. These include the need for socialization, the need for esteem, or to relieve boredom. The last section, an addition to the original book, takes a look at the attachment that can come online even while children are apart. The online world is an answer to that desire for attachment, but the digital intimacy it creates is lonely.
There is so much good here in HOYK. In the previous paragraphs I quoted passage after passage that is countercultural and in line with biblical teaching. As a former homeschool father, these statements could have dropped from the lips of numerous homeschool convention speakers arguing for homeschooling. In fact, I am surprised this resource has not been discovered by homeschool speakers. It reinforces many ideas I believe.
Warning: From Observation to Basic Needs
However, in my enjoyment of it, I found myself thinking again and again that while Christians recognize that the “softer” the science becomes the more we need to be wary.
In the midst of all that good there were numerous times they made overstatements. They moved from the functional observation to causal conclusions. Neufeld and Maté provide excellent suggestions for creating a strong family identity. And is there in fact something that God may have created in the natural human family that longs for attachment? This is entirely in line with Scripture.
However, the problems start when we burrow down to the nature of the child and what they need. In their recognition of a God-given pattern, they make the all too common mistake of exaggerating its importance. They would argue our children’s most basic need is not forgiveness and a right relationship with God but a lack of attachment to their parents. Problems are fundamentally not about sin and merely heightened by lack of attachment. Functionally, parents must become the saviors of their children. But we know the truth that there can be plenty of children who are attached to their parents who have no heart for the Lord. And plenty of children who are not attached to their parents who God has graciously saved.
Taking Away the Good
If we will not allow Neufeld and Maté to pontificate about our children’s most basic need and will tone down their overstatements what we have is helpful and needed by today’s Christian parents. We are made to love and disciple our children in an atmosphere of affectionate care. God does intend that we would be the primary influencers of our children. And indeed the glory of children is their fathers (Proverbs 17:6). Sin naturally invades our families through our own human hearts. The hearts of parents and children turn from each other to other things. (Mal 4:6). And one of those things that the sinful heart turns to is love of approval by others. As a result of the sinful choices and environmental choices like peer schooling, you can have children who have thrown in their lot with fools (Prov 1:10) and who are walking with the unwise (Prov 13:20) . When family identity is weak, peer pressure will be strong.
Neufeld and Maté have helpfully used different language to help us ask, “What is the status of the affectionate family bonds?” Those affectionate bonds do provide the emotional underpinnings for us to disciple our children. It does give us the emotional resources to discipline them and still maintain the relationship. And all of us long for relational attachment. God is a tri-unity who has lived in perfect relationship and community from eternity past. We are made for relationship. Thus, God gives us himself in Christ, and his plan is for us to be born into a family and born again into a church. We truly are made for attachment.
Another correction I would make is helping parents understand that while we can press in more emotionally through these years, we also need to launch them to independence. I know those two are not mutually exclusive, but there is a sense in which we want them to become more independent people, following Christ’s call no matter what. If we don’t do this, we have effectively created a tribe where the children live next to the parents and so on. While nothing is inherently wrong with this, there is something individually provocative in the statements of Jesus where he calls disciples to be willing to leave father and mother.
If the reader will not be deceived by “new psychological insight” that will save their child, there is much good to be gained from the reading. This is a book about love and common grace not about God’s redeeming grace. Nevertheless Christian parents need to understand how they need to press into their children no matter the age. You can purchase the book on Amazon here.
The Donut Date Journal
The Disciple-Making Parent’s Donut Date Journal is the perfect solution to create attachment. It is set to be released August 1st, 2017. Perfect for parents, grandparents, and church leaders.