Category Archives: The Editor’s Desk

Regain “Control” of Your Teen

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Get control of your teenHas your teenager stopped listening to you? Do you routinely catch him telling lies, or does she continually break curfew? You may be finding yourself tempted to make tighter rules and to pass out punishments when these rules are broken. But Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, says this strategy is likely to backfire.

“It is possible to regain control by restricting your teenager and forcing him to do as you say. You can monitor their every move and bombard them with questions,” writes Botto in her ParentingATeenager.net article, “Trust vs. Control.” “Your teen, however, will most likely respond by avoiding you and family time, lying, dropping grades, or even running away from home. He also will be very frustrated, feel confined, and count the days until he is 18 and out of the house.”

What most parents are looking for is not to control their teen’s every move but to discourage their teen’s inappropriate behaviors while encouraging more mature behavior, like coming to them for advice and input. Because of our culture’s tendency to punish, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in this approach, when the most effective way of “regaining control” is not to punish or to control but rather to find ways to reconnect while guiding good decision-making.

As parents begin to let go of their control on their teen, however, Botto said many parents are left wondering how much independence is too much. Parents know they need to continue to teach, they know their teen is not yet at a point of being completely independent, but they don’t know where to set boundaries without seeming too controlling. That feeling of unease can lead parents of teens, just as with parents of younger children, to becoming overly permissive or controlling.

To help parents find the right boundaries for their teen, here are a couple tips to try when faced with an area of conflict:

  • Allow your teen to make some decisions, such as what type of clothes to buy or when to do homework. This boosts confidence in himself and his decisions, as well as allows parents to gain confidence in his choices. This give-and-take in trust strengthens your attachment bond.
  • You may discover your teen is more mature in her decision-making than you thought, or you may realize this is not so. When she does make unwise decisions, this gives you the opportunity to support and guide her, which when done appropriately and compassionately also strengthens the attachment bond. Don’t scold or punish. Instead, work together to talk about and problem-solve the situation. By discussing the problem and analyzing the facts, your teen will gain confidence in your ability to empathize with her and offer helpful advice. And by allowing your teen to join you in problem-solving, you’re boosting her confidence by giving her the opportunity to come up with her own solutions.

AP is Good for Mom, Too

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

AP is Good for Your Emotional Regulation, TooExperts and parents agree – telling and retelling of a birth story is vital for a woman to overcome an emotionally traumatic birth. But there is certainly something to be said for the power of parenting in an attachment-promoting way in healing a mother’s feelings of disappointment, guilt, anger, and other strong and often confusing emotions that may surround her child’s entry into the world.

Women who are struggling with their emotions are not only grieving their lost dreams of what they had hoped for their labor and birth experience, but may also be battling with feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a mother. While we must take time to fully grieve our birth experiences, we must also find a way to move forward. It can be very fulfilling, and healing, to channel the strong emotions surrounding our child’s birth into caring for her in a loving, positive, attachment-promoting way. Just as a hobby or a phone call to a friend can give a release for our strong emotions in a healthy way, so can we heal through our parenting.

It must be noted, though, that by healing through our parenting, I do not mean that we transfer our strong emotions to our baby or that we attach onto our child in any other way than an appropriate parent-child relationship. What I’m referring to is using parenting as a healthy outlet for women to move forward. Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, explain this in their book, Giving the Love that Heals.

“In a conscious marriage, partners grow when they stretch to meet the needs of the other, and they heal when their needs are met by their partner,” they write. “The process is mutual. In marriage, it is appropriate for a partner to grow by meeting the needs of the other partner, but it is not appropriate for a parent to try to heal by having the child meet his needs. The process for parents and children is not mutual. The parent must heal his childhood wounds in an adult relationship and not in his relationship with his child.”

However, while healing through the parent-child relationship is not synonymous with the adult-adult relationship, Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt acknowledge that parenting can be a pathway to personal healing.

“The sense in which marriage can be healing is that partners restore their own wholeness when they stretch to meet each other’s needs, giving to the other what is often hardest to give,” they continue. “The sense in which parenting can be healing is that parents restore their own wholeness when they stretch to meet the needs of their children at precisely those stages at which their own development has been incomplete. Through marriage and parenting, partners and parents can recover parts of themselves that have been lost. Both marriage and parenting give people the chance to receive for themselves what they give to their partner or child. They get what they give. In this way, both marriage and parenting can be transformational, because the healing experiences these relationships can provide will change the very character of the people involved.”

Healing from birth trauma is, of course, not the same as healing from childhood wounds, but this excerpt is illustrative of the difference between a parent inappropriately leaning on her baby to provide emotional comfort and a parent appropriately using parenting her baby in an attachment-promoting way as an opportunity to heal through giving to another.

Virtually all Attachment Parenting (AP) practices can help a mother heal from her birth trauma by promoting a close, positive relationship between her and the baby, but there are a few that research has shown to be especially beneficial to the new mother – perhaps not in magically healing emotional trauma but in providing an atmosphere supportive of a mother’s own efforts in healing.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is particularly powerful in jump-starting the mother-baby attachment bond. Attachment Parenting International (API) Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker describe breastfeeding as the ideal model of attachment in their book, Attached at the Heart, for sale here. There are myriad benefits for the baby and mother, in regards to health and attachment, but what about helping mothers’ emotional well being?

Read API’s review of Attached at the Heart here.

“Breastfeeding triggers the release of the attachment-promoting hormone oxytocin into the mother’s body,” Nicholson and Parker explain. “Often called ‘the mothering hormone,’ oxytocin has a calming effect on both mother and baby. “

Futhermore, “research in depression is showing a correlation between lower levels of certain hormones in mothers who experience depression, so it appears that anything we can do to increase levels of these natural hormones may be a powerful aid in prevention,” Nicholson and Parker write.

Health psychologist and API Resource Advisory Council and API Editorial Review Board member Kathleen Kendall-Tackett echoed this research in her 2007 International Breastfeeding Journal article, “A New Paradigm for Depression in New Mothers: The Central Role of Inflammation and How Breastfeeding and Anti-inflammatory Treatments”: “…although women experience many stressors in the postpartum period, breastfeeding protects them by inducing calm, lessening maternal reactivity to stressors, and increasing nurturing behavior. …breastfeeding can protect mothers’ mental health and is worth preserving whenever possible.”

Responding with Sensitivity & Providing Consistent, Loving Care

Lack of sensitivity toward the baby is a hallmark effect of a mother who is dealing with emotional issues, but a mother who focuses on responding appropriately and quickly to her baby’s cries can improve her mood by reducing how much her baby cries. Nicholson and Parker explain that parents need to respond to their baby’s pre-cry cues; by waiting until the baby is crying, he will be much more difficult to console. Babies are not born with the ability to regulate their strong emotions – they rely on their caregivers to do this for them by responding quickly, appropriately, and consistently.

We don’t need a research study to show us how stressful it can be to listen to our child’s unrelieved cries, but I did want to share one study’s conclusion included in Attached at the Heart. According to a 1995 Pediatrics article, “Developmental Outcome as a Function of the Goodness of Fit Between the Infant’s Cry Characteristics and the Mother’s Perceptions of Her Infant’s Cry,” mothers who responded consistently and appropriately had higher self esteem than did mothers who were inconsistent in the responses to their baby’s cries.

In addition, “mothers who feel low, depressed, anxious, exhausted or angry, who have relationship problems with their partner, or who feel strongly rejected by their baby’s crying are more likely to have a baby who cries excessively,” according to Dr. Gillian Rice in his Netdoctor.co.uk article, “Why Do Babies Cry?” “This isn’t to say that the mother’s feelings caused her baby to become a frequent crier, but they may be a factor in perpetuating the baby’s crying.”

Nurturing Touch

Especially for mothers who are unable to breastfeed, nurturing touch stimulates the mother’s body to also release oxytocin.

“The good  news for a mother or caregiver who is not breastfeeding is that she can still receive oxytocin benefits from holding the baby skin-to-skin, and also by giving and receiving nurturing touch through massage and gentle caress,” explain Nicholson and Parker.

Louis Cozolino suggests through his book, The Healthy Aging Brain, that new mothers add nurturing touch as part of their regular infant care techniques, not just for the baby’s benefit but for their own mental health.

“Studies have found that teaching depressed mothers to massage their infants increased the amount of touching and bonding time between them, and decreased levels of stress hormones in both infants and mothers,” he writes. “The infants showed increased alertness, emotionality, and sociability, and they were easier to soothe. Touching their children not only activated smiles and positive expressions on the part of the infants, but also made the mothers feel happier and more effective.”

Cosleeping

I am amazed of how healing it can be at all stages of parenting to sleep in proximity of my children. For the new mother, cosleeping reduces stress and improves sleep by having the reassurance that the baby is nearby and safe as well as the convenience of caring for the baby in the same room rather than in another part of the house.

A study detailed in Sharon Heller’s book, The Vital Touch, describes how “mothers slept slightly better and slightly longer when their babies stayed with them.” Heller goes on to explain how a mother’s instinct is to protect her baby and separation and crying is contrary to this instinct – arousing a mother’s natural impulse to correct the situation.

“From a purely practical standpoint, parents report that they get more sleep with fewer interruptions when the cosleep,” write Nicholson and Parker. “They don’t need to get up to attend to baby’s needs, which keeps parents from having to wake up fully during feedings.”

Cosleeping enhances early mother-baby bonding, because nighttime parenting allows the mother to continue responding with sensitivity around the clock through breastfeeding, nurturing touch, and consistent and loving care.

“Babies feel warm, secure, and protected; therefore, they fret and cry less,” they continue. “Mothers worry less about their infants at night when they can reach out and touch the baby.”

Balance

Striving for balance between our personal and family lives is a must when seeking ways to decrease stress on new mothers and improve mood. Though it may not seem so, AP practices are in many ways just as helpful to maintaining balance in the mother’s life as they are in being compassionate and nurturing to the baby. AP practices aren’t solely for the child’s comfort – mothers receive hormonal benefits through breastfeeding and nurturing touch, more sleep through cosleeping, and reduced stress from crying through responding with sensitivity and providing consistent, loving care.

Still, especially for the first-time mother or for mothers who are going through a difficult postpartum recovery, balance can be an elusive goal. The key is to rely on others for their help in taking care of you. Postpartum Support International names social support as one of the most effective factors in prevention and treatment of postpartum depression. This social support may come in the form of your spouse, mother, friend, local API leader and API Support Group, or even through the virtual connection through the API Forums.

Nicholson and Parker describe the crucial importance of balance in a new mother’s life in Attached at the Heart, warning that “without support and other resources, we are taking a big risk for our children and ourselves. Margot Sunderland addresses the critical issue of stress and balance from a brain chemistry perspective in her power book, The Science of Parenting. She describes the positive effects of the hormone oxytocin and its role in helping calm all human beings. We are designed to help provide emotional regulation for children and each other. When a parent is alone most of the time without other caring adults to talk to, stress hormones rise, feelings get out of balance, and irritability and anger lash out.”

Sunderland’s advice: Mothers need to seek out nurturing touch from their partners, which triggers the release of oxytocin, which then gives a warm, calm feeling. And a sense of balance.

If you’re partner isn’t available or if you’re a single parent, talking to empathic friends can provide a much-needed outlet for stress. Other activities that can give you that oxytocin release include: meditation, acupuncture, massage, physical affection, yoga, warm bath, spending time in the sun or bright artificial lighting.

Discuss this topic with other API members and parents. Get advice for your parenting challenges, and share your tips with others on the API Forum.

Parenting without Spoiling

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

AP doesn't spoil childrenNeighbor: “Oh, your children are always so wonderful to be around! I can tell that you take parenting seriously.”

Parent: “Thank you! I think they’re wonderful, too, but of course I’m a little biased, so it’s nice to hear compliments from others. Thanks again!”

Neighbor: “I just don’t know what’s wrong with the world today. What don’t more parents be parents? Back in my day, parents didn’t put up with what they put up with now. We weren’t afraid to discipline our children. I’m so glad there’s someone in this younger generation who spanks their children.”

Parent: “Oh, but I don’t spank.”

Neighbor, surprised: “Oh, oh, of course not. Too controversial. Well, those timeouts must certainly be working then. I wouldn’t have thought it, you know, since the paddle worked so well for my children. I guess the point is that you’re punishing your children when they need it.”

Parent, calmly: “I don’t use timeouts, either. In fact, I don’t use any sort of punishment.”

Neighbor, obviously disapproving: “Well! You’re going to ruin your children! They’re going to grow up to be spoiled brats like all the other kids in this neighborhood!”

Parent, firmly but also calm and empathic of Neighbor’s view: “I may not punish, but I choose to use gentle discipline. I focus on teaching my children calmly and lovingly. I find this is best for my family, and as you had said, my children’s behavior show that it’s just as effective – if not more so – than other discipline forms that focus on punishments.”

Neighbor, defensively and indignantly: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What you’re doing is not discipline. You’re spoiling your children. You’re an irresponsible, selfish parent, and you’re going to pay for it as your children grow older and walk all over you and turn into drug users and criminals. If you really loved your children, you’d spank them or at least use timeouts.”

Oh, how quickly, this real conversation turned sour once the neighbor learned of the parent’s childrearing approach and began to apply her judgments on the situation. How ironic that the neighbor began by praising the children’s behavior but couldn’t accept the parenting style responsible for it.

What is this fear of spoiling? Much of it is probably rooted in religious doctrines as well as in past generations’ cultural norms, but there is definitely a pervasive fear that if parents choose certain parenting approaches that don’t align with the popular childrearing techniques, that they’re going to spoil their children – and apparently bring the whole of society to a ruin. Continue reading

America’s Family Crisis: Parental Depression Putting 15 Million U.S. Children at Risk

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

America's Family CrisisDepression is beyond epidemic proportions, not only in the United States but in many societies around the world. People like to blame more recent economic downturns, but these high rates of depression have been an ongoing concern for many years from before the stock markets took a dive.

If depression was the H1N1 Influenza virus (a.k.a. swine flu), no one would venture to the streets or grocery store without a face mask for fear of transmission, schools and businesses would be closed indefinitely, and medical clinics and hospital emergency rooms would be packed with people clamoring for screening and treatment.

But depression isn’t contagious like the flu – although it certainly is more debilitating and has just as much potential to kill. It doesn’t spread by sneezing and coughing, but it is still “contagious” in that people living with a depressed significant attachment figure, whether adult-adult or parent-child, are more likely to develop depression themselves and all that comes with this illness – the hopelessness, the sorrow or anger depending on the person’s response, the suicidal thoughts and possible attempts.

Depression is pervasive in the United States, and it is devastating to families – to marital relationships and to children’s development. We know through attachment research and neuroscience that the way we are parented not only affects the behavior we use in reaction to stressful events but also changes the way our brains work and our genes express brain chemistry reactions to stress. This means that if we are parented in such a way that consistently teaches us to react poorly to stress and conditions our brain to release stress chemicals at high rates, we are literally creating a child who will grow up into an adult who is prone to depression and all that comes with it.

Our families are in crisis.

New Report Brings to Light the Impact of Parental Depression

A new report, Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children: Opportunities to Improve Identification, Treatment, and Prevention, was released by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies last week at a public briefing in Washington, D.C. Attachment Parenting International attended via webcast.

The National Academies consist of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. They are private, nonprofit institutes that provide science, technology, and health policy advice to the United States under a congressional charter.

Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children explores the interaction of depressed parents and their parenting practices, and the impact on children. It also proposes strategies to promote more effective interventions, as well as recommendations for improving the quality of care for depressed parents and their children. The study was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The California Endowment, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Report committee members who attended the briefing included: Chair Mary Jane England, MD, president of Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts; William Beardslee, MD, professor of child psychiatry at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts; Mareasa Isaacs, PhD, executive director of the National Alliance of Multi-Ethnic Behavioral Health Associations in Bethesda, Maryland; and Frank Putnam, MD, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Prevalence of Depression

The briefing opened with an overview of depression in the United States, presented by Isaacs. The exact number of people affected with depression is difficult to pinpoint, but it’s estimated that only one-third of adults with the illness actually receive treatment. In some sample communities, as many as 70% of people with depression go without treatment. Although depression treatment is very effective, there are a number of factors preventing people from seeking help: the stigma of mental illness, lack of transportation, inability to afford services and medication, language and cultural barriers, and lack of providers or at least those with training in identifying and treating depression.

Despite not knowing the full extent of depression, there are several tendencies that Isaacs pointed out:

  • Women have double the rate of depression as men.
  • Caregivers are more likely to have depression.
  • Depression typically first shows in adolescence or young adulthood.
  • Those living in poverty are more likely to have depression.
  • Depression is more common among adults who are separated or divorced than those who are married.
  • Depression rarely appears alone – 75% of people who suffer from depression also suffer from traumatic histories such as sexual abuse or exposure to early childhood violence, substance abuse, a medical condition, or another mental health disorder especially anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The development of depression rests in a combination of genetic susceptibility, environmental factors, and individual vulnerability. Depression is as much the result of other issues in a person’s life, as it is the indicator that there are additional problems.
  • The majority of adults suffering from depression are parents.

The Impact of Parental Depression

It is this last point – that the majority of adults suffering from depression are parents – that is the take-home message. It is estimated that in the United States alone, one in five parents are affected by depression each year, or approximately 7.5 million. Here’s the kicker: 15.6 million children under age 18 live in these households where at least one parent is depressed, Isaacs said. Depending on the age of the child, they can be as much as 40% more likely to develop depression themselves with just one depressed parent in the home, said Putnam said – let alone both parents. “Mothers and fathers are often depressed together,” Beardslee added.

Remember what we know about attachment and how this affects the development of our children. For more than 15 million children in the United States, either their primary attachment figure or a strong secondary attachment figure is depressed and modeling all that comes with it.

“Depression is primarily a family issue,” Isaacs said. “It affects not only the individual but also children and other members of the family. It affects parenting.”

While the majority of research in parental depression has included mothers only, the few studies that have been conducted on fathers shows that the impact of children living with a depressed secondary attachment figure is just as devastating as living in a home with only the primary attachment figure suffering from depression, she said.

“Many people don’t get treatment, and those who do, don’t for years,” said Beardslee. “This makes a great impact on the family.”

Depressed parents tend to raise their children in an emotionally detached, withdrawn parenting style that affects the development of attachment, Putnam said. People with depression use fewer positive parenting approaches and more intrusive handling of children, and the end result is a child who is himself withdrawn.

“Depression causes terrible suffering,” in both parents and children, Beardslee said. Depression effectively destroys the attachment between a parent and child. The inconsistencies in parenting by depressed parents leads to a break in trust between the child and his parent. Long-standing depression causes neglect and often abuse. While depression symptoms manifest themselves differently in each person, women tend to be sad and withdrawn while men tend to be irritable and acting out.

Beardslee told of one mother who described what depression does to her parenting: When she isn’t depressed, she has very positive, emotionally close, and healthy interactions with her 12-year-old son, and when he comes home from school, they go through a routine of talking with, playing, and otherwise spending time with one another. But, when she is depressed, all that positive parenting disappears – she puts her son in front of the television and ignores the routine and his emotional and physical needs.

This break in routine, which is so important especially for older children, greatly affects the mental health of the child, Beardslee said. He feels inadequate, as though he is to be blamed for his mother’s withdrawal. Her depression affects his self esteem and models her poor responses to stress – significantly increasing the risk that he will eventually develop depression himself and unhealthy coping mechanisms expressed through social, behavioral, and other mental problems. He will feel the effects of chronic parental depression long after his mother’s depression is treated.

Not every parent with depression will inadvertently or deliberately cause harm to their children, but parental depression increases the risks for spillover consequences during critical periods of child and adolescent development.

“We’re very concerned about the impact on children,” Putnam said. While there is only a 2-4% risk of a small child developing depression when there is a depressed parent in the home, this risk jumps up to 20-40% in adolescents. “What also comes with this is the risk of substance abuse,” which is predominant among depressed individuals, Putnam added.

“To break the vicious circle of depression, we need to refocus our view of this illness through a broader lens that sees the whole family, not just the individual with depression,” England said. Beardslee added: “We need to think about people who are depressed as parents first, and individuals with depression second.”

This goes beyond postpartum maternal and infant depression – the screening and treatment of which is becoming increasingly more commonplace in the medical care community: “The first few years of life are crucial, but we need to look more into the long term,” Beardslee said.

The Report Committee’s Recommended Solution

Currently, most screening and treatment of depression happens in primary medical care settings, Beardslee said. However, because depression is more typical in families living in poverty and perhaps without the means to see a doctor, there must be more avenues for depressed parents to find help. Because depressed parents are often withdrawn and difficult to engage, more types of service providers outside the mental health system need to be trained to spot the symptoms of depression and to direct those who need help to accessible entries into the health care system.

Once parents seek treatment, the mental health care system must change the way it treats this illness. Because of the impact on children, interventions should adopt a two-generational approach – parent and child – to effectively treat depression in families, Beardslee said.

Putnam listed these critical components to an effective model of family-centered treatment for depression:

  • Integrative – meaning that all factors contributing toward the depression must be identified, whether this includes poverty, marital issues, health problems, etc.
  • Comprehensive – meaning that all co-occurring conditions must be identified and addressed, such as substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
  • Multi-generational – which encompasses screening and treatment for both parents and children by one mental health care provider rather than by separate providers who often don’t know the full extent of depression on the family members.
  • Preventive – which includes teaching parents positive parenting skills and skills to cope better with stress.
  • Developmentally appropriate – any treatment should appropriate to the particular age group of the children involved.
  • Accessible – screening should be available through programs frequently used by at-risk families such as home visitation, Headstart and other school-based programs, federal nutrition programs, etc., and those parents who are identified as depressed should then be assisted in navigating the mental health system to receive treatment. In addition, the financial barriers of at-risk families must be addressed – many may not have insurance or income, and those who are able to afford services may have difficulty paying for services for more than one person in the family. Also, the mental health system must look into ways of delivering services in nontraditional settings to be able to reach at-risk families, including schools, prisons, community programs, and even homes.
  • Culturally sensitive – which includes techniques to overcome language barriers, stigmas, etc.

“There are a number of exciting initiatives with parts of these features, but no program yet has all of these features,” Putnam said. As it is now, “parents with depression are like orphans” in the mental health system, he added.

To jump-start this model, Putnam suggested the mental health system focus first on implementing a two-generational, more comprehensive focus. More health care providers need to receive training specifically in multi-generational depression. Practices should look into ways that would reduce the financial impact on at-risk families such as charging on a sliding scale, combining children and parent charges into one office visit instead of two, and negotiating with insurance companies to provide same-day reimbursements on medical care services. Once programs are in place that effectively treat family depression, they should be included in training models for other providers.

In addition, more research dollars need to be allocated toward studies that look at the impact of parental depression on children as well as the differences between the impact of depression in fathers and mothers, Putnam said.

The report committee said this report represents a call for urgency from the U.S. Surgeon General and the various mental health organizations and agencies – a major mental health concern that needs to have a working plan in place in the next six to eight months.

What is API Doing?

API actively helps parents who are prone to depression or are depressed by teaching parenting skills and providing resources to help parents develop better ways of coping with stress and strong emotions. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, who reviewed the numerous studies on the subject, there is a link between social support and wellness. Support networks are vital not only in preventing depression but also in its treatment. Local API Support Groups provide parents with a way to develop a solid support system that can follow them through their child’s many developmental stages and the challenges that come with them.

And if parents do fall into depression, API Leaders can help direct parents to the treatment they need as well as continue providing support through the local group or personal consultations, free of charge.

Discuss this topic with other API members and parents. Get advice for your parenting challenges, and share your tips with others on the API Forum.

What Attachment Parenting Does for Your Child’s Future

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Attachment as adults

Especially if you’re new to Attachment Parenting, you may be wondering what does parenting have to do with your adult relationships. Quite a lot, if you understand the impact of healthy and unhealthy parent-child attachments on the child. In fact, you could say it has to do with everything about our adult relationships.

The attachment bond you had with your primary caregiver – most likely your mother – is your model for how a relationship should work for the rest of your life. For some of us, that attachment bond was loving and nurturing and we find our adult relationships relatively easy. For many of us, we may have some difficulties in our adult relationships, mainly in trust issues, indicating that there were inconsistencies in the response by our primary caregiver when we were younger. And for some of us, our childhood homes were downright neglectful and abusive and our natural tendency in our adult relationships is not to have a relationship at all.

Because humans are social beings, having close relationships is an essence of life. Without working relationships, we are at risk for depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other unhealthy and risky behaviors that we use to fill a void in our lives left by the needs left unmet in our first loving relationship – that with our parents. The success of this first attachment bond in our lives is what shapes the way our brain works, influencing the way we cope to stress, how we see ourselves, our expectations of others, and our ability to maintain healthy relationships all through our lives. Continue reading

Helping Your Adopted Teen Develop an Identity

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

The teenage years can be hard on your adopted childParenting during the teenage years is as trying on the young adult as it is on his parents. But if your child was adopted or if you’re fostering, the teenage years can be an especially tough time as your child tries to sort out his identity without knowing his birth parents or understanding the reasons why his birth parents are not a bigger part of his life.

Who Am I? Where Do I Belong?

As the teen years loom, many parents anticipate that their child will have some difficulties, perhaps more so than teens who are living with their birth parents, in answering these questions. Gloria Hochman and Anna Huston list a few questions parents ask themselves in this period of time, which will ultimately prove just as hard on the parents as their child, in their article “Parenting Your Adopted Teen” at Focus Adolescent Services, FocusAS.com:

  1. Will a sense of abandonment and rejection replace feelings of security and comfort?
  2. Is my child behaving in a way that reflects inner turmoil about the past?
  3. Will being adopted make adolescence harder for my child?

How Can Parents Help?

Nothing about these questions is simple, but Hochman and Huston do have a couple tips that make the teen years easier on your child:

  • Don’t ignore the fact that your child was adopted — Being adopted is an undeniable part of her history, and how she learns to deal with it will continue to impact her in the future.
  • Don’t underestimate your child’s abilities to sort out their own challenges – Trust that your child can successfully confront and resolve his identity issues, as you offer extra support in areas that take on special meaning for him.

These special areas include:

  • Identity formation – Not knowing about her birth parents can make your child question who she really is, and it’s a real challenge as they try to sort out which character traits come from which set of parents. It becomes even more difficult as your teen tries to sort out the traits that are genetic or wants answers to questions you may not have, such as: Where did I get my musical talent? Did everyone in my family have glasses or curly hair? What is my ethnic background? Do I have brothers and sisters?
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment – Your teen may suddenly become afraid of leaving home. Other teens may want to reconnect with their birth families to have their questions answered: Where did I get my writing ability or my height? Did everyone in my family have to deal with acne? Some teenagers may worry, just as their adoptive parents do, that they have a tendency toward an unhealthy behavior or mental illness and would feel more comfortable knowing more about their birth parents’ tendencies.
  • Issues of control and autonomy – This is a normal struggle for all parents and teens, but it may be more intense for your adopted teen who feels, especially, that his life’s direction has always been based on someone else’s decision: His birth mother made the decision to place him for adoption; you made the decision to adopt him.
  • Feelings of not belonging – These feelings arise when your teen cannot identify the source of her traits such as her red hair in an adoptive family of brunettes or a Hispanic ethnicity in a family of Native Americans or an artistic talent in a family of math whizzes. These feelings often first arise as her friends begin to question her differences (or similarities, mistakenly) to her adopted family. If her friends do know that she is adopted, she may struggle with answering questions such as: Who are your real parents, and why didn’t they keep you? These feelings of uncertainty then fall back to their secure feelings toward her adoptive family – she may not feel like a “real” member of the family or that you love her as much as you love (or would have loved) your biological children.
  • Heightened curiosity about the past – Your teen will think more about how his life would have been different had he grown up with their birth parents or had been adopted by another family. This is a healthy exploration of his past and necessary to helping him learn ways of coping with the realizations that some possibilities have been lost.

Parents Need to Be Aware of Their Own Emotions

Parents have their own strong emotions and need to recognize and understand them first before they can support their teen:

  • Anger or frustration at your teen’s anger – Your child may become very angry toward you. He may withdraw, run away, or act-out toward you. Understand that most teens have difficulty in handling anger, and that expressing anger is often the only way any teen knows how to deal with other strong, even more painful, emotions such as disappointment or guilt. For more information on helping your teen deal with anger, see The Attached Family article, “Dealing with an Angry Teen.”
  • Fear about your teen’s past – You may struggle with concerns centering on issues from your child’s past, such as exposure or family history of alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness. You may have a heightened fear toward your teen’s sexuality and view of parenthood. You may wonder what would happen if your daughter became pregnant or your son got someone else pregnant – how would their birth mother’s choices influence their choices?
  • Hurt about your teen wanting to seek out her birth family – You may second-guess how you raised her  – did you do a good enough job? Is there a problem in your attachment with her?

Listen, Support, Affirm

Adopted children, even those who have been in their adoptive families since birth and who have secure attachments, can feel a sudden emptiness when they hit the teen years, explain Hochman and Huston. Encourage your child to talk about her feelings and try to support her emotionally, even if you don’t fully understand what she’s going through.

Parents of adopted teens who are struggling with feelings of not belonging in their family, especially those of transracial adoptions, may benefit from learning about their birth family’s ethnicity and culture. Parents can help them celebrate by supporting this quest for information, talking about their feelings as they explore this part of their past, and spending time with other families of the same ethnic background as their teen.

At home, parents of transracially adopted teens – or any adopted teens who are struggling with wanting to belong – can benefit when you point out any similarities between family members, such as “Everyone in our family loves to sleep late on the weekends” or “Mom and you are both cat lovers.”

But, Kenneth Kirby, PhD, of Northwestern University’s School of Medicine’s Department of Clinical Psychiatry in Chicago, says that the most effective technique parents of adopted teens can use is their listening skills. The families where adopted teens will have problems are those where the parents insist that an adopted parent-child relationship is no different than a biological relationship. Teens do better when their parents acknowledge their fears and uncertainties and allow them to express their grief, anger, fear, and other strong emotions.

Families that encourage open communication will have an easier time than others who may have to rely on professional counseling to support their teen. Many states also offer adoptive parent support groups or post-adoption workshops to help parents better connect with teens. It’s the parent’s responsibility to encourage a supportive atmosphere for the teen to discuss his emotions, and especially if open communication is not a norm in your family, you will need to initiate these discussions.

For More Information

“Parents who recognize that their teens have two sets of parents and who don’t feel threatened by that fact are more likely to establish a more positive environment for their teens, one that will make them feel more comfortable to express their feelings,” explain say Hochman and Huston. “Secrets take a lot of energy. When there is freedom to discuss adoption issues, there is much less of a burden on the family.”

Seek Cooperation, Not Control

Because of their own fears and strong emotions, parents have a tendency to want to control their teen’s choices, but Anne McCabe, a post-adoption specialist at Tabor Children’s Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, explains that teens need the freedom to develop their personalities and identities: “Kids see it as, ‘You don’t trust me.’”

McCabe advises parents of adopted teens to use positive discipline techniques in working toward solutions to disagreements between the parent and the child. The goal is to build trust between the parent and child. She suggests parents and children work together to identify options in dealing with areas of conflict such as schoolwork, chores, choice of friends, choice of leisure time activities, and curfew. Just as Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish explain in their book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, McCabe explains that the best solutions are those in which both the parent and the teen come to an agreement on what constitutes trustworthy behavior and what the consequences will be of untrustworthy behavior.

Always Consider the Possibility of Professional Help

Parents of adopted teens – especially if they were adopted at an older age – may be confronted with serious challenges such as extremely low self esteem and severe emotional and behavioral difficulties, according to Hochman and Huston. These are often the results of a past of abuse or neglect and broken attachments throughout their young lives as they were moved from foster home to foster home. It can be extremely difficult for them to learn to trust adults who, in their past, were unable to meet their emotional needs and had broken any attachments they once had.

In addition, teens adopted at an older age bring with them the memories of these broken attachments. Hudson and Hochman advise allowing your teen to talk about these memories with you as well as with a professional counselor. Working through the emotions surrounding these memories is essential to getting your child to a point where he will be able to create and maintain emotionally healthy relationships.

Seek out professional help if you observe any of the following behaviors in your son or daughter:

  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Troubles in school, such as a drastic drop in grade or skipping classes
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Risk-taking
  • Suicidal threats or attempts.

What Your Child’s Lovie Says about Your Attachment

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

API's stance on loviesI don’t encourage the use of lovies – blankets, teddy bears, or other objects children can develop an attachment to – in my household but I don’t discourage it, either.

My three year old had earlier attachments to a teddy bear that had to be replaced once, and then we lost the bear somewhere, and for a long time, she didn’t have a lovie. But she also seemed to have more trouble sleeping, even sharing the family bed, so when she wanted to adopt a stuffed toy horse, I let her. Even snuggled up to me in my bed, she has to have her horsey. She also takes her horsey with her in the car most of the time, and when she can’t take it with her — let’s say, out to the garden — she asks me to hold it until she comes back.

Personally, I think her lovie is less for security and more because she’s watched me carry around her little sister the past year and a half. But, even if it is for security, I don’t feel threatened by it. I may not understand why she needs the security of a stuffed toy when we have a very secure relationship, but I would rather fill this need than not.

My 20 month old also has a lovie – her water bottle. Here is another situation that I feel neither threatened by nor any need to “wean” or “break” her of. Around the world, toddlers nurse themselves to sleep or in times of discomfort. My baby prefers to carry her bottle around – always with water – and when she does need to suck, she often wants to do so while sitting on my lap or lying down in bed beside me.

Discussion Continues on What the Use of Lovies Signals in a Parent-Child Relationship

On the API Forum, you can see other attached parents’ views of lovies in such threads as “Blankie or Teddie?” There are some parents who clearly see the attachment between a child and a lovie as a sign that the parent-child attachment is not strong, while other parents don’t see the same threat. Attachment Parenting International advises that parents honor this need in their children should they seem to want to sleep with or carry around a blankie, teddy, or other object. The exception would be if a child is likely to turn to food for comfort, which can set up an unhealthy association between food and comfort.

Weaning children off of pacifiers and bottles can be done similar to weaning a child off the breast – many attached parents let their children self-wean, while others may gently encourage that their children let go. One reader who commented on an API Speaks blog post, “Gently Weaning from the Pacifier,” explains how she poked a tiny hole in her daughter’s pacifier which made it less appealing to suck, and another parent explained to her daughter how the pacifier was broken.

Examine Your Perspective of the Lovie

So, what does your child’s lovie say about your attachment with her? This is still up for discussion and probably has something to do with how you view the lovie. If a parent encourages a lovie because he doesn’t want to focus on forming a strong attachment with his child, this isn’t appropriate. But if a parent honors his children’s need for a lovie while trying to continue strengthening the parent-child attachment — even in instances where he doesn’t understand this need — this would be following the API Principle of Responding with Sensitivity.

API’s Stance on Lovies

Q: What does API think of families using lovies?

A: Certainly we need to stress that a parent or other attached caregiver would be the best lovie a child could have. There is no substitute for the warm, loving arms of a caregiver and the security that they provide for the child. However, we realize that sometimes a lovie (such as a stuffed animal or blanket) can be an appropriate tool, and as long as it is not overused, it can be comforting to some children. Some high-needs children require almost constant contact with a parent or caregiver. Sometimes this level of contact is not possible, especially in a household with multiple children. For instance, if you need to lay the baby down to take a nap, but the baby wants you to lie with him or her and you are not able to, a lovie might be an acceptable fill-in. If the lovie carries the scent of the primary caregiver, it can be that much more soothing to the child. Additionally, for a child who is in a daycare, a lovie can be a comfort from home.

Introducing a lovie to a young infant could be as simple as tucking it into the sling with her while you carry her, or tucking it in with her as she sleeps contentedly in bed (with or without you). This should set up the lovie-sleep association. For an older toddler, introducing a lovie could be a bit more challenging since he will be more resistant to the caregiver substitute. Showing interest in it yourself may be enough to spark some curiosity for your child. Some children might enjoy being surprised with one, while others may prefer going to pick one out.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the lovie should be associated with positivity to the child. Putting a child in a room to cry it out with a lovie sets up a negative association and is unfair to the child. Try to be understanding in the process of introducing a lovie, and realize that it may take time and gentle persistence for your child to accept one.

From the Frequently Asked Questions for the API Principle of Responding with Sensitivity on the API website

Heal Thyself through Birth Storytelling

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Healing through our birth storiesIn preparing the Spring 2009 issue of The Attached Family, I asked a number of women to tell their birth stories who were too uncomfortable in doing so. They were still working through emotions of disappointment, fear, and sometimes guilt surrounding their baby’s birth – even years afterward.

It is obvious that emotional healing is a process, similar in many ways to grieving over the death of a loved one. In fact, the emotional healing process after a traumatic birth is a type of grief: You are grieving over a loss – having to settle for a labor and/or childbirth that may be very different than you imagined it, the loss of your expected recovery or early attachment period with your baby, even the loss of a healthy baby. For some women, the loss may not be so obvious – perhaps you didn’t get to hold your baby after your birth, or you had an I.V. or catheter or couldn’t walk around during your labor as much as you wanted to. Not all losses have to be catastrophic or major to cause a feeling of grief.

“Shock is a normal psychological and physiological response to an unknown, intense or perceived biologically-threatening situation,” according to Pam England, author of Birthing from Within, in her article, “Birth Shock,” on BirthingFromWithin.com. “Labor, even normal labor, qualifies for all of those categories. So birth shock is a completely normal response to either normal or complicated births and postpartum; it occurs in home births and hospitals births.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a doctor who spent time studying the emotions patients in Swiss hospitals go through when they learn they have a terminal illness. She wrote On Death and Dying in 1969, where she identified seven stages of grief people typically go through as they work through the emotional impact of the loss of their dreams for their life. Commonly referred to as the Grief Cycle, these stages are common with all forms of loss – such as the loss of a job or pet, and theoretically could be applied to the emotions surrounding a disappointing birth experience.

“Grief is a process of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive reactions to loss,” according to Lori Godin, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Jose, California (ModernLife.org). “The grieving process is often a hard one to work through. It requires patience with ourselves and with other. Although responses to loss are as diverse as the people experiencing it, patterns or stages that are commonly experienced have emerged.”

The Grief Cycle

The Grief Cycle is often condensed to five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The original Grief Cycle created by Kübler-Ross includes actually seven stages, which are outlined on ChangingMinds.org:

  1. ShockSymptoms: At first, the person may appear to have no reaction at all, or may nod and appear to accept the news without being troubled by it. The person may need to be told several times before they understand it, which is indicative by a physical reaction such as paling of the skin, shortness of breath, and physical freezing. Treatment: The person should be sat down and given something to hold onto. Show them sympathy and acceptance. Prevention: While there is no prevention of the Grief Cycle, the reactions of the Shock Stage may be lessened some by telling the person the news in a private, safe place with the company of trusted friends or family.
  2. DenialSymptoms: The person pretends that nothing has happened, including denying any evidence that would prove the news to be real. Treatment: Show sympathy by letting the person know that you, too, find it unfair. This will help the person feel safe to become angry about the situation, which opens up their ability to deal with their emotions.
  3. AngerSymptoms: The person may swing suddenly and explosively into anger, as she asks “why me?” She may freely blame people, places, and events – anything that may have been involved in the situation. Treatment: Allow them to feel angry and don’t deny their feelings, much as attachment parents do with their toddlers’ tantrums. However, should the anger become destructive, remind the person of appropriate and inappropriate behavior and help her to reframe her anger into useful channels such as problem areas, tasks, hobbies, and other ways to move forward. Prevention: Again, while the Anger Stage cannot be prevented and is essential to move through the Grief Cycle, you should be aware of your reactions when faced with another person’s anger. Do not turn it into an argument, as this could push the person back into denial or cause future problems. Support and accept their anger, and let them be angry at you, especially if the person’s “why me?” turns into “why not you?”
  4. Bargaining Symptoms: The person feels hopeful that the situation is reversible. She seeks in vain for ways to avoid the situation. Treatment: While you can help the person seek out practical alternatives, do not offer the person any false hope. Offer new opportunities for personal growth.
  5. DepressionSymptoms: The person finally feels the inevitability of the situation and reluctantly accepts it. This can be a deep depression full of despair and hopelessness. Depression can present in many ways, from tearfulness to sleeping all the time to loss of joy in hobbies. As they turn into themselves, they turn away from any possible solution or person who can help them. Treatment: Show sympathy and acceptance. Your presence, while it may not be acknowledged, can be comforting to the person. Professional counseling may be needed to help the person recognize their depression and then find a way out of depression.
  6. TestingSymptoms: The person begins to experiment with activities to find ways out of the depression. Treatment: The support of friends, family, and sometimes professional counselors can help tremendously during this stage. Give the person as much control over the situation as possible, as you help them try different solutions.
  7. AcceptanceSymptoms: The person feels ready and actively involved in moving on with her life. The person takes ownership for their actions and emotions. They start doing things and taking note of the results, and then changing their actions in response. They appear increasingly happier and more content. Treatment: Help the person to establish themselves in their new position on life. Congratulate them on getting through the emotional healing process, and celebrate the transition of their transition.

“Knowing these stages can sometimes help in coping with the process of grief and recognizing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Godlin continues. “It should be noted that although most people experience all of the following stages, they do not experience them with the same duration or in the same order or with the same intensity. It is a very unique process.”

The Grief Cycle in a Birth Story

For this exercise, I am referring to my daughter’s birth story, “The Story of Rachel,” in the Birth Stories section. Try dissecting this story and see if you can identify any of the stages of the Grief Cycle.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Shock – “My first thought was that I had lost the baby, but as soon as I stood up, I felt a kick. I couldn’t grasp that she was still alive when it was clear from the blood that things were not at all OK.”
  2. Denial – “I had no idea was he was trying to tell me — I thought the drugs would work, the pregnancy would last until my baby was term, my baby wouldn’t need any sort of NICU care.”
  3. Bargaining – “I braved each contraction, with the help of my dad and a nurse as my coaches since I had never been through childbirth classes, with the expectation that the drugs would work.”
  4. Depression – “It was devastating to hear the doctors say there was nothing more they could do to stop labor and that my baby’s well-being was left to fate.”

Note that I did not appear to go through all the stages. As Godlin mentioned, not everyone goes through every stage of the Grief Cycle, or through in the same order. In addition, some women may grieve their births immediately, while others may wait. Some may think they have accepted the circumstances surrounding their child’s birth but then find a trigger in another’s birth story or when a close friend or sister becomes pregnant for the first time. Many women don’t grieve until they’re pregnant again, or even just considering whether or not they want more children.

What my birth story doesn’t tell you is, I didn’t feel angry until I was pregnant with my second daughter, Emily, and then especially after her Cesarean.  As far as the testing and acceptance stages go, while I believe I’ve accepted the way my birth progressed with Rachel, I’m still bouncing in and out of acceptance and anger with Emily’s birth. Because the two births were only a year apart, it’s difficult to sort out exactly which emotions go with which birth and it’s very possible the two’s Grief Cycles have enmeshed with one another.

Why Birth Storytelling is Needed

Everyone’s birth story is unique unto itself, and every person sees disappointments, fear, and guilt in their own way. This is why it is sometimes difficult to find empathy or sympathy from others, and why it can be useful to use the telling and retelling of our birth story as therapy in working through the Grief Cycle. In the article, “Emotional Recovery from a Cesarean,” on Plus-Size-Pregnancy.org, we learn that many women who suffer from emotional trauma following a Cesarean birth often then feel additional isolation and hurt by friends and family who have difficulty understanding the need to mourn a birth when the baby and mother are ultimately healthy.

According to the article, some people don’t understand the scope of a Cesarean, thinking it’s more or less interchangeable with vaginal birth; others come from an age where interventions during birth, such as putting women out of consciousness or giving them massive episiotomies, were the norm. Some people may disregard a woman’s grief because they don’t want anything to overshadow their own joy of the new baby. Some people may be unable to feel empathy because they have unresolved issues from their own birth experiences, even seemingly normal ones, or because they happy with their interventions, even a Cesarean, and don’t understand why you wouldn’t feel the same way.

The article goes on to acknowledge the power of birth storytelling in emotional healing. In fact, the author, who is identified only as KMom, stresses that telling the birth story is crucial in starting the healing process: “This is one of the most difficult steps for some women, but it really is very important in getting the healing started.  If you can’t name what happened to you, then you can’t fully understand it or begin to make it different next time.  Name the problem, talk about what happened, then retell your story over and over and over. “

Healing Through Our Birth Stories

With the internet, it’s easier now to find ways of telling your birth story. You can share it on the API Forum, where parents are always ready to give support. You can submit your story to be included on The Attached Family online. API Leaders through your local support group, or a resource leader contact, would be happy to listen to your birth story. Some API Support Groups host special meetings specifically for women to share their birth stories. If you’d like to be more personal, write your story in a journal or on your computer where no one else can see it but yourself. Tell your story to a trusted, impartial friend or family member.

Only share what you feel like sharing, and don’t feel pressure to share all of it at once. Many women develop their stories, or parts of their stories, over time. They may remember points of their births that they hadn’t before, or are able to see it in a different perspective. You can start by writing about your pregnancy and work slowly forward in your story, or you can start at your recovery and work slowly backward. For some women, the story just falls together on its own from start to finish. For others, the story comes in little bits and may jump around.

KMom shares that it’s not enough to tell a birth story only once, that retelling it many times with different focuses is needed to be able to start processing the emotions that come with it. Lynn Madsen, author of Rebounding from Childbirth, suggests writing the birth story in two layers, resting between the layers to give time to reflect:

  1. Write down the concrete details you can remember: who, what, where, when, the sensory details, etc.
  2. Write down what was going on inside of you: where was your mind, were you aware of the baby, what did you say to yourself, how were you feeling, etc.

It is in this second layer of your birth story that you will begin facing and processing the disappointment, fear, guilt, and other emotions surrounding your birth experience. This is daunting work for most people, as KMom explains: “Some of the hardest work you will do is accessing your deepest feelings about your child’s birth.  Often, it is very difficult to do this.  People don’t like to go through pain, and facing unpleasant or difficult feelings is painful.  Feelings about birth tend to be very intense, especially the deeper you go.  Often they bring up life issues which can be even more intense.”

“It is completely normal to wish to avoid pain, but if you suppress your feelings and don’t really feel them fully, they become stronger.  Often they will present in your life again and again, each time stronger and more insistent, and sometimes in more destructive ways.  Although facing the feelings may be very difficult or feel very threatening, in the long run it is what frees you,” she continues.

Some women feel they don’t need to deal with their emotions because the experience is behind them, or because their experiences may not be as traumatic as someone else’s. But Madsen explains: “Every feeling about birth matters, no matter how long that feelings lasts, no matter how unreasonable, irrational, or out of proportion it seems.  Any feeling, no matter how strong, is easier to live with once it is named. …A woman may believe she is going to die as the feeling rolls through her, but she won’t.  The trick is to sit with the feeling until this intensity, this sensation of death passes, and light is perceived at the end of the tunnel.”

Telling the birth story, and working through the emotions surrounding a disappointing birth, is essential before a woman decides to have another baby. It is also important for women who are certain they are done having children, because their emotions may be clouding their judgment. Even if a woman is past her childbearing years, naming these emotions and working through them is needed for closure, or else, these emotions will return over and over again throughout their lives at different points and in different situations, until they are finally resolved in some way.

Get the Most Benefit Out of Your Birth Story

In developing your birth story, KMom gives several helpful tips to more fully understand the emotions you may be feeling:

  • Learn exactly what happens during the procedure you went through, whether it was a Cesarean, episiotomy, or another intervention. Search for an article on the Internet, or watch a video. Realize that you’ll likely find this distressing at first, but it really does help you to understand your emotions if you know what physically happened to you.
  • Request a copy of your medical records. Find out what really happened during your birth experience and the reasons for the interventions.  You need to understand the complexities of what happened and if there was anything you could’ve done to prevent what happened. You may feel anger and sadness as you read through your records, especially if you find unkind remarks or misinterpretations by your provider, but you can discover a lot of the behind-the-scenes reasons for why your labor and childbirth went the direction that it did.
  • Listen to your partner’s view of the birth and discuss it. Your partner’s version may be different than yours, and he may be able to offer insight. Realize that he may be working through his own emotional healing process, so understand if he is reluctant or if he tells his story in a brief way that lacks a lot of emotion and details, and ask probing questions gently.
  • Activate your anger. Unexpressed anger can destroy a person, but expressed anger opens up the healing process. It doesn’t matter whether you feel its reasonable anger or not. Women often feel angry at their health care providers or their spouses, but they can be angry toward anyone. But many women also don’t want to acknowledge that they’re angry. A good way to vent your anger is to write a letter addressed to the person with whom you’re angry – although you won’t send it – and let your anger erupt or pour out over the page.
  • Express emotions through the arts. Draw, paint, sing, write a poem, create a sculpture, even out of play dough, or write a children’s story from your baby’s point of view – do whatever your creative tendency is.
  • Acknowledge the emotional power of anniversaries. Your baby’s conception, expected due date, birthday, and other anniversaries can be both joyful times for you as well as times that bring about hard feelings toward your birth experience. Allow yourself to grieve during these anniversaries, which paradoxically, will allow you to work through the feelings and then enjoy the celebration. Otherwise, you’ll spend the day concentrating on your grief instead.
  • Share your experience with others who understand. Join a support group or seek out a mentor, such as through the International Cesarean Awareness Network, ICAN-Online.org; Sidelines National High Risk Pregnancy Support Network, Sidelines.org; Birth Trauma Association, BirthTraumaAssociation.org.uk; SOLACE, SolaceForMothers.org; and Birthrites: Healing After Cesarean, Birthrites.org. Find support through the API Forum or at a local API Support Group. Talk with a trusted friend, listen to or read other women’s birth stories, or especially if your birth was traumatic, seek out professional counseling with a therapist who specializes in birth issues.
  • Reframe the experience to focus on the positive — and on your baby. Give yourself credit for your courage and emotional strength. Think about the positive reinforcement you would give to another woman in your situation. Focus on the aspects of your birth where you did well, and give yourself credit for being mature enough to work through your emotions and to use the experience as a time for personal growth. Remember that you made the choices you made at the time because you believed them to be the best for your baby.
  • Practice self forgiveness. Forgive yourself for your choices, whether it was going along with whatever the doctor said or whatever it is that is making you angry. Tell yourself that you did the best with the knowledge that you had at the time, because that is truly the best that anyone can do.
  • Rewrite your birth in the way you wanted it to go. This is a very effective way to heal, but should be done only after you have written the birth story as it has gone and you have learned as much as you can about how the birth really went, which means looking at your medical records. Recreate your birth story with as much or as little detail as you want. Also, some women may need to rewrite their birth story over and over in order to feel a complete emotional release.
  • Tell your birth story to your child. When you’re ready, hold your child while he is asleep and whisper to him first your birth story and then your recreated birth story, what you wished had been different. Some women feel more comfortable practicing this exercise first without their child present, or by holding their child’s favorite toy, to first release strong emotions like sorrow and rage. This is especially true if there is any anger felt toward the child.
  • Create ceremonies. Some women gather friends together for a birth storytelling circle. Others write their birth stories or letters to those they are angry with and then burn the paper. Some have placental burials, affirmation declarations, or other rituals where they can either give themselves positive reinforcement or express anger in a healthy way toward others.
  • Find activities that help release your emotions, tension, and stress. Exercise, good nutrition, mediation, and massage are especially helpful, as are your hobbies or even chores if you are able to channel your strong emotions into them.

Healing is Possible

When a woman is in the midst of feeling the emotional trauma from a disappointing birth experience, it can seem like her former, happy self has gone away forever and a depressed, angry person has taken place. Healing takes time and effort, but it is well worth it in the end. Unhealed emotions from a traumatic birth experience can take their toll not only on the relationships within a family, but also on the future children (or decision whether to have more children) and on the woman.

Sharing your story through an API Support Group, the API Forum, or by submission to The Attached Family online “Birth Stories” section can be a great start to healing through your birth story – as well as helping others heal from their traumatic births.

In her Plus-Size-Pregnancy.org article, KMom explains: “Reading other women’s stories of recovery after a [traumatic birth] can be very healing.  Sometimes, confronting women’s pain or our own can be distressing, but it is running away from or avoiding the pain that prolongs it. Dealing with the pain when you are ready can be very revealing about general life issues, can help you heal many ways emotionally, and can help you face your fears and prepare for future pregnancies and births.  Remember, ‘The other side of fear is freedom.’”

For More Information

  • Birthing as a Healing Experience by Lois Halzel Freedman
  • Ended Beginnings by Claudia Panuthos & Catherine Romeo
  • Rebounding from Childbirth by Lynn Madsen
  • Silent Knife by Nancy Cohen Wainer & Lois Estner
  • Transformation Through Childbirth by Claudia Panuthos
  • Trust Your Body! Trust Your Baby! by Andrea Frank Henkart

How to Handle a Little Shoplifter

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

StealingWhen I was younger, my mother would take my sister and I to browse through little shops in our hometown full of local artisan’s crafts. She never bought anything; she just liked to look. On one of the trips when I was about eight years old, I spied a replica of a U.S. quarter about the size of a saucer and I just had to have it. I didn’t have any money with me, and when I asked my mom if she could buy it for me, she said no. So, when no one was looking, I put it in my coat pocket.

A couple days later, my mom was looking for a pen in the desk in my bedroom and opened the drawer where I had hidden the toy coin. Remembering back, I realize that she knew immediately what had happened. She turned to me and asked where I got the toy coin. I first said that I didn’t remember but then I said that I took it. She asked me why, and I said that I really wanted it. Then she picked it up and left my room.

Normally, my mom would’ve lost her temper and yelled and spanked. This time, though, she was very quiet and looked sad. I didn’t get defensive like I normally would’ve; instead, I went to my room, laid down in my bed, and cried. Later, she came in and told me how disappointed she was in me, and I told her I was sorry for making her sad. We hugged, and the next day, she drove me to the store where she asked for the store manager. I handed the toy coin back, told him I was sorry, and promised that I would never shoplift again. And I meant it.

Remembering back, I don’t think my mom’s reaction was intentional. I think she had been caught off-guard and didn’t know what else to do. But her reaction really sticks out in my mind. Few other lessons had sunk in as quickly as that one did.

AP Doesn’t Prevent Challenging Behavior — It Gives Us Tools to Deal with It

Just because we are raising our children in a way that promotes conscious thinking in their own behavior toward others doesn’t mean we won’t encounter challenges along the way. Even the most attached child could be tempted to shoplift if his curiosity is piqued and he has a strong desire for a particular object. So, how should we react? Continue reading

Dealing with an Angry Teen

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Angry teenDo you find yourself getting frustrated with your teen? So does every parent at some time. What about anger – has your relationship with your teen turned into a fight for control, and it seems that all your exchanges with your teen seem to be out of anger? For many parents, this is the sad reality of their relationship with their teenager.

Why So Angry?

According to Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, in her ParentingTeenager.net article, “Today’s Angry Teens,” a teenager’s anger is borne out of immature coping skills to daily stress. In addition to seeking independence and less parental control, which results in a stubborn and argumentative adolescent, teens are trying to deal with everyday stress as well as a host of emotional issues including:

  • Changes in their bodies
  • Trying to establish an identity
  • Dealing with friends
  • Positive and negative peer pressure
  • School demands
  • Too many extracurricular activities
  • Parental expectations
  • Feelings of being treated unfairly, such as being accused of something they didn’t do
  • Not getting a chance to voice their opinions to authority figures

In addition, some teens are dealing with high-stress situations such as separation or divorce of their parents or a chronic illness in or death of a loved one.

“It’s no surprise that our teens might become overloaded with stress,” Botto said.

Anger is an Immature Coping Mechanism

If we think about it, adolescents are dealing with these stresses for years. As adults, most of us would have difficulty dealing with these types of emotional stresses long-term, too. Both adults and teens are prone to develop depression in these situations, and while depression is often marked by despair and hopelessness, it can manifest itself as anger.

“Depression and anger are two sides of the same coin. They are the behaviors most used by survivors to cope with their damaged lives,” according to Suicide and Mental Health Association International.

A teen’s anger is borne out of her poor coping skills:

  • Getting angry is a way to feel in control – Botto explains how getting angry is the only way most teens know how to avoid feeling sadness, hurt, or fear.
  • Teens have unreasonable expectations – When a teen is unable to get what he wants when he wants it, he feels out of control, which makes him angry.

Teaching Our Children Healthy Ways to Express Anger

Anger is a healthy, normal emotion if expressed in a way that doesn’t hurt the teen or others around him. But because teens have difficulty in regulating their strong emotions, they may also have difficulty in expressing their anger in an appropriate way. As parents, we need to focus on modeling and teaching our teens how to handle stress – and anger – in a healthy way.

Botto said it’s easy for parents to lose control of their own emotions when dealing with their teen’s anger: “Parents are often caught by surprise and react by either yelling or arguing back, or punishing their teen for showing their anger. Instead, parents need to see this show of anger or rage as a signal that their teen is battling with or facing a situation they cannot handle on their own, or is overwhelmed by the demands of his or her daily live.”

Her advice to parents is to:

  1. Ask your teen what unresolved conflict she is facing.
  2. Listen to your teen.
  3. Focus on her feelings.
  4. Understand the situation from your teen’s perspective.
  5. Help your teen work towards a solution.
  6. Show your teenager that you care.

Danger Signs
Not all teens express their anger in the same way, just as is the case with adults. Parents should be on the lookout for:

  • Withdrawing, which is indicative of a teen who is repressing his emotions and can result in depression and psychosomatic disorders.
  • Turning to alcohol and drugs, or other forms of self-medicating.
  • Defiant or destructive behavior, include violence toward others and self.

If these danger signs develop, your teen may need professional help to resolve his anger issues. Unresolved issues can cause lasting damage to your teen’s critical thinking ability, ability to have a close and loving marital relationship and friendships, and ability to learn how to self regulate his strong emotions.