iRelief? …or iDistraction?

How many parents do you know who readily admit that they have a problem controlling their smartphone use around their children?  I hear about it often.  Parents tell me about their efforts to curb their Facebook addictions and their struggles to text less when they’re with their kids.  They want to be more present with their children, who typically object to their parents’  phone use.  But it is hard, hard, hard for parents to separate from their phones.

It’s surprising to me that no one talks about the reason why we quickly become addicted to our iDevices, especially when the phenomenon is easily explained by psychology’s behavioral theory.  In the late 1940’s, behaviorist B.F. Skinner described a process called “operant conditioning.”  The aim of operant conditioning was to bring about a desired behavior by reinforcing it on a particular “schedule.”  He trained hungry pigeons, for example, to perform complex tasks by offering them food pellets when they demonstrated the desired behavior.  He found, from his research, that of the various reinforcement schedules he used, the one called a “Variable Ratio” was the most effective.  (Check out the cool video of BF Skinner on this website if you want to see more.)

As he explains in the video, the variable ratio schedule of reinforcement offers a desired reinforcer (e.g., food) at random, unpredictable times.  The pigeons in his experiments were trained to peck a button in order to get food.  The pigeons who were given food at random times demonstrated the most persistent pecking; they did not know how often or after how many pecks food would come.  So they pecked a lot.  They pecked constantly.  They did not stop pecking.  And it became hard for them not to peck.

Our smartphones and iDevices operate on the same schedule.  They are variably reinforcing.  We do not know after how many taps we will get a “reward,” such as an email, a Facebook message, a phone call, or a text.

What does this have to do with parenting?  I propose that when you are a parent, especially a parent of a young child, the “reward” offered by these devices is extra-awesome.  It’s extra-awesome because it can take you out out of the moment.  Away from the whining, the crying, and/or the general drain of parenthood.  Devices that are already incredibly addictive are probably even more addictive when they offer an escape from something you may, quite frankly, hate.  (And by “something,” I mean parenting.  It can be exhausting and boring for parents.  If you don’t believe me, read Jennifer Senior’s new book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.” She has the data.)

Unfortunately, a parent’s smartphone addiction is bad news for children.  The very devices that offer escape, relief, and immediate social rewards to parents are increasing the number of injuries to children (click to read about it).  For example, parents cannot simultaneously look at their phones and watch their children.  Last fall, I attended a very impressive panel discussion about the importance of free play in childhood.  One of the panelists, Joan Almon of the Alliance for Childhood, reported that in spite of our attempts to make playgrounds safer, the number of children injured on playgrounds has remained remarkably stable over time (that is, children still get injured on playgrounds at the same rate as they always have).  This holds true, she said, except for the year 2007, when there was a significant spike in playground-related injuries to children.  It is no coincidence that 2007 was the year that the iPhone became available.  Children got hurt more when their parents quit being vigilant.

But, when phones are so addictive, how are parents to stop using them?  BF Skinner said that the best way to extinguish a behaviorally conditioned response is to quit cold turkey.  For moms and dads to abandon their phones, then, they have to either stop using them altogether, or somehow make tapping them less rewarding.  This is incredibly hard to do when the fleeting, momentary rewards of parenting young children cannot compete with the immediate gratification of  smartphones.  

Yet, there is a way to make smartphones a little less rewarding.  A parent who wants to curb phone use can start to focus what their distraction is costing them.  While the escape from the negative aspects of parenting is very rewarding, missing out on the bits of joy parenthood brings is not rewarding at all.  If you are a parent trying to curb your phone use, I suggest you focus on all the good stuff that you are not getting when you are on your phone.  After all, you can’t text and have a dance party with your preschooler at the same time.  But if you still find it hard to put the phone down, I understand.  I just hope that you will grapple with the extent of your phone use…and, please, at least don’t use it at the playground.

©2014 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

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Enjoy The Baby! (It’s Not So Simple)

When I was a new mother, I was frequently accosted by older women in check-out lines instructing me to enjoy my baby. “Enjoy it!” they commanded.  I was tired, haggard, and bitter…and enjoyment of motherhood was not on my radar screen in those moments. The well-intended instruction to “enjoy it” did not sit well with me.  Since that time, I understand better what these women were trying to tell me.  But still, I don’t like it.  I get irritated when I see today’s new moms getting similar directions.  I am certain that I am not alone in my aggravation.

I’ve been thinking about why this is. Why is it so frustrating to mothers of young children to be told to enjoy their babies?

Here is the answer I have come to.  Enjoying a child is a parenting goal. It is an achievement for mothers and fathers.  It does not go without saying that a parent can or will enjoy their child.  This feeling is not automatic for everyone.  In fact, the capacity of a parent to enjoy their child is multiply determined.  Here is my preliminary list of five necessary elements:

1.  Time to Reflect.  Enjoyment of children does not always happen in the moment.  Children, in the moment, are often demanding and annoying. However, in moments of separation, like when the child is in bed, parents can reflect on the day…they can remember the funny or cute things their child did with a smile.  But you need time and space to make room for these feelings. And to have them in the moment is a great achievement!

2. Sleep. I can’t enjoy much of anything when I’m dead tired. Can you?

3.  Support and a Reflecting Community.  I find that parents can enjoy their children better when they have other people around who also love them.  Ideally, other people can give parents a break (and, hence, time to rest and reflect). In addition to time, though, parents benefit from being surrounded by others who can appreciate the beauty in their child.  These loving others help the parent to reflect on their child in a different, often meaningful way. Parents can then see their children from a different perspective. It also helps when a parent gets to behold someone else admiring their child. Pride facilitates enjoyment!

4.  Positive Childhood Attachments. Some parents are lucky enough to have been born into good-enough families, and as a result grew into adults with a sense that the world is a safe place. They have positive mental models of parenthood as they become parents themselves. Their secure attachment style  gives them increased freedom to enjoy their child. Other parents are not so lucky.  These parents were born into families where there was trouble, and where things went wrong in their early days.  They did not develop a sense of safety and security in the world, because, for them, they could not necessarily rely on others to meet their needs. Compared to parents with a secure attachment, parents with an insecure attachment have increased difficulty enjoying their children.

5.  Psychological Strength.  Parents who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental disorders tend to have a hard time bonding with their baby.  I, personally, believe that these feelings are associated with a parent’s own upbringing.  (Although this is not always the case.)  When a parent is suffering, whatever the cause, enjoyment capacity also suffers.  In fact, the absence of the capacity to enjoy (i.e., anhedonia) is a diagnostic criterion for depression. Parents who are emotionally depleted cannot enjoy their children to the same degree as their non-depressed, non-anxious counterparts.

There was a great opinion piece in the NY Times last October by David Bornstein on protecting children from toxic stress.  One thing that stood out in this article was a quote by the clinical director of a program that works to repair broken attachments in parents, for the sake of their children.  She says of the parents’ responses to their children, “We want delight! Delight is protective.”

Yes.  Exactly.  We want delight!  We want parents to enjoy their children! Let’s work, as a society, to help this be possible for every parent.  And let’s keep in mind that these feelings don’t happen on demand, in check-out lines.

©2014 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.
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Porcupines and Intimacy

One of my favorite psychology books, Shopenhauer’s Porcupines (by Deborah Luepnitz) begins with a parable about…you guessed it…porcupines.

The parable tells of a troupe of porcupines in the winter. The prickly little animals face a dilemma at night, when they must huddle together for warmth to keep from freezing to death. As you can imagine, problems arise when they get so close that they begin to prick each other with their quills. However, if they move too far apart, they lose the body warmth that keeps them from freezing. There is no optimal spacing to prevent both harming each other and freezing. So, the porcupine troupe has to develop a rhythm of moving together and apart, together and apart, in order neither to prick each other too deeply nor to freeze.

What I love about this parable (and this is the point of Dr. Luepnitz’s book) is that it correlates to ways that we humans struggle with intimacy. We long for togetherness. We yearn to feel less alone in the world. And yet, when we find relationships which can fill our longing for closeness, we begin to prick each other. However, if we move too far away, we have to face our loneliness.

Like porcupines in winter, we have to find ways within our relationships to move together and apart. We come together until it begins to hurt, and then we pull away to heal and restore ourselves. And this together-apart, together-apart rhythm is, in my view, as good as it gets in relationships. It is what relationships are all about.

We all vary in the degrees of closeness we want and can bear in relationships. So, for each of us, individually and in pairs, we must develop our own rhythm, our own timing. And the extent to which we can know what our own individual rhythm is, the better we can tend to our own needs, and the needs of our relationships (prickly as they may sometimes be).

©2013 Stephanie Heck, Ph.D.

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Ten Ways to Curb Your Narcissism

As I’ve written before, we live in a narcissistic society. And, of course, this means that we ourselves are all at least a little narcissistic.

A little narcissism is not necessarily a bad thing–we need it in order to keep ourselves in mind and to get our own needs met. However, our narcissism can, when it gets the better of us, hinder or damage our relationships. So, I thought I’d take a minute to give you a few tips about how to keep your narcissism in check.

My mentor, Nancy McWilliams, wrote a paper called “Narcissistic Pathology of Everyday Life” which has become somewhat of a cult classic in the psychology world. She describes the small ways that people with a primarily narcissistic character subtly demean and devalue others in order to protect their underlying fragile self-esteem. Although my character is not primarily narcissistic, I find that the paper is a good reminder of how to treat people better. So, I thought I’d rework it a little here…and use her work as inspiration for a list of small things that we could all do to be less “all about me” and more involved and emotionally generous with each other.

1. Apologize. When you hurt or wrong someone, say you’re sorry. Preferably with feeling.

2. Compliment. Give gratuitous compliments, freely and often. People will love you.

3. Empathize. Take the time to see a perspective other than your own.

4. Help. Pitch in whenever you can. Any small effort to aid another person goes a long way.

5. Thank. Express gratitude when someone shows you kindness.

6. Accept. Acceptance starts with yourself: the more you know and accept yourself, the easier it is to tolerate others.

7. Communicate. Openly talking about your thoughts creates a dialogue, which by definition allows room for more than just your own perspective.
Don’t ruminate. Communicate.

8. Praise. When you see someone doing a great job, let them know!
Everyone needs a good “high five” every now and then.

9. Relax. Stress and pressure can wreck interactions with others. Try relaxing a little before you engage.

10. Replenish. Take care of yourself instead of expecting others to do it for you.
(Unless you’re under the age of 18–then you still have a right to having your basic needs met by others!)

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

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Man For Others

A few of my patients have recently discovered a key component to mental health: giving to others. This probably sounds trite, but, trust me, giving to others has a BIG, RESOUNDING impact for us all. Yet, it is not always as simple to do as it sounds.

Many people struggle to find some way out of depression and anxiety. It can be automatic, if you are depressed or anxious or worried or paranoid, to become consumed with yourself and your perspective. There is an element of narcissistic self-focus in each of these states. Ironically, though, this kind of self-focus drives us deeper into our depression or anxiety or worry or paranoia. It does not help us to get out of it.

A patient said to me lately that he wants to start thinking about other people’s needs instead of his own. He has been realizing, through our work, that his psychology keeps him so preoccupied with himself that he isn’t available to connect with others. He spontaneously suggested that he might benefit from finding ways to help other people instead of spending his time ruminating. We talked about the multifaceted benefits of this plan. He would get some relief from his self-preoccupied thoughts. The other person would feel cared for. He would have moments of connection. He might build a meaningful relationship. Or, if not, the other person would feel better and would hopefully treat others better in return. All of this sounded like a good antidepressant to him. How can I do this, he asked? It sounded great, and yet he anticipated many internal road blocks. This is not his usual way of being, after all.

There are many blogs and articles out there that tell us we should be grateful for the lives we have; we should stop being so self-absorbed and greedy. They usually contain lists that highlight ways we ought to change our thoughts and behaviors to live in a state of acceptance and gratitude. I agree that these are good ideas. The problem, though, is that it is not so simple for people to just change. It’s not so simple to just decide that you want to be different, and then immediately to make it so. It’s not so easy to one day become a man for others, without doing some preliminary work.

It’s my opinion that we are freer to help others when we feel better about who we are. When our own emotional needs are met (from deep within ourselves), we have a lot to give. When we can accept ourselves more fully, and when we feel more comfortable in our own skin, we are more genuinely available to those around us. When we’re emotionally full, we’re able to fill others. And we’re less sensitive, less easily hurt, better able to roll with things, and more genuine. The goal is, ultimately, to get to this state.

But you gotta start somewhere. And giving to others can, in itself, be the start of a positive cycle. Good interactions help us all. So, give it a try…get out there and make someone’s day. They’ll feel better, you’ll feel better, and there will be a good ripple effect from all of that. The more you give and connect, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more you give and connect. And the less preoccupied you are with yourself. And if you find it too hard, then spend some quiet time working on yourself for a while. Then give it another shot.

See if it works.

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

 

 

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After the Credits Roll

When I leave a movie, I can’t help but compare it to my own life. Whatever moods or themes resonate with me remain stuck in my mind. I think about the similarities between my life and the movie. Sometimes these thoughts leave me feeling like my own life doesn’t measure up. I’m not happy enough or fit enough or fulfilled enough. It’s a frustrating feeling based on some illusion that these life-goals are attainable and sustainable. After all, Hollywood shows us that it’s possible.

One problem we have in our society is that we tend to think that, like in the movies, we are going to have the perfect ending. You know what I mean, I’m sure… At the end of the movie, the protagonist of the film drives off into the sunset, or reunites with a loved one, or gets the girl, or accomplishes a mission, or grieves a loss, or overcomes a big hurdle. Often, he or she winds up in a better spot. There is a sense of resolution and relief, of profound and lasting positive change. The end.

This is what we want for ourselves, too. Resolution. An ending that is better than the beginning. Eventually feeling better than where we started. And the movies appeal to us because they give us the idea that we can wind up there, too. And, what is more, that we can remain there, permanently. And seeking this ending can become our lifetime goal. We imagine that it is attainable and that it will endure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this feeling. But it is a fantasy. Because none of us gets to stay in a good spot forever. That’s just not life. It’s not reality. In reality, we may get to the climaxes we see in the movies. The difference is that we won’t stay there. We’ll reach a goal, a personal apex. But we will inevitably backslide. And then the journey will begin again.

Life is a series of perpetual highs, lows, and in-betweens. And coping with this reality is what it’s about. I think some of us become more depressed and anxious when we think that there is some positive end-goal, some delightfully happy ending. And that once we find it, we’ll stay right there basking in the sweet goodness forever. Like in the movies. But it’s simply not going to happen. And, really, we can live with that truth. We can cope. We can evolve even as we struggle through life’s muck.

A challenge we all face is to know what comes after the happy ending, should we ever reach it. Because, trust me, life isn’t over after that. And it’s impossible to stay in one place for too long. And that, my friends, is the stuff of real life. It’s where fiction ends and reality begins.

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

The United States of Children

Even though I am not a child psychologist, my work as a psychologist has intensified my devotion to children. One experience that (I sincerely hope) is common among therapists is that through our work, we develop a deep awareness of the rippling effects of childhood experiences. In my office, for instance, I hear endless tales that link psychological symptoms to earlier childhood experiences. These stories (shared with me by my brave and strong patients) have shown me, time and again, that we have to do a better job with our children. Because how we treat them has a direct effect on how they will feel about themselves, what they will expect from relationships, and how they will treat others (including their own children) as they age.

But, how? How can we do a better job?

American culture needs to develop an open discourse about child development. Most parents enter parenthood with very little, if any, knowledge of the stages that children go through as they grow. And this is a shame. A crying shame. Because there are vast stores of information about childhood freely available to us. It goes without saying that psychologists and neuroscientists and pediatricians and anthropologists and sociologists (among others) have been studying and categorizing children’s development for decades. We know about brain development, cognitive development, social development, emotional development, motor development, and moral development. We even know about the development of cognitive feats such as deception. That’s right: lying is a cognitive developmental milestone! There are clearly delineated stages for all of these trajectories. And we must understand them and help our children to navigate them well.

So, why is the vast information on child development not commonly dispersed? Why is it not talked about freely, as a matter of course in our society? I find this incomprehensible, because children have a right to be understood. And we can’t understand them without this basic, simple, readily-available knowledge.

Our ignorance about child development does our children a tremendous disservice. In my practice, the single most effective intervention I make with parents is to give them basic education about the developmental stage of their child. When a parent understands their child’s behavior within a developmental context, their patience with their child grows, and their compassion and empathy for their child is restored. It is quick. It is simple. It is an effing no-brainer.

I hope that in my lifetime, our society will begin to take a hard look at the ways that we can do better by our children. One start, one very simple start, would be to introduce the basics of child development into our cultural language.

If you agree with me, then I recommend that you read this recently-published book:

“The Children’s Bill of Emotional Rights” by Eileen Johnson.

I’m sure I will get back to this book in future blogs, but quickly… Johnson lends clear and simple insights into understanding and communicating effectively with children. Her formulas are straightforward and no-nonsense, encouraging respect for children while offering advice for how to raise them into psychologically healthy adults.

Do our future a favor: read it. And then tell your friends and neighbors what it says.

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

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Birth of a Mother

I have been reading a book by Daniel Stern called “The Birth of a Mother.” Daniel Stern was a psychiatrist who worked with parents and infants, who wrote extensively about this work, and who has been a major professional inspiration to me.

In “The Birth of a Mother”, Dr. Stern writes about the phases women go through as they enter into motherhood. During pregnancy, he writes, women spend a great deal of time fantasizing about their baby–the kind of child it will be, the role it will play, and the relationship it will have to her. (Of course, this is all fantasy, and eventually the real baby will replace the fantasy baby in the mother’s mind, if all goes well.)

According to Dr. Stern, these are some common baby roles/identities expectant moms imagine:

-The baby will be a giver of unconditional love

-The baby could be a replacement for a deceased love one

-The baby might be expected to be an antidepressant

-The mother may wish to fulfill her own dreams vicariously through the baby

-The baby could be expected to be the glue that holds the parents’ marriage together

-The mother may worry that the father will experience the baby as his competitor for his wife’s attention/affection

-The baby will enable the parents to become the perfect family

-The mother may worry that her baby will perpetuate particular flaws that run in the family

-The baby can be seen as a gift from the husband, from medical science, or from God

-The baby may be expected to contribute to the upward social mobility of the family, especially when the parents are emigrants

-Mothers may also imagine that their baby will be the family conciliator who will bridge interpersonal divides and repair damaged relationships among family members

-Babies are also sometimes expected to carry on the family traditions in terms of work, education, status, etc

Reading Dr. Stern’s categories made me aware that in my first pregnancy, I had hoped my baby would be a “dream fulfiller” as well as the “family conciliator.” First, I had wanted him to be a girl, since girls are scarce in my husband’s family–so I thought having a daughter would endear me to my in-laws. I also wanted a daughter so that I could experience the loving mother-daughter relationship I never had with my own mother but had yearned for. Learning that I was having a son simultaneously shattered both of those fantasies (and even more so when I found out my second baby was another son, since we were stopping at two).

After I had embraced the gender of my baby, though, I began to imagine that he would be the magnet that would finally draw my family together. And, more than that, he would help me to build closer relationships with my husband’s family. But–once he was born–it was clear that no baby could work these kind of interpersonal miracles. And it was too much to ask of him. Over time, I had to let go of my wishes and accept the reality my baby and of motherhood, with all of its beauty, wonder, pain, and fatigue.

And now, as I reflect on this, I am completely amazed by the mental work that women do as they become mothers. Really–becoming a mother is probably the most maturing experience a woman can have.

I wonder–do any of these fantasy-baby categories sound familiar to you? Do you remember how you reconciled your fantasy baby with your real-life baby? If so, did it require a lot of mental effort, or was it instantaneous and natural?

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

Compassion in a Narcissistic World

There are times when I struggle to have compassion for others. Although it comes easier some days, many days I find myself in an “I’m right, you’re wrong” stance. This happens, of course, when people disagree with me. Or when I’m feeling victimized. Often those times occur simultaneously, which is no surprise.

Luckily, I’ve discovered that there are ways out of this bind. I’m working on building my skills in this area, so I’m writing about it now to organize my own thoughts.

Jessica Benjamin wrote a psychology paper about the “doer / done-to” dynamic that happens in relationships. She emphasized how easily (in our all-about-me society) we fall into a victim-perpetrator way of being together. You may know what I mean…this kind of togetherness consists of the one-way street of feeling used or attacked or taken for granted by someone else. It’s the forgetting that there is another side to every story. That there is more than just you. That the “perpetrator” has a one way-street of his own, and is likely feeling as “done-to” as you are. And, to complicate matters more, in any relationship, there is more than two one-way streets. There are two-way streets and, especially in families, highways! The psychology of how people come together is endlessly complex and multiply-determined. And, given that truth, how are we supposed to get along??

I recently found a minute to organize my kids’ clothes (new season, new sizes). The task of organizing hand-me-downs drives me nuts. I hate doing it. Yet it must be done (sigh of resignation). I do this (dreadful) chore in our guest room, where there is a bed to put the clothes on. I haven’t been in this room in months, and in my absence, our cat has moved in. And covered the entire bed, including blankets that don’t belong there, with her fur. And her puke. Yes. The bed and my collection of cute toddler naptime blankets are crusted in cat puke and fur. So, now my dreadful project just got worse, since I have to clean the bed, too.

Here is a sample of my internal victim monologue: “Who put these blankets here? I’ll bet it was my husband. He slept up here once. Can’t he tell baby blankets from adult blankets? Doesn’t he know the cat would wreck them?? And that stupid cat…I’m so done with her. Can you say lethal injection? And my kids…maybe they did it. Ugh! Why does everyone have to make my life HARDER??!? I am going to go wreck all of their stuff and puke all over everything! And I’m not making dinner ANY MORE!”

This is me being “done-to.” Being narcissistic. Driving wrecklessly down my one-way street. The trick in these moments is to flip my perspective. To imagine the tired, sick, delerious state my husband was in when he went to sleep in the guest room with too-small blankets. Or to imagine the fort my kids may have been building in there with the blankets. And (now here is a stretch) to imagine my old-lady cat gagging on furballs (delish). Essentially, the trick is to appreciate many perspectives at once. (While also trying to not lose my own, but that’s another blog.)

I do this better some days than others. But when I do, I feel more relaxed and connected to everyone. I feel the relief of intimacy, which is not possible when you’re being (mentally) victimized.

What’s that song “life is a highway”? That’s pretty much it.

Happy cruising.

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

Childism

I am a psychologist. I work part-time in my own private practice where I treat a number of parents. I love to work with parents, especially new parents who are raising young children. This group needs a lot of support, and I have always felt that our society does very little for them. Of course, I’m a parent myself, so I relate to their struggles. Many of the parents I treat in my practice had very difficult childhoods, where they were typically neglected, demeaned, hit, rejected, abused, and/or made into their parents caretakers. These patients often struggle to rewrite the family script–their goal is often to not do to their children what was done to them. I cannot tell you how much I admire them for their willingness to look realistically at their own stories in order to change the psychological family trajectory. (And, let me tell you, they are doing it, and their children are thriving.)

I recently read a book by Elisabeth Young-Breuhl called “Childism: Confronting Prejudice against Children.” Dr. Young-Breuhl was a psychoanalyst and political scientist with an expertise in prejudice. This combination of careers allowed her to look at her patients through a unique lens–one that simultaneously saw individual psychology and cultural influences (i.e., prejudice). Let me tell you, this is a heartbreaking book. It is heartbreaking (to me, anyhow) because it captures a deep truth.

Here is a crude summary of what Childism says:

~We live in a culture that historically has not valued children as individuals with the right to be respected and taught.

~We have viewed children as our property, to be treated as we like.

~Many of us have wanted children to meet our own needs, rather than recognizing that children’s needs must always come first.

~We, as a society, allow parents to hit their children, in the name of discipline. (If you hit an adult, you can be charged with assault. If you hit a child, we call it “spanking” and say it’s for their own good.)

~We have established social systems for “child protection” which further traumatize children who have often already suffered horrible traumas.

The bottom line is this: we don’t help parents to help their children. We don’t, as a society, openly acknowledge how hard, stressful, frustrating, relentless, and intense it is to raise a child. We don’t offer needed support to young families. We allow severe economic disparities to exist, putting tremendous stress and strain on large portions of our population. And when this population has children, we do not step in to help relieve the pressure of parenting under dire conditions. Then, when the children of these over-stressed parents (who often have untreated trauma histories of their own) start to act-out, we medicate or incarcerate them. We cut spending on education and early intervention, but some states will spend as much as $200,000 per year per child to jail children. Young-Breuhl argues convincingly that we have to stop this shit.

We have to start looking at the cost to our society of not valuing our children. We have historically been so self-absorbed that we haven’t see beyond our own generations. We have not looked ahead. We have only looked at now. And this short-sightedness has taken us in the wrong direction. And our kids pay for it. And if things don’t change, their kids will pay for it, too.

For the sake of contrast, take a look at a couple of policies in Sweden:

~Parents get a total of 13 months of paid maternity leave and the father is required to take at least 1 month of it. (There has been a discussion about changing this to 15 months and requiring the father and mother to each take 5 and then split the last 5 as they feel appropriate.)

~Parental leave can be used to take off time for parenting classes before your child is born.

~Parents can save up their maternity leave for more than 5 years (i.e., use it for doctor’s appointments, school visit days, etc.).

~Daycare cost is based on your family income with a government imposed maximum. (Currently about 1/10th as much as in the U.S.!)

~If you have a new child, your other children get a month of free daycare so you can concentrate on the new one.

~Sweden has outlawed spanking, and has implemented other forms of non-violent discipline (for the greater good of their society).

I know that these ideas may not apply to you. Certainly, we are all unique individuals with a wide range of values, principles, and histories. But I encourage you to read this book, to recognize and tolerate its truths, and to work hard to change our national attitude toward children.

And if this is all too depressing, check out The Irreducible Needs of Children by Greenspan and Brazelton instead. Maybe I’ll write about that book next.

©2013 Stephanie A. Heck, Ph.D.

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