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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meditation is good for mama brain

I've started meditating again. Finally, after six years of hemming and hawing, I'm just doing it.

A couple of weeks ago I started going to a Buddhist program that has child care, so Annika gets to play on the playground and do toddler yoga while I meditate and get my spiritual cup filled. This is something I was desperately needing even before Annika was born. And now? Well, I don't need to explain it to the moms. And I don't think I could explain it to the non-moms, but here's a go at it. Imagine that your boss lives with you and you had to wipe his ass every time he pottied, and then after he'd been almost potty-trained, he all of a sudden he wanted to wear diapers again.

When you live with a toddler, you never get to turn off. Even when she's not here, or sleeping, I have a hard time doing it. 

So it's just nice to have some time to sit in the stillness and make an attempt to quiet down my mind that races constantly. It's hard to calm down the constant tugging of the brain.

Today I meditated at home for 10 minutes. As I sat there in the stillness of my home, calming my brain and turning thoughts away as they popped into my head, I came to a realization. Our brains need to be exercised just like any other muscle. The only thing is, with mind exercise, it's the opposite of exercising your body.

Mind exercise requires that you be still and train your thoughts to land and then float away, so your brain can have time to repair.

I'm feeling super hippy-ish right now, all zen and shit, so bear with me. I'm still the obnoxious ass that you all know and like at least a little bit.

But seriously, meditation does wonders for me. It helps me be patient. It helps me remember that it is possible to get everything done and that Annika's sole purpose in life is not to make me go completely insane, after I spent three hours trying to convince her to go to the park, then when I decided to make dinner she decided she was ready to go outside.

That's all I'm saying. Meditation. Good. Peace. Stillness.

For the Austinites interested, I'm going here.

A quick lesson in meditation:

Find a comfortable spot, you can sit in any position. You can even lie down, just make sure your body is opened up, not in a curled position.

If you are sitting on the floor, you can cross your legs or if you have knee problems, get a pillow and straddle it so that your body is comfortable and your knees are not stressed.

Place your hands on your knees or fold them in your lap, whatever is comfortable for you.

The whole point of meditation is to be comfortable so that your mind can relax without thinking of any physical stress.

Close your eyes. You can set a timer before you start so that you aren't distracted by wondering how long you've been sitting. I'd recommend using something that has a soft tone. It doesn't matter how long you meditate. You can try five or ten minutes the first few times and work your way up.

There are a number of ways to relax your mind, but the way I was taught was to count. Count to ten. On each count, breathe in and out. Then count to the next number, then breathe, in and out. Example: one (breathe in and out), two (breathe in and out) and so forth.

When you get to ten, count backwards down to one. Then start over again.

Focus on your breath and the counting.

As thoughts come into your head, don't try to shut them down. Allow the thought to enter, observe it, then watch it float away. I like to imagine that I am softly flicking it away. I watch it float away, like a feather floating in the wind.

That's it. That's all there is to it.

As you are meditating, don't try to force anything. And if you find yourself becoming uncomfortable, allow yourself to stretch and move as needed. But come back to the center when you are comfortable again.

I learned to meditate at a Buddhist temple in Detroit. I took a class, so I had the opportunity to ask lots of questions and get feedback.

Meditation has been found to improve all sorts of mental and physical conditions. It improves mood, elevates happiness, decreases depression. It reduces blood pressure and anxiety. Claims have been made that it helps with things like heart problems, PMS, diabetes, and a number of other health problems.

I don't know about all that, but I sure do like it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Part IX: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base-- Violence in the family

Well folks, we're halfway through the book, A Secure Base, written by John Bowlby, who was one of the first researchers on attachment. This next chapter is on family violence, a prevalent and far-reaching problem that stems from the most basic of needs.

So far I feel like I've learned a lot, and much of what I already knew has been validated. I hope those of you following along feel the same.

If you haven't been following along, but want to catch up, you can find all the posts here. I have been summarizing the book, A Secure Base. Most of the chapters have taken at least two posts, or three, so if you are catching up, the best way is to start with the first post and read sequentially.

Chapter four: Violence in the family.

By the 1980s, Bowlby had noticed that until then, violence in the family from the perspective of attachment theory had until then gone mostly unnoticed by professionals in the mental health field. It was then that the use of attachment theory was just barely beginning to shed a dim light on the tragedy and puzzle of family violence.

Bowlby's observation was that psychiatrists and psychologists had been remarkably slow to notice the widespread problem of family violence, particularly, parental violence. Yet, the research showed that it was more far-reaching than had been previously suspected. Additionally, it is a major contributor to a number of psychiatric syndromes. Violence breeds violence, which perpetuates from generation to generation.

Because of a serious flip-flop by Freud in 1897, it had for many decades been believed that it was not an analyst's job to determine how real-life experience affected a patient, and to consider violence as a root cause for a patient's adulthood problems was considered erroneous, putting blame on perfectly decent parents.

Psychoanalyst Karen Horney, a neo-Freudian, questioned this common practice and looked to the patients' real-life environments as a cause for most problems. Her views were not appreciated by most of her colleagues.

Bearing in mind the view that parental violence causes many psychological disturbances, it is not blame that is sought, but to give compassion for parents who have been brought up in violent environments themselves, and in the long run, help for them is what is needed so as to prevent the perpetuation of violence.

In order to understand the more extreme cases of violence, it is necessary to understand the moderate and common examples of anger.

Sibling rivalry, or jealousy, is a common occurrence when a new baby is born into a family. Just as lovers quarrel if one goes astray, or just as a mother becomes angry with her child for running into a dangerous situation, it is taken for granted that when a relationship is at risk, one becomes anxious and angry. Anger typically goes hand-in-hand with anxiety.

In the cases of lovers, or danger toward children, anger can be functional, to remind the other person how much one cares. When a child feels neglected, because of a new sibling, a small amount of anger may help to balance out the situation, if the parent responds with love. The angry behavior serves to protect the special relationship with a loved one.

Specific relationships, often called libidinal relationships are very important in our lives.

Libidinal relationships are ones that fill our need for food and sex, theorized Freud. Stepping outside of biology to theorize on some of the more puzzling aspects of anger, Freud suggested a death instinct. This hypothesis was abandoned by many clinicians because it was so far out.

The specific relationships that generally arouse anger, are sexual partners, parents, and offspring. These relationships are the wellspring for people. When they are threatened, the person is anxious and angry. When they are damaged by one's own actions, the resulting feeling is guilt. When they are broken, one feels sadness. And when they are resumed, one feels joy.

These three relationships are particularly important, individually and for species survival. All three are important for reproduction and survival of the young. The success of maintaining these relationships long-term, where-in we are either rewarded or penalized depending on the performance of these relationships is evolutionary. They guide our activities.

Within this evolutionary perspective, as Bowlby already noted, anger can be functional. But it can also be overdone. Bowlby theorized that this maladaptive anger is simply overly distorted attachment behavior.

I'm going to end this post for now. There is much left and it gets really, really interesting. I read ahead and was riveted by the next section, which is a case study on the mother's violence toward children, and her own childhood.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My epic parenting failure, or, Hey, have you seen my little Black girl? Do I get a do over?

I had a huge ah ha moment late last week after my last post on race, where I talked about how I have avoided calling Annika "Black."

For all my thinking on the topic of race, my education, my professional experience, my friendships, and my discussions with Toyin, I thought I had figured this one out. But I realized that I was doing exactly what the research says is a big no no. My avoidance of calling Annika a Black girl is exactly not what I should not be doing.

In NurtureShock, the research shows that White parents who avoid discussing race, thinking that will make their children colorblind to skin tones, actually achieve the opposite effect. Children can clearly see that other people have different skin colors. Just like anything they are curious about, they want to talk about it with their parents. But the avoidance of discussion sends the message that it's not okay, which sends the message that Black people are not okay. The authors of NurtureShock found that parental avoidance of skin color discussions sent the message to their children that they did not like Black people.

I thought that since I had discussed our skin colors with her that was enough. I thought that my willingness to talk about race with her would open us to conversations throughout her life. But children pick up on subtleties that we don't even think about. There is power in what is not said.

The thought that I might have sent any negative message to Annika about her skin color worries me. I think she's still too young to have picked up anything that complex. But then again, I don't know. She amazes me constantly with her new remarks and thoughts. Just last week she has started to say, "Mama, I got an idea."

Holy crap! You've got ideas??? When did that happen?

So, even though I knew that having a Black daughter would open me up to various viewpoints throughout her childhood, I thought I was on the right track. I had heard over and over, my Black friends saying that it was tiring to always be labeled, "The Black guy/woman." But those viewpoints were coming from adults who understand the complexity of human language and thought behind it. They've already figured out their racial identity.

After I wrote that post, I thought, "hmmm, this sounds like maybe I think that there's something wrong with being Black." That's not the case at all. (Seems like that should be obvious, but what the heck.) In fact, since having Annika, I think I have become even more colorblind.

When I look at Annika, I really don't see skin color. I mean, I see it. I see her. I see that she looks the way she looks. What I mean by colorblind is that I don't assign any qualities to her based on her skin color. I don't jump to her skin color as a defining quality because I see so much about her to describe to the world. So,  the experience in the sandwich shop was a bit of a jolt to me to view Annika and myself through that colored lens, once again. I don't know why it keeps being so shocking to me that people see us that way. When I told Toyin about it, I noted that never would have happened to him, the confusion about what racial qualities his child would have. It's not like I expect everyone to notice our similarities, or even that I expect people to assume anything other than what they do. It's just surreal, to view us through a stranger's eyes, and notice the differences that I don't see.

I see Bi-racial families and children all the time now. I notice them the way I noticed pregnant women when I was pregnant. I always assume that they are blood related, not adopted, even though I know logically that some of them probably are. But then again, it's logical to assume that some homogeneous-looking families have adopted kids, yet, I don't think to wonder about that.

And as I continue to notice other families who have made the choice to love others with different skin tones than themselves and to procreate, it warms my heart to know that by the time Annika is an adult, there will be even more muted tones in the world. Not because I think there's anything wrong with purity of culture or skin tone, but because it means that the world is becoming even more colorblind, as families gain more and more colors. It's not that we won't see color, but we will see past the color because of being close to people who don't look exactly like us.

It makes me happy to think that future generations will see things differently than past generations and hopefully, when Annika is an adult, maybe it would never even occur to her that there are associations with calling her daughter or son Black. Because even if she choose to procreate with a person of lighter skin color than herself, her children (if she has any), will for sure still be Black.

Or hell, maybe we'll have come up with a new name for it by then. As long as we continue to think it's all good and we're all just people underneath our outer shells, I suppose it doesn't really matter how we label each other.

For now, though, I need to get more comfortable with saying "my Black daughter." I will use it interchangeably with Bi-racial. And even though I see all of our similarities, I suppose I need to get comfortable with the fact that most people, at least initially, won't. They will see a White woman, with a Black kid and wonder if she's adopted. Or when I shout out that I'm looking for a little kid, I should assume that most people will think I'm looking for someone with blond hair, or blue eyes.

It doesn't sadden me, in case anyone is wondering. I will never ever wish that Annika looked any differently than she does, or that we looked more alike on the surface. I see who she is, that's what really matters. But it's also important to communicate all of this to her.

So, by saying it to others, I will essentially be telling her that she's gorgeous, inside and out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mamas need some white space

One of my favorite non-mom blogs is Zen Habits. This week he posted about making space in your life using the design principle of creating white space.

Creating white space around the important things and getting rid of clutter lets you focus on what's important.

I loved the post so much that I immediately began moving things out of my home or into better spots. I'm somewhat of a hoarder and I often pile things up in and around my home instead of finding a good spot for it right away. I also live in a tiny little apartment with a 2-year-old. Nuff said.

So this post was so perfect for me. It clarified for me just why creating space is important. Not just so your house will look clean for when you have company over. But so your mind can concentrate in an orderly space. Interior is affected by exterior.

Then I imagined what parenting would be like if I used the white space principle on my parenting. Lose arbitrary rules. Focus on what's important, a connection with my child. That's what really needs to pop out at me. 

Using white space creates:
  • greater legibility
  • feeling of luxury
  • breathing room & balance
  • more emphasis

Wouldn't it be nice if we felt those things surrounding our relationship with our children?

Leo Babauta, the author of Zen Habits, allows all of his work to be freely used. It's not copyrighted. I'm not going to re-post his work. You can read it on his site. But I did re-create his post in the context of parenting.

Here it is:

Using the principles of white space in your life creates many things:

Clarity. When I am unclear about how I am parenting, my relationship with Annika suffers. There are times when my brain is in a tug-of-war over what issues to press, and which ones to just let go. I was once given a bit of advice on how to know when you need to back off instead of pressing arbitrary rules on your child.

If you are about to do battle ask yourself, "Is this making a connection? Or is it damaging our relationship?"If the answer is yes to the latter, stop. Do something differently. Ask yourself what's more important, the relationship with your child, or the issue at hand.

Peace.With young children, hectic schedules usually make for cranky kids. When life is peaceful, kids are happier, you are happier.

Breathing room and Balance. One of the tenets of Attachment Parenting is balance. By creating some breathing room, you can help create balance in your life.

Emphasis on the important. When life is busy all the time, the really important things become minimized in order to fit in with the less important things. Toss the unimportant stuff so that you can give more weight to what's really important.

Achieving white space with children around might seem impossible. But if you take the time to make some clear breaks between activities and focus your attention on your child during those moments, you will make your connection stronger.

Breathe. I know. I know. Breathe. Take time to breathe with your child. Lately I've been making an effort to really focus on Annika directly throughout the day. If I'm feeling cranky, or trying to hurry up and get something done, but she's whining, I find that if I take the time to concentrate on her for a brief time, she is happier and more compliant with my requests. Children don't have timetables. But they do want your attention and affection. Make time to breathe and at the same time, focus on your child.

Schedule. Ditto what Babauta says. "Don't overschedule. Leave space on your schedule, between tasks, instead of putting things back-to-back. The space gives you time to go between tasks, to recover, to refocus, to breathe."

Projects. Again, ditto what Babauta says. (Isn't it interesting how the same advice that applies to adults can apply to children?) "Do fewer projects at a time. Instead of juggling a bunch of projects at once, try to do one for as long as you can before switching to the next."

Sit. Take time to just be with your child. Make it a priority. Throughout the day, just sit and be with your child, especially during the whiny times. That's when they need you to be still with them.

Remove clutter. When it comes to toys, less is more. If your child's toy space is cluttered, they will be less likely to play. But if you have a few prominent things available to play with, the toys get played with.

Savor. Savor your child. Drink in the precious moments. They will be gone before you know it. Take lots of pictures. Take video. Take mental snapshots. Cuddle instead of hurrying to get household tasks done. In a few years you won't remember if the dishes got done everyday. But you will still be able to feel the weight of your baby lying on your chest, or your toddler's small hands hugging your neck. If you savor the moments.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Part VIII: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base -- Human personality development as a science

As part of my series on attachment theory, I am summarizing, A Secure Base, by John Bowlby, a leading researcher in attachment theory, which is the basis for attachment parenting philosophy.

Chapter four is Bowlby's argument that psychology should be considered a natural science. He believed that since it had been theorized that basic human personality development is molded in large part by environment, that the environment of various psychology patients should be examined in order to determine what caused them to develop as they had.

I understand his argument, but most of it is pretty dry, so I am not going to bore you all with most of this chapter.

What really jumped out at me in this chapter is the description of the biology behind human personality development.

Basically, we are all born with some specific genetic predispositions and our environments affect those predispositions. I think that is pretty much commonly accepted these days.

The theory of developmental pathways proposed by biologist C.H. Waddington describes human personality as being conceived starting in the womb.

At conception a human being has a wide variety of pathways to follow, but every interaction with its environment affects the developing human.

After birth, as the baby is introduced into its new family, or non-family, the potential pathways lessen.

It was Bowlby's belief that the treatment of the child, throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence, by the primary attachment figure is one of the major factors in human personality development.

The rest of the chapter is a lot more  talk about research, Freudian psychology and more examples of how disruptive childhoods caused psychotic or neurotic behavior in adulthood.

Bowlby ends the chapter by saying that since we know that personality development is affected by environment, then we should study it just as we would study any natural science, like biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, or earth sciences.

It makes sense to me. Ever since I began reading parenting books, I am overwhelmed with the amount of differing opinions that are out there. If science could come to at least some consensus on how and why children develop the way they do, then maybe we wouldn't all be so confused.

The next chapter is on violence in the family. I'm sure it will be riveting. Stay tuned folks. It just keeps on getting better.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Have you seen my little Black girl?

I did it. The other day I referred to Annika as a Black girl.

I've purposely avoided referring to her as "the Black girl," or "the Black baby," when speaking to other people. I've said Bi-racial a few times, but never Black. Not to other people. I've talked to her about her skin being Brown. I've never said to her, "You're Black."

Not because there's anything wrong with saying she's Black. I've avoided it because of the point made to me by many of my Black friends who wonder why White people always use the adjective, Black, to describe all Black people. Why can't they be the person with the brown hair? Or the guy in the red shirt? Or the funny person, or whatever other adjectives we often use to describe White people?

I don't think I ever heard anybody refer to a White person as "the White guy" until I moved to Detroit and I was often in the position of being one of the few or only White people in the room.

It seemed odd to me when I heard it.

So, that is why I have avoided calling Annika, "the Black girl." If I'm describing her I'll say she has brown curly hair, or I will point out the color of her dress.

It's not that I am trying to avoid Annika thinking of herself as Black. She is Black. But defining yourself in such narrow perimeters at such an early age, I think, can lead to limits in your own brain. So we will talk about her skin color. But I don't want to subtly infer anything to her about her skin color, and have her define herself with negative stereotypes about Black people that permeate our society. She's a girl, a person, first. She happens to have dark skin. Just like I happen to have lighter brown skin. (We've already had talks about how our skin colors are just different shades of brown.)

So, back to the story. The other day I took Annika out to lunch. We were in a sandwich shop, it was loud and busy with people, but not too busy. Once we got close to being done eating, typically, she was done sitting.

She started running around the table and then, across the room. Twice I chased her down and tried to finish eating. The third time, I sat for an extra five seconds scarfing down my last bites. After all, the place wasn't big enough for her to get lost. So as she rounded the corner toward the drink machines, I didn't worry.

When I followed her, I couldn't see her. I ran in the direction that she had gone the previous two times. It was in the direction of the outside doors, two sets of heavy glass doors that she could not push open herself. I was pretty sure I could hear her giggling. Annika has a very distinctive, high-pitched, little girl giggle. But the restaurant was loud. There was music playing. People were talking. Dishes were clanking. I ran toward the door and asked a man, "Did you see a little girl wander over here?"

"A little blond girl?" he said. "Yes, she went outside."

"No, no," I said. "Not blond."

For a second my brain was clogged with a sense of urgency, and my careful avoidance of being stereotypical.

"She went outside," he said again, pointing at a family that had walked outside. "With them."

I felt about 90 percent sure that Annika had not gone outside with a family she didn't know and that he was confusing me as the mother of a White child.

Plus, I still thought I could hear her.

But I was more concerned with the fact that my 2-year-old might, just possibly, might be wandering toward a parking lot that was pushed up against two busy streets.

I ran outside.

There were some people sitting at the tables outside.

"Did you see a little Black girl run out here? She's 2." I shouted, realizing that in this moment I did not want there to be any confusion about who I was looking for.

"Nope." They answered, with confidence.

I ran back inside and headed in the direction that I would have gone had the other man not steered me outside. She was there.

I felt relief. And a little weird.

I was glad that I had been able to switch my brain toward the urgency, instead of remaining PC.

After all, stereotypes are part of our language and thought process for a reason.

Stereotypes are a throwback from cave man days when one needed to be able to size up danger quickly.

They aren't as necessary as they were then.

But I suppose they still have their place, in the right moment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Soap for Sale!

I have been making my own bath soap for a couple of years now. I started doing it because something about the process spoke to me on a cellular level. The main activity in cold process soap making is the stirring. First you mix together water and lye, then wait for it to cool down. It will be extremely hot, and it stinks. While that's cooling, you weigh out your oils and put them in the pan. When the lye and water is almost cooled to the temperature you like, you heat up your oils. They have to be the same temperature at the same time. Then, you mix them together and stir.

The stirring part is what I like. It's calming to me. Stirring, and watching the mixture slowly turn grainy, then eventually solidify. Once it's the consistency of a smooth oatmeal, you can add in your scents or, any other ingredients. I've used essential oils before, but my latest creations are scented with dried flowers. They scent the bars and make a pretty bar of soap.

My most recent favorite is calendula.

I have some up on eBay right now. Here's the link. Please try it. I'd love to be able to make some more but right now I am overflowing with soap! If you prefer not to fool around with eBay, but still want to buy some, e-mail me at momsoap@gmail.com and we can work something out.

Thanks for reading. I love writing this blog. I hope you like reading it. Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Part VII: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base

I'm going to finish up chapter three of a A Secure Base, in this post. We left off with Bowlby's belief that no matter a child's personality, the mother sets the basic tone of mother/child interaction.

This is part of my series studying attachment theory as put forth by one of the premier theorists, in the field of attachment, John Bowlby. If you want to catch up, click here.

In the last post on this topic, I left off with Bowlby essentially saying that a poor attachment will leave people with severe detriments. One example is schizoid personality, also known as false self, borderline personality, or pathological narcissism.

A person with such a diagnosis often represents as independent and emotionally self-sufficient. However, this personality type will often become depressed for no apparent reason and will suffer from psychosomatic symptoms. For depression this type of person will prefer drugs to analysis and if he/she goes for analysis, this person will hold the analyst at arms length and consider the therapy to be an interesting intellectual exercise, but not helpful in fixing their problems.

There are disagreement as to whether this condition is caused by inadequate mothering, or if that is merely one factor.

Bowlby believed that it was important to reach a consensus on the matter. At the time of the writing, the only two sources available to pull information was analytic treatment of psychoanalytic patients and observation of children with their mothers. Bowlby believed that pulling together patients' histories would prove useful and he estimated that it would help prove that inadequate mothering was the direct source of such psychological problems.

Since he was not able to prove his theory, he put forth some examples that he believed were the picture of his theory.

The first example is a 41-year-old woman who presented as emotionally self-sufficient, but had developed some psychosomatic symptoms. After much analysis, she finally revealed the events of her childhood, having been abandoned by her mother and left in the care of various people throughout her childhood.

The next example is of a young woman in her 20s who had been sent to live with an aunt during her mother's pregnancy, when she was only 18 months old. During that time, she began to consider her aunt more like a mother and when she was sent back home, she was severely traumatized. She described herself as "switching off" her anxiety, and therefore, the bulk of her emotional life along with it.

The next example is of a a young man in his 20s, who was contemplating suicide. He described his feelings as more of a life philosophy than an illness. He had been severely rejected by his parents, who fought often, his father worked long hours and his mother ignored her many children, often locking herself in her room for days or leaving the house, taking the girls with her and leaving her sons alone. The young man was often left to cry alone and once he had appendicitis, he moaned all night long and was ignored. By morning he was seriously ill. He often wondered why he had been rejected so. He said that his first day of school was like his final rejection, he cried all day long, but eventually decided to hide his desires for love and support. During therapy he was afraid to break down because he feared his therapist would see him as a nuisance, and he expected her to lock herself in a room if he were to say anything personal.

In treatment all three patients', the analysts used Winnicott's method of permitting free expression of "dependency feelings," this allowed the patients to develop an anxious attachment to the therapist. The results were that the patients were allowed to develop what they had missed out on in childhood and the results were positive for all three patients.

Bowlby admits that these three example don't prove Winnicott's theory of aetiology, however, he believed that they supported it.

Since retrospective anecdotes cannot be used as the only proof, the only other thing to go on is observation of children as a cross-check, says Bowlby.

But is there any evidence that childhood experiences can cause a numbing effect? Yes, says Bowlby. There is.

Observations made by other researchers in the 1950s and later confirmed in the 1960s of children between the ages of 12-36 months when placed in institutionalized care facilities with no apparent mother figure come to act as if mothering (or any human contact) is of no significance to them. As caretakers come and go, the child will become less attached.  When returned home they will remain distant to their parents, for a length of time, the length of time stretches longer when the parents are unsympathetic.

Even more examples of a child's defensive numbing can happen even without separation, but simply maternal rejection, were found by a colleague of Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main. Main found that children ages 12-20 months would not only fail to greet, but actively avoid his mother when she left him with a stranger.

While watching videos of these interactions, Bowlby said he was astonished as to the lengths these children went to in their avoidance. One child met his mother, but averted his head and then retreated from her. Another child, as though facing punishment, knelt in a corner and placed his face on the floor. In each case the videos showed the mothers' expressions when with their children as angry, inexpressive, and disliking physical contact with their child. Some of the mothers scolded in angry tones, others mocked their children, while others made sarcastic comments to or about their child. An obvious possibility of the avoidant behavior is that the child is simply avoiding being treated with hostility.

Bowlby's belief was that these obvious cross checks of the behavior of children and later adult behavior support Winnicott's theory.

Of course, says Bowlby, the way these patients deal with their analysts is often a more intense version of how they act in the world. Additionally, they typically have trust issues, which they act out with their therapists and often treat their therapists in the same manner as they were treated as children.

More intensive research is needed on this topic.

To provide the type of dependency these type of patients need is not easy for analysts. To achieve the balance between the yearning for affection from a patient and being able to provide the support those patients requires of the analyst all the intuition, imagination and empathy they can muster.

It also, however, requires a firm grasp on the patient's needs and what the analyst is trying to do. This is why it is so important to determine to what extent aetiology has on adults' psychological disorders.

The chapter ends (phew!) with a quote from Freud, "What we are in search of is a patient's forgotten years that shall be alike trustworthy and in all essential respects complete."

I feel the need to make more comments than usual on this chapter. First, I wonder how Bowlby would feel about the world of pharmacology today, how general practitioners are passing out anti-depressants like candy for depression instead of people seeking long-term therapy for deeply rooted problems.

I am also pretty fascinated to learn that essentially, the world of attachment parenting stems from psychoanalytic research. It makes sense. Most AP parents I know are parenting the way they do because they are trying to do things differently than previous generations.

I was also intrigued by the examples Bowlby gave. None of them seemed that far-fetched. A child who was raised by more than one person because her mother was inadequate, and finally abandoned her. Another woman who had been severely traumatized as a baby, by one dramatic rejection. And a man, who was neglected, probably in part because he was a male and expected to be strong.

These people all had severe problems that weren't fixable by drugs. They didn't have a chemical imbalance, they had an emotional imbalance, leftover from childhood trauma.

It makes me wonder what problems could be fixed if people could go back and work through their childhood traumas. Road rage, random depression, unexplained anger, perfectionist attitudes, eating disorders, substance abuse. I want to be clear, I did not get any of this from the book. It's all just my own speculation. But I do wonder.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No matter what you do, your kids are screwed (not really)

I wouldn't say that one of my main problems in life is putting too much effort into anything. For the most part, my life has consisted of me sitting around during bad times and going, "Man this sucks, but making it better would take too much effort." And during good times, going, "Yeeah, that's right."

Then when it gets bad again. "Aw crap. This sucks."

But motherhood has been a different story. During my pregnancy and the first few months I was hellbent on doing everything right.

Then I realized that I would never do everything right and when I gave up that ideal, I found myself doing better under stressful circumstances, and cutting myself some slack when I couldn't live up to my ideals.

So, after reading the last part of A Secure Base, where Bowlby essentially says that parents under less-than-ideal conditions are pretty much bound to mess it up and leave their children hopeless and bereft of love, it makes me go what the fuck.

I mean, seriously, does that mean no matter what I do, Annika is pretty much screwed anyway? I guess it's all a matter of just how screwed she is.

Bowlby says that single parenting is a huge no-no. Well, I am a single mom, but I'm not parenting solo. Toyin is more active than most single dads.

We live in a society where bad parenting advice saturates our way of life and nobody seems to have come to a consensus on what good parenting is.

We're pretty much all shitting in the wind when it comes to this gig.

When I think about all the mistakes I've already made in the 2+ years of Annika's life, I wonder if those are irreparable mistakes. I don't think so.

I think it's a matter of putting just the right amount of effort into it and also learning when to back off and just let your child be.

That's hard for me because I've never learned just how to put the right amount of effort into things.

I've always either sat back and put more effort into not making an effort. Or I've taken things so seriously that people go, "Dude, lighten the fuck up." Let's just say that finding middle ground is not one of my talents.

But when it comes to mothering you have to find middle ground sometimes. Most of the time it's when you're really pissed off, so that makes it harder.

You're never going to be perfect. But thinking that just because you can't be perfect, that there's no point in trying is not a good idea either.

So, try, fail. Try again. Keep connecting with your kid. Apologize when you screw up. Take steps toward fixing your mistakes. Don't be a whiner. Don't take too much shit from them. And keep on trying. At least, that's my plan. Here's hoping it's a good one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Part VI: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base

Chapter three of A Secure Base, by John Bowlby, started out pretty dry, but has gotten much juicier. In this chapter, I'm learning that how a mother, or primary attachment figure treats her/his child directly correlates with the child's daily behavior. 

More on Chapter 3 of A Secure Base, the theory behind Attachment Parenting:

We left off with the idea that scientists must have faith that theory is accurate, all the while questioning those theories. Sort of the Yin and Yang of the method.

When Bowlby became a psychoanalyst in 1937, he found that psychology was exploring the minds and fantasies of its subjects, but not their real life experiences. It was assumed that anyone interested in the external world would not be interested in the internal world. But as a biologist, Bowlby believed the two should intermingle and was constantly confronted with parents revisiting the same problems with their own children that they had had as children. He concluded that how parents treated their children was just as important as how their children thought of them.

A couple of anecdotal observations Bowlby makes regarding this are: A father, who punished his son for showing any interest in his genitals, had considered his own masturbatory inclinations a problem all of his life. And a mother, who punished her daughter for sibling jealousy, was found to have been jealous of her own sister as a child.

Instead of concentrating on parent-child interaction, however, Bowlby chose to study the effects of child removal from the home to a nursery or institution for several practical reasons.

Bowlby also found that despite many pioneers' advances in psychoanalytic work, the idea of observing children in the home was slow to be accepted as a valuable tool.

Even so, he does give some examples of differing ways children develop based on familial interaction.

The first example of from Mary Ainsworth, another attachment theorist and pioneer in the field.

Ainsworth had studied mother/child interaction in Uganda and developed a theory that by 8 months of age, children who have a devoted mother will use her as a base for exploration, making trips further away from her, but always keeping tabs on her whereabouts. Then she studied two groups of children in Baltimore.

The two sets had very different behaviors based on how their mothers responded to them.The children whose mothers responded with sensitivity and quickness, actively explored, returning to her in spurts and greeted her warmly when she returned from a trip out of the room. The children whose mothers misinterpreted cues, responded slowly or not at all, explored less, sucked their thumbs anxiously, seemingly preoccupied with where their mother was, and then greeted her with ambivalence when she returned.

Essentially, these studies found that children whose mothers responded with sensitivity, was accepting of their child's behavior and co-operative, found that by these children, by their first birthdays, were beginning to develop a limited sense of self-reliance. The children whose mothers were insensitive, ignored their children, responded to their cues arbitrarily or outright rejected them, were unhappy, anxious, and difficult.

Bowlby notes that there are theories that say some children are born with difficult personalities and their mothers' adverse reactions are to be expected because of the difficult personality of the child. He rejects these theories based on observations made during the first three months of the lives of the children. The studies found that the children whose mothers responded promptly during the first few moths, cried less by the end of the first year than the children whose mothers left them to cry.

There are other examples, but Bowlby's conclusion is that in all but a few exceptions, it is the mother who sets the tone for the relationship between mother and child and it is the mother who is responsible for how interaction develops.

For instance, Ainsworth studied some children in the home and found that some mothers ignored their child's cries because they believed the child would cry harder, would she give the child any attention. Some mothers waited as long as they could stand it and then attended to their children. And some mothers did not actually seem to notice their child's cries. This was the most disturbing and painful to observe, as these mothers were generally depressed and anxious, and truly unable to attend to anything else.

Bowlby notes how these observations are important because were we to rely on the parents tales of life at home, it may be a much different picture. It is clear, even from small case studies the obvious correlation between how a child is treated and the child's behavior. 

At this point, Bowlby says that he doesn't lay blame on inadequate mothers. Even with the most ideal of circumstances: a happy childhood, a supportive partner, and if she has not been filled with mistaken advice about child-rearing, motherhood is a taxing and exacting job. So for women who are not living with ideal circumstances, he says it is no wonder that they end up with "emotional hassle," as he puts it.

Even so, he says, it is obvious that the effects of insensitive mothering, mixed with some rejection, and separation has devastating, deplorable effects, leaving the child with the possibility of never finding a secure and loving relationship with anyone else.

There is way more to this chapter, but I think this is enough to ingest in one sitting. If I have time, I may go ahead and finish the chapter this week instead of waiting another week, as it is promising to stay just as interesting.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The spirituality of not knowing

On Friday I wrote about my recent lack of spiritual feelings and how I was supposed to lead my PRG on Saturday, with the topic being motherhood and spirituality. As usual, my PRG did open my mind to possibilities I hadn't considered when reading the chapter.

To be honest, we all think the book, The Mother's Guide to Self Renewal, is lacking quite a bit. The group and the idea is worthwhile. It is a good guide, but the presentation is pre-t-t-y vanilla. If you are doing this alone, or with a group of women to whom you cannot relate well, you probably won't get much out of it because you are going to have to add in your own flavor.

Almost every month we end up discussing what we think should have been the questions. This month was no different.

Instead of focusing on our own spiritual journeys into motherhood, our group members came to the conclusion that what we'd prefer to talk about is how to relate our spirituality to our children. This is something I gave a lot of thought to while I was pregnant, but since Annika's birth, I have put it off, until she's older. Well, she's older now and will probably be asking questions soon.

I won't deny that the prospect has me a little nervous. I wonder how much of my childhood belief system has spilled over into my daily behavior, even though I don't ascribe to it anymore.

As a child, I was a member of the Church of Christ, which is a non-denominational church that believes that Jesus is our savior. There are lots of rules and if you don't follow them, you will spend eternity in hell. Other than that, I'm not sure which things are important to note as beliefs because when I was a kid, it all seemed important. But I worried the most about heaven and hell. I was so greatly afraid of going to hell, that I obsessively worried about it. I read the Bible cover to cover, searching for signs that I was certainly a member of the proper church that would send me to everlasting life in heaven, not hell.

It seems there was a bit of competition for the Lord's favor amongst west Texan churches, the Church of Christers, the Baptists, and the Methodists. It wasn't unlike the competitive feel amongst our rival schools over who had the better football team.

Nanny, nanny, boo boo, we're going to heaven! You're going to heh-hhhll!

When I was 12 or 13, I learned for the first time in my life that some people who went to the Church of Christ didn't believe in hell.

I was shocked and appalled!

At first.

And then, I was relieved.

It had never occurred to me that there could be a different viewpoint from the one presented to me in church. That maybe, just maybe this whole heaven and hell thing was not something I should be worrying so much about.

I started to worry less about my soul being burned in the fiery flames of the devil's residence for all of eternity, whilst wailing and gnashing my teeth and begging the Lord to allow me to desecrate his steps with my hideous being. After all, maybe it wasn't even true.

As an adult, I put off deciding what I believed in until after I got divorced. For the most part, I was just angry about being sold a bill of goods for my entire childhood, which is how I perceived it.

I felt like I had been gypped out of choices in deciding what I believed in. As an adult, I learned that there was way more to life than Christianity. I dipped my toes into Buddhism and read a variety of religious literature. Most of what I read had plenty of depth. But the practice of it all seemed empty and ritualistic, even the eastern philosophy, except for Buddhism. Meditating at a temple brought me an intense relief, relaxation, and happiness that I had never experienced without some sort of chemical induction.

During my spiritual quest, I started to notice the central theme in most religions. There is a God. There is some sort of salvation. There are rules that will lead you to salvation. There's usually some stuff in there about loving one another and helping people too, but it seemed to me that most people didn't pay much attention to that stuff, especially when it came to politics or homeless people.

I was hardened against the idea of religion for many years, but I've never been able to completely shake the idea that I do believe in some sort of higher power. 

I've lightened up on the idea of Christianity. I know that the fire and brimstone teachings are not all there is to it. There are lots of good messages in the Bible. There are a lot of good messages in all religious text.

I know that I want to approach the idea of spirituality differently with Annika. I want her to understand that the embodiment of whatever spirit life that is out there, is inside of her and how she lives day-to-day can be part of her spiritual life. I want to teach her how to connect to herself. I want her to understand that there are many different beliefs and we don't really know which one is the right one, or if there even is a right one.

I will tell her that I don't believe there is one right way to live. That I believe every person is on a path in different places at different times and what is right for one person isn't necessarily right for another. And even what is right at one time in your life, may not be right during a different time in your life. I want to teach her how to be good to herself and other people, even though I am not always very good at either one.

I want to teach her that the harsh judgments that religions preach are not a good way to approach life and that the message she should take from the religions she studies are the messages about love, charity, faith and healing.

I learned most of that hard way and I think I will always pay for it.

I don't know if I've come a very long way in my spiritual path. There are some days when I think I have and some days when I feel like I've been plodding along slowly and it will take me forever to get to the end. The one thing I do know is that I will never really know. Not in this life anyway.

Maybe that's all I really need to know.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Motherhood is a sweet anxiety

I think all new moms go through some sort of anxiety/PPD. Some recent discussions on my mom forums have gotten me to thinking about my new days as a mother. I didn't realize it at the time, but I think I had a mild case of postpartum depression. One thing I thought for sure was that I was a changed person. It's crazy, the kind of havoc hormones can wreak on a person's psyche, not to mention outlook on life.

But eventually those hormones fade and you realize that you're still the same basic person, only this time, you've got to try to overcome all the crap you hate about yourself that you come to realize is still there, and also find a way to incorporate all those wonderful new feelings into the crappy old you. Post-natal hormones are like drugs that permanently alter your outlook, but the ecstasy goes away, leaving you with all sorts of anxiety about how you are going to mesh your two universes together.

I'm in a personal renewal group and this month's chapter in The Mother's Guide to Self Renewal is on motherhood as a spiritual journey. I'm leading the chapter on Saturday. We alternate leading the group. I chose to lead this chapter because I felt so strongly about the shift in my persona when I had become a new mother. I even had several months to prepare for it. I imagined all the insights I would share with my group, the hills and valleys I thought I had crossed.

Then when I read the chapter and began musing on what I thought I had to say, I realized that there was nothing I could share with this group of women that they had not experienced for themselves. Truthfully, the women I meet with monthly, are all seemingly way more self-aware and spiritual than I am. I'm sure I will learn something from them. Them from me? I kind of doubt it.

Motherhood isn't spiritual. Not really. Unless you are a spiritual person. Which, I am, depending on the day. But lately I haven't felt very spiritual. Kind of bad timing.

Over the past couple of weeks I've been experiencing a downward turn. My brain feels like mush. I can't concentrate. I don't feel hungry, but I eat anyway. I can't sleep at night, but in the morning, my body can barely move. I'm not really enjoying things that I normally do.

I can't say that is anything new for me. In a way, I wish this was something new and it was freaking me out. But it isn't. These feelings are a very familiar to me. It's depression. Pure and simple. It's par for the course for me since I can remember. Motherhood hasn't changed that. It'll go away. It always does.

In my first days as a mother I experienced such highs and lows, it was dramatic, and at the time, it felt different than anything I had ever experienced before. Staring into my newborn's sweet, soft face, marveling at her beauty. Then moments later, being overwhelmed with the task before me: Raise This child and Don't Fuck It Up.

Then after two years of missing lots of sleep, my brain has just started to shut down randomly. I forget things. I mean, completely forget. For all I know, I've already written this exact same post and it's buried somewhere in the archives. Luckily for me, most of my readers are moms, so they've probably forgotten about it too.

It's just tiring. Motherhood, that is. It's wondrous and tiring. It's sweet and anxiety-inducing. It's the best drug you'll ever take. It can be a spiritual journey, if you want it to. I suppose, anything can. It changes you, and it doesn't. It is relentless.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finding a way to live Unstuck

I'm going to be 39 in November. This means I'm almost to the dreaded 40. It doesn't seem like I should be this age, and yet, here I am. Almost middle-aged and I still haven't figured out what to do with my life.

This is my biggest regret in life. The thing I haven't done. Which is, find work that satisfies me and at the same time, pays enough to live comfortably. 

I have done lots of cool shit with my life. I've moved around. I've made interesting friends. I've had enlightening conversations about tough topics with intelligent people. I have visited foreign places and gotten to know the culture. I have read good books. I have held many jobs. And hated most of them. I have also had a few that I loved. I have faced many of my fears.

I don't regret any of the shit I was always told I would live to regret. I have a tattoo. I smoked for 18 years. (Ok, I do regret that one, mostly because I worry that it will affect my health negatively someday.) I've dyed my hair every possible pseudo-natural color. I married a guy I barely knew and moved to a country (Japan) that ate rice at every meal even though I hated rice. (Love it now.) I had sex before I got married. I got divorced. I did drugs. I drank lots of booze. I have an illegitimate child.

Let's see. I'm sure there's more.

My point is, I don't regret any of that shit. All the crap that older people tell younger people they will live to regret, young people, no you won't. You won't regret any of that stuff, unless it leaves you maimed for life or kills you, and even then, you might not regret it. You won't regret it because none of that shit matters in the long run.

Insertion of Disclaimer: I do not advocate drug use or alcohol abuse, in any way shape or form. Doing that stuff has very likely done some physical damage to my body that I'm sure I will regret some day, and well, I'm pretty sure I'm missing some brain cells. I'm lucky to have survived those years relatively intact.

Back to the topic:

But mostly, the stuff I regret are the things I didn't do. The boys I was scared to talk to. The vacations I didn't go on because I was single and had nobody to go with. The fashions I didn't try because I thought it wasn't "me." The jobs I didn't apply for.The degrees I didn't get.

Several years ago a co-worker, who was 50, while talking about our jobs, told me that she wasn't planning on "doing this forever" that she had plans in life, she just hadn't put them into action yet. I thought to myself, "This may not have been what you planned to do with your life, but this is what you've done. It's done. This is what you did." She was stuck. She had been stuck for 20 some-odd years.

I don't want that to be me. Not that I think it will. Because the one thing I am right now is, Not Stuck.

Becoming a mom is sort of like taking a vacation from life. It gives you a chance to reflect on what you will do when the child is grown. There's no way to deny that the time you are in, will end one day. There's no way to get stuck raising children. That job always ends.

Right now I'm in a position to set the tone for the second half of my life. I've been trying to figure out what the hell kind of work I'm going to do for the next few years. My time at home with Annika is coming to an end. Some people in my life think it should have already come to an end. One of the reasons I haven't started back to work yet is because I don't want to just settle for any old job. I don't want to get stuck again. It happened to me once and I have been avoiding it ever since.

This isn't just for me. I think it's important to model the kind of life I want for Annika, and I don't want to model Being Stuck. I want Annika to feel free to do what she wants in her life. I want her to find the right work. Work that makes her feel happy. Work that frees her mind. Not work that makes her want to tune out, but tune in.

In order to do that, I need to ensure that I like what I do. I don't want to spend the rest of my life pounding away for a company that doesn't give two shits about me and will boot me out the door if they think it will earn an extra 50 bucks a year for each stockholder. Nor do I want to work for a company that will take out an insurance policy on me when I start dying of lung cancer and then rush to up the premiums every time I take a turn for the worse. 

Unfortunately for me, the economy is in the fucking toilet, thanks Bush, I blame you for this mess we're in, you fucking moron. So, in all reality, I may have to do some settling. In all likelihood, I will. And that sucks. Because what I want in life is to spend time with my kid; do work that stimulates me; and feel like I've given something good to the world. Instead, if I'm not careful I could easily end up pushing some sort of drivel through some sort of chain of command, as some sort of white collar workhorse.

I jerked around during my 20s instead of launching a firm career plan. Because of that, now, at almost 40, I have only a few years experience in a dying industry where all my competition for jobs are younger than me, and don't have children.

As a kid all I was ever told about working was, "You gotta have a job. If you are married and have children, you need to have something to fall back on." Nobody ever told me that work should be interesting, or passionately motivate me.

I didn't figure that out until I was in my 30s and so then I started down a career path in journalism, which was cut short by a dying economy, which was killing an industry that was being ruined by idiots who don't understand technology.

The current society is not forgiving. Competition is stiff for crappy jobs. Jobs that I don't even want, and have little chance to go anywhere even if I got one of them. When I was young, I always thought that if you wanted to work, you could work. I was too young during the recession in the 80s to realize what was going on. Plus, nobody in my family got laid off, so it didn't hit home for me.

As a young married woman in the 90s, the economy was good. My husband was in the military, so we never worried about him losing his job, and I always managed to find work.

So what do I do? I don't know yet. I have more thoughts on all of this, but I am going to stop for now and pick it up later. Or not. Which is pretty much my M.O.

For those of you who are following my series on Attachment Theory, I apologize for not posting this week. I'll pick it back up on Monday.