Category Archives: Solo Parenting: Divorced & Single Parents

For parents dealing with divorce, separation, single parenting, and custody issues.

Spotlight On: Dr. Peter Ernest Haiman

API: Tell us about how you began working with children and families.peterhaiman-small

PH: Since the early 1960s, I’ve been helping parents who have come to me with their frustrations about rearing their young children and adolescents. Although my work over the decades has primarily been with parents of infants, toddlers and preschool-age children, I started out teaching English to high school students in an inner-city school.

Most of my classes there were regular students. However, one of my English classes was made up of kids who had severe behavior problems. They were delinquents. No other teacher wanted to teach these adolescents. I wanted to do so.

In my work with them, I found that “how” they were educated made all the difference. Rather than teaching the standard English curriculum, I first found out what topics held their interest as a group. In our first class meetings, it seemed my questions to them brought out a pronounced interest in gangs and cars. I found two related paperback books. I ordered a copy for each student. During the semester, we read and discussed the content of each book in class. Skits provoked by the dilemmas in each book were enacted by groups of students in the class.

My graduate study of how young children learn best revealed that they, too, are motivated when adults first take the time to find out the individual child’s intrinsic interests and then help that child develop and elaborate their experience with that interest.

API: What does your work center around now? What services do you offer?

PH: I try to pass on to others what the research has been teaching about children and how those around them can best nourish their growth and development. For example, in my articles and work with parents I describe how research shows that behavior is usually caused by the status of underlying need states; how often it is better to educate than to teach; and how parents should learn to look through the emotional eyes of their children, not just their own.

Although parents continue to ask me for child-rearing advice, over the past twenty years parents with young children from across the country have asked for my help in divorce, child custody and visitation disputes because of several publications on the topic. Therefore, I have been an expert witness in family courts on issues that address infant and toddler attachment, brain growth and related research. I write court reports that review the empirical and clinical research on the short- and long-term effects of the above dynamics on young children. And I also help mothers become better advocates for themselves and their children during the divorce process.

API: What have parents found most useful about your work and services?

PH: The best people to answer that question are the parents who have sought my help. A few letters from them can be found in “Testimonials from Parents” on my website. In addition, I have two or three folders full of notes and letters in my file drawer that have been collected since I have been in California.

API: What are your views of Attachment Parenting and the work that API is doing?

PH: Although I am pleased that API, like other similar organizations, has an educational and support focus, I wish it would take on more of a political agenda as well. Organizations like API, if they are to have an enduring impact on our society and improve the future well-being of our young children, must join with other similar organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, La Leche League, and other similar organizations. These organizations then, in unity, can work together to improve the way our nation treats its young children.

API: Where can people get more information about your services?

PH: People can find out more about me by reading my resume and other information on my website at www.peterhaiman.com.

My Child Doesn’t Want to Visit her Father

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com

Q: I have recently gotten divorced. My daughter is three and initially enjoyed her time with her father, but since staying overnight she refuses to go. Each time he comes to pick her up it is a giant scene. I try to convince her and remind her what a good time she had before, but she won’t budge. What should I do?

Note to readers: This response relates specifically to the questioner, who is a mother and primary caretaker.  Though the terms “mother” and “father” are used here, other terms may be appropriate in individual families that may have different custody and caretaking arrangements.

A: It is the parent’s job to see to it that the child feels at ease during time together. My guess is that staying overnight must have scared your daughter, and/or there may be other issues that she does not feel comfortable with.489190_81593777 upset girl

Any time we try to convince a child to ignore her inner voice and follow our ideas, we teach her to become dependent and insecure. In essence, we tell her, “Ignore how you feel inside, and do what someone else tells you.” Unfortunately she may actually learn this undesirable lesson. She is learning to fall for future peer pressure, media sales, social pressure and to become more dependent on what others say in general. This is the nature of insecurity, a learned habit of undermining one’s own inner guide and following others. Continue reading

Grief in Children

By Margie Wagner & Callie Little, Child Development Media, www.childdevelopmentmedia.com, reprinted with permission

It goes without saying that the grieving process is a complicated and intensely personal one. It is difficult enough for adults to deal with the loss of a loved one, but it can be even more difficult for children, particularly if their adult caregivers are working through their own grief. Understanding how grief affects children at various developmental stages and knowing the best ways to assist children as they grieve can help children to process their grief in the most healthy way possible. Keep in mind that, while grief is usually associated with a death, there are many circumstances under which children grieve. Separation due to the dissolution of a relationship or due to a military deployment or job-related separation can also cause grief in children.

Reactions to Loss and How to Help

How old a child is at the time of loss certainly affects the child’s perception of the event.  Although babies are unable to express themselves verbally, they will certainly exhibit reactions to loss. They may seem more fussy, inconsolable, or have changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. Very young children, ages 2 to 4, are egocentric: they think the world revolves around them, and their concept of death is limited. They may think that death is reversible, and their main reactions to death may be that their daily routine and care are altered. The adult whom they have lost, or who is also grieving, will be either absent or unable to care for the child in the accustomed manner. At this age, reactions are often regressive, exhibiting themselves in eating, sleeping, or toileting disruptions. Children this age need reassurance and consistency. Try to maintain regular routines and to be comforting, giving hugs and kisses and lots of gentle touches. Keep the discussions of death short, but keep interactions with the child frequent. Even if you feel like the baby or young child cannot understand your words, they will understand your interest in their feelings and your wish to console them. Keep talking – it will help you to get used to the discussions that will become longer and more detailed as the child gets older, and it will help you to figure out what to say.

Continue reading

The Use — and Abuse — of Attachment Research in Family Courts

By Peter Ernest Haiman, PhD, reprinted with permission, www.peterhaiman.com

An enormous amount of exceedingly important, valid, and reliable research on child development has been published in the last half century. Unfortunately, very little of this information has been presented in an appropriate and useful manner to the pediatricians, family therapists, parents, judges, and attorneys who could benefit from it. As a result, many children do not receive the protection they deserve.

This article serves three purposes:

  1. To summarize available research-based information about the relationship an infant or toddler develops with that child’s primary caregiver (usually the mother). The kind of maternal attachment relationship formed in early childhood can play a determining role throughout the individual’s life.
  2. To highlight areas of social and academic development affected by this early attachment relationship. Recently, some misleading and deceptive articles have been published in family court journals. These authors make recommendations about custody and visitation that contradict valid and reliable research-based evidence.
  3. To address the abuse of early childhood attachment research published in family court journals. Continue reading

Dr. Isabelle Fox on Overnight Visitations: As Harmful as We Suspect?

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

Isabelle Fox, PhD
Isabelle Fox, PhD

Attachment Parenting International regularly fields questions from members regarding different aspects of attachment, child development, and challenging family situations. Easily the largest area of concern is among divorced and separated parents who are involved in custody cases in which the other parent is demanding overnight visitation for an infant or young child.

Parents involved in this stressful situation believe that overnight visitation is harmful not only to their individual attachment with the child but also to the child’s overall development. Isabelle Fox, PhD, a psychotherapist, author of Being There, renowned expert on API’s Principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care, and a member of API’s Advisory Board, wants to leave parents with the truth – that, yes, overnight visitations can be quite harmful to the young child…but that, unfortunately, the courts system is woefully behind on education in this arena of child development. Continue reading

Dr. Isabelle Fox on Divorce and Older Children

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

Isabelle Fox, PhD
Isabelle Fox, PhD

Ideally, marriage lasts forever, but for a variety of reasons, many families today will experience divorce – an event that is as difficult on older children and teens as infants and young children for whom psychotherapist Isabelle Fox, PhD, advocates no overnight visitations with a non-primary caregiver until the child is at least three years old. Just because an older child is able to articulate her feelings and comprehend the concept of divorce doesn’t mean the event is any less traumatic.

“Older children and divorce is also complicated,” because the child has developed a strong attachment to each parent and being forced to deny attachment with one parent is devastating, said Dr. Fox, author of Being There, renowned expert on API’s Principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care, and member of Attachment Parenting International’s Advisory Board.

Dr. Fox spoke during the second day of API’s 15th Anniversary Celebration gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, last weekend, in a special Hot Topic session, “Custody and Separation.” The session was attended by parents, therapists, and others who work frequently with attached parents dealing with marital separation.

How Divorce Affects Older Children

Parents don’t think about how difficult their divorce will be on their children. Older children and teens are more likely to blame themselves for the divorce or to wonder why their parents don’t love them enough to stay together. 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

Blending In

By Maathangi Iyer, staff writer for The Attached Family publications

blended heartIt is an understatement to say that step-families have many challenges to overcome. Step-families often are formed out of loss – demise of a partner, a broken marriage. If such events are recent, bringing about a change by getting married again might create a bigger challenge: Children can experience difficulty in adjusting to their new family, although it is no less a testing time for the children’s parents and their new partner.

Through discussions with others who have gone through this challenging time, I have gathered several tips for coping with the change a remarriage gives to a family.

Introducing the Step-Parent and Step-Siblings to the Family

It is important that you and your partner, while planning the future, remember that first you are parents. Both of you should keep your families in perspective before making any important decisions regarding your own future together. Your children will be going through a major change in life, and as parents, it is important that you understand this. The emotions your children and your step-children will feel can greatly affect your relationship — or attachment potential, as in the case of your step-children. Major change in family structure and dynamics is unsettling for children, and their attachment relationships with you and their siblings can suffer. Continue reading

“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.)