Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Power of Parenting

Mother and Daughter
Q: I'm having a difficult time keeping myself focused on parenting in the Beyond Consequences way. I read several of your books and agree with them, but there are days that I feel like it is all for nothing. We have one good day where I think, "Great, this is it." Then the next three days we all are dysregulated and I feel discouraged. I keep thinking that I'd rather go back to my full-time job, working 60 hours a week with deadlines due yesterday! Do you have any words of wisdom?

A: A few of days ago, I was attending a small group meeting and in order to introduce a few new members at this group, an icebreaker was given. We were asked to go around the room and instead of telling what we did for a living, we were asked what our parents did for a living when we were growing up. Several of the participants, after describing credentialed careers of high cultural status of their fathers, remarked, "But my mom was just a housewife."

Just a housewife! How sad I was to hear this coming from grown men and women who had a parent home with them to support them, guide them, and teach them around the clock. Parenting is the most important job on this planet. You know this, I know this, but there has not been enough recognition in our society. Perhaps this is due to the intangible nature of this job. This job does not have a paycheck, there are no holiday bonuses, and there is no big desk to sit behind with plaques and certificates to recognize the accomplishments or to present the significance of this job to others.

Good news - this has changed! We are now living in a time where we can show real, tangible evidence of how important this job of parenting is for children. We now have solid, objective evidence that shows the need and importance of safe, attuned, and supportive parenting.

To give you an example, the image below shows the brain scans of two different three-year-olds. On the left side is a healthy three-year-old who has been in a nurturing and loving home his entire life. This child is showing an average size head (50th percentile). On the right side is a three-year-old who suffered severe sensory-deprivation neglect. This child's head is significantly smaller than average (3rd percentile). These images are taken from Dr. Bruce Perry's research ("Childhood Experience and the Expression of Genetic Potential: What Childhood Neglect Tells Us About Nature and Nurture." Brain and Mind 3: 79-100, 2002).
 The Brain 

While this example is extreme in nature, other examples of research have shown the significance of nurturing care. Research is showing that simple changes in a child's environment can literally change a child's physiology. We are seeing that by placing children with trauma histories in calmer environments with more love-based parenting techniques where a deep level of emotional safety is created, stress hormones within these children's body systems are decreasing. This means that parents have the ability to literally change the chemical make-up of their children (not to mention themselves, as well)! Certainly this is a job is just as powerful as the attorney next door or the mayor of your city.

From the research today, our responsibility, or "job description," as parents, is to help our children heal. While not an easy task, it is possible. It takes us changing our perspective not only to understand our children and ourselves, but a change in our understanding as to the significance of parenting. No more "just a housewife."

So, instead of waking up in the morning thinking, "I've got to get up, fix my children breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!" I encourage you to say to yourself, "Today is the day that I will press on to help change my child's brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level." 

Wow! Now that is something worth jumping out of bed for!

Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.