Category Archives: Striving for Balance: Personal & Family

For parents seeking personal and family balance.

Lose that Stubborn Baby Fat…and Keep Your Exercise AP-Friendly

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

Exercise, but keep it APPregnancy changes a woman’s body, and in ways that last long after the baby comes. Many women find that their shoes no longer fit, or that they’ve developed gallbladder and other health issues they didn’t have before. Some women find that pregnancy seems to cure previously untreatable medical conditions such as frequent headaches or, for me, a sense of smell that disappeared after a concussion in elementary school.

Almost universally, women find that their body shape has changed, too. Even with breastfeeding, which is the best postnatal weight-loss plan, mothers may not lose all their baby fat or their metabolism may slow down.

While you can easily reason that your body’s problem area, whether that’s your hips or waist, is a worthy tradeoff for your baby, it may be necessary for your sense of family and personal balance to adopt an exercise program – not to mention, the boost of health benefits that comes along with getting into shape. According to Fun-Baby-Games-Online.com, exercising wards off not only the risks that come with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, but also depression and osteoporosis. It also gives you an outlet for stress and improves your stamina so you keep going on those days, or nights, when the kids are running circles around you.

The challenge with exercise is first making it a priority, so it’s something that you do regularly. Second, you’ll need to choose activities where a baby or child can accompany you. With a baby, a sling or carrier or stroller can keep baby with you. But, as a child grows older, it’ll be more appropriate to choose games that both of you can do together.

Some easy activities to do with a baby in tow include:

  • Yoga or pilates
  • Walking, or running with the baby in a stroller
  • Bicycling with baby in a safety seat or child trailer
  • Weight room or gym training activities

Toddlers like music and a lot of movement but only for short amounts of time, such as:

  • Dancing
  • Playing tag
  • Kicking a ball around the yard
  • Bicycling with child in a child trailer

An older child or teen can participate in just about any sport you choose. The trick will be choosing an activity both of you enjoy, but the list is virtually unlimited:

  • Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Running or walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling

Getting back into shape is more than helping yourself feel more balanced. It’s a great way to teach your child the importance of maintaining personal health, which goes hand-in-hand with eating nutritious foods and getting enough sleep. And should you feel passionate about a certain activity, say you love to play and watch basketball, it’s a way you can share this part of your life with your child.

What activities or games have you found to help you get exercise while strengthening the bond with your child? Comment below, or discuss this topic on the new Good for You! health and wellness section of the API Forum, such as this new post on stubborn belly fat.

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.

“Giving the Love that Heals,” an interview with attachment therapist Harville Hendrix

Happy Valentine's DayDear Readers,

Click here to download your free gift from API.

As promised in the Winter 2008-09 Healing Childhood Wounds issue of The Journal of API — as a followup to the article “The 11th Commandment” — this free audio download is the full version of API Co-founder Barbara Nicholson’s interview with Imago Relationship Therapy Founder Harville Hendrix.

The author of Giving the Love that Heals, Harville’s words are inspiring and motivating — a true reminder that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. You do not want to miss this interview!

Happy Valentine’s Day from API…

~ Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family publications

(If you have trouble downloading the file, contact me at editor@attachmentparenting.org.)

Economic Recession is Reshaping Families

From API’s Publications Team

Dad and babyAccording to an article on SeattlePI.com, “Unemployed Dads Work to Find Their Place at Home,” the economic recession-spurred unemployment rate — expected to hit double digits in the United States — could be accelerating a shift in the breadwinner/stay-at-home roles of the family.

More and more fathers, who are traditionally seen as the family breadwinner, are finding themselves out of a job and in the role of stay-at-home parent. It’s a role that many fathers seem interested in trying out, but there is a societal pressure — an expectation, built over generations, that for a man to be a man, he must provide for his family financially.

And while many mothers feel OK about trying out the stay-at-home dad role in their home, the change is creating stress for many couples. Mothers going back to work at first feel relief and then resentful of their husbands’ unemployment. Fathers staying at home at first feel excited and then emasculated. And this doesn’t include the stress of financial strain and that stay-at-home dads just do things differently than moms.

To make new roles work — which may be a necessity in today’s job environment — parents need to focus on flexibility and communication, and let go of expectations and traditions.

“Instead of having roles, let’s talk about what it takes to make the family work,” said Pepper Schwartz, a relationship expert and sociology professor at the University of Washington.

To read the entire article, go to http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/397127_dad23.html.

Chaos Theory: The Search for Personal Balance Amidst Parenthood

By Lu Hanessian, author of Let the Baby Drive and member of API’s Board of Directors

**Originally published in the Winter 2006-07 Balance issue of The Journal of API

Lu
Lu

A while back, I hosted a travel show on television. It was a crazy, chaotic time in my life. Traveled so much that I once reached for my seatbelt in a movie theater. Anchored live TV wearing an earpiece in which I could hear the director screaming to producers in the control room when they lost the live satellite feed while I conducted an interview in the studio. Witnessed an industry of smoke and mirrors where the carrot at the end of the stick was designed to be permanently out of reach.

Still, on a good day, I thought I had things pretty much under control.

Then I had a baby – a deeply tender and wise boy who stared long at me the moment he was born as if to say, “Work with me, Ma.” Popular opinion wasn’t popular with him. He urged me to redefine everything I knew. Little did I know, this was a good thing. Continue reading

Striving for Balance in Family Life

By Tamara Parnay

**Originally published in the Winter 2006-07 Balance issue of The Journal of API

BalanceMany attachment parents say that the API Principle, Striving for Personal and Family Balance, is the cornerstone of Attachment Parenting (AP). We tend to be less emotionally responsive when we are struggling to achieve balance in our families, and this lack of responsiveness may impact the quality of attachment between us and our children. We may need help when our family life is out of balance, but the wide range of parenting advice can be confusing, even overwhelming.

The topic of parenting contains a wide spectrum of theories, values, ideals, opinions, and experiences. So much mainstream parenting advice seems to contradict the very essence of AP that we may sometimes feel as though we are swimming upstream against a very strong current.

Parent-Centered Parenting

We are told that extended breastfeeding is unhealthy or abnormal; that co-sleeping is dangerous; that being emotionally responsive to our children’s physical and emotional needs spoils them and fosters their dependence on us; that we need to fill our lives with activities and things rather than with each other; and so on. Continue reading

Managing Anger: What to Do When You Want to Have a Tantrum

By Tricia Jalbert

**Originally published in the June 2000 issue of API News

AngryIt’s one thing to understand how remaining calm, supportive and objective can be a great service to our children and another thing to do it when we’re exhausted, frazzled, and sleep-deprived.

It’s also another matter when the emotional wounds from our own childhoods come roaring forth like a fire-breathing dragon. Until one has children, it’s often easy to escape the darker parts of our personality. Yet, once we become a parent, we are often so tired or pushed or overwhelmed that those darker sides we’d rather not acknowledge make all-too-frequent appearances. Fortunately, these events can mark some important growing points and can provide opportunities to help ourselves and our children work through difficult feelings.

So What’s a Parent To Do?

Children learn from watching how you deal with your own feelings, just as they learn by watching how you deal with theirs. While you wouldn’t want to saddle your child with inappropriate exposure to your adult issues and emotions, it is not unhealthy for them to simply see you angry. It’s what you do when you are angry, and how you manage your intensity, that are important. Showing healthy responses to strong emotions teaches children that these emotions can be expressed and managed safely. Continue reading

Dear New Moms

By Pam Stone, co-leader of API of Merrimack Valley, New Hampshire

**Originally published in the Spring 2007 annual New Baby issue of The Journal of API

New MomWelcome to Motherhood!

Many times people will tell you to enjoy these times, because they go by so fast. It may be hard to imagine, as you struggle to function through exhaustion and frustration, that you will look back at this time as warm and beautiful. But you will.

When your daughter wakes you for the fifth time tonight to nurse, gaze into her eyes and remember that sleepy, milky grin. When your arms ache from carrying her for hours, but she wakes at the slightest hint that you may sit down, marvel at her precious innocence and her relaxed body, so tiny that she snuggles comfortably in the nook of your arm. Continue reading

Sibling Spacing: Five-Plus Years Apart Means More Time with Each Child

By Amy Carrier O’Brien

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Owen, Liam, and Aiden
Owen, Liam, and Aiden

Aiden was seven and a half when Owen was born, and almost ten when Liam was born. He had already been with us through the many adventures that had created the foundation of our lives. We didn’t set out to have our first two kids seven years apart; it just worked out that way.

Spacing Children Around College

We were undergrads in college when Aiden was born, with both Jim and I having full class schedules and part-time jobs. Aiden was there with us through college, relocating to what is now our hometown, and navigating through our first “real” jobs. He even went to work with Jim during our first summer out of school.

When Aiden was four, and our feet were firmly planted in our jobs and new house, we considered having more children. Just when I had become attached to the idea of having another child to love, I got the opportunity to go back to school for a master’s degree. Other than us wanting another child, it was the perfect time to go, and my employer would pay for it. Continue reading

Sibling Spacing: Two Years Apart and Getting Easier with Age

By Melissa Hincha-Ownby, API Resource Leader of Arizona, API’s Technology Coodinator, and API’s Forum Administrator

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Melissa's son and daughter
Melissa’s son and daughter

One of the most common questions that parents ask themselves when they are considering expanding their family is, “What is the ideal spacing between children?” There is no right answer to this question, as what is ideal to one family may make no sense to another.

The answer for our family was two years. My sister and I are three and a half years apart, and while we are the best of friends now, the age difference left us both alone in high school. Based on my personal experience with my sister, I knew that I didn’t want my children quite so far apart.

Although two years was on the maximum end of what my husband and I were hoping for, fate stepped in and had other ideas. Ultimately, my daughter was born when my son was two years and three months old. In hindsight, the 27-month difference has turned out to be great. However, in the early years, at times, things were definitely tough. Continue reading