Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere. The books continue to be best-sellers, the movie broke all records opening weekend, and you can hardly bring up a news site without someone waxing poetic on the horrors the series is inflicting on society.
I think most of the criticism is warranted. But the book has a redeeming and unexpected quality: It backs up the attachment parenting (AP) premise that the emotional bonds formed in early childhood have lifelong consequences.
I’ll admit, I’m late to the Fifty Shades of Grey party. I read the books for the first time Valentine’s Day weekend, finally succumbing to the media hype. I knew going in — thanks to the onslaught of articles on the series — there would be domestic violence undertones, BDSM galore and a whole lot of raunchy sex. What I didn’t expect was to be overwhelmed with maternal feelings of pity for the title character, Mr. Christian Grey.
As I began to read, all I could think was, dang, this dude needs hugs. Come to find out I wasn’t that far off. Spoiler alert! Christian’s first four years of life truly sucked. His mother was, in his words, a “crack whore.” He was abused by his mother’s pimp, who used him as an ashtray and punching bag. Ultimately he was left locked in a house with his mother’s dead body for four days, alone and starving. It’s no wonder he ended up a self-loathing, untouchable, controlling sadist — none of his most basic needs were fulfilled as a young child.
In attachment parenting, strong emotional bonds are formed very early between children and their caregivers, allowing the child to feel safe, protected and secure. This strong emotional attachment serves as an “invisible security blanket” for them throughout life. Because of the unconditional love they feel in their early years, kids can better love others and themselves. Young Christian Grey had none of this. He is controlling because he had no control. He feels unworthy of love because he felt no love. He cannot tolerate touch because he was never gently touched.
Series heroine Ana Steele sums it up well: “What does Christian know of love? Seems he didn’t get the unconditional love he was entitled to during his very early years.”
Child development expert Katie Hurley agrees. “Unconditional love from a parent is one of the basic needs of a child,” she says. “Without unconditional love and support, children can struggle with self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and this can lead to drug use, relational issues and/or other mental health issues in adulthood.” Huh. Sounds a whole lot like Christian Grey.
While many are hung up on the sex and violence, no one seems to be addressing the lack-of-love story that is woven throughout. Christian Grey needed love — all kids need love. As I read the series, I kept coming back to that premise. I kept thinking about abused, malnourished 4-year-old Christian as described by the author, cowering under the table as his mother neglects him. I thought about silent 6-year-old Christian, safe with his adoptive family yet unable to tolerate almost any physical touch. Then I thought about my own 4- and 6-year-old boys, and the idea that any child could suffer like that honestly made me cry.
Am I saying if you don’t practice attachment parenting with your kids, they will end up like Christian Grey? No. But I think it bears mentioning that were it not for his attachment-less childhood, there’d be no series. After all, who wants to read a book about a well-balanced, emotionally secure relationship?
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