Sunday, October 19, 2008

I am susan

My darling little three year olds were walking down the hallway wrapped in their towels. They had that fresh smell and clean faces. They also had somehow snuck a dolly in the bath and each of them had dipped their towels back in the water.

I checked on my husband's progress in the flood control and then came out to dress the girls. I heard the following argument. "You are soaking wet!" said Kalani. "No I'm not, I'm SUSAN!"

This same interchange continued probably a dozen or so times before I could pull Susan away and encourage Kalani to not belabor the point.

Although I've heard similar arguments in the past with other children, for some reason this time it struck me. We frequently forget who we really are and instead identify ourselves by our current circumstances. Are we a student, Stay at home mom, teacher, accountant, musician? Are we fat, poor, messy, well dressed or depressed?

Are we identifying ourselves or those around us by something temporary, or lasting? Are we seeing what people wear or who they are?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The poverty of motherhood

We are puppy sitting. Some friends are be out of town for a week and we have their 8 week old puppies. We have Tigger, Freckles and Snoopy. Tigger and Freckles are brothers. They are very snuggly and playful; everything you could want in a puppy. Snoopy is fun and playful, but a little wary. He is sometimes extremely defensive of the food bowl and is snappy when you move towards him with an open hand that isn't palm up. Snoopy hasn't been treated well. We don't know the details, but the owners were warned of this when they got him and the behavior difference between the dogs is stark at times.

When I heard today was blog action day, with the focus on Poverty, Snoopy was the first thing that came to mind. I know a few children that are like Snoopy. Poverty isn't solely a lack of money, sometimes it is a poverty of love, a poverty of motherhood. Babies who have not had their basic needs met, food, diapering and a little love, can develop a disorder called reactive attachment disorder. Motherhood is so amazingly powerful a DISORDER will develop if it isn't done at even a basic level. It may manifest itself in a variety of ways at first. The baby may be stiff, not cuddly. Lack of eye contact is a typical sign, but hard to detect in a newborn or excitable toddler. Sometimes the baby won't cry even when hungry, because she has learned it doesn't work, nobody comes. Sometimes the baby sleeps a lot and is listless, because she doesn't have the energy for much else and doesn't have coping mechanisms for how to take care of herself.

I have met some darling adopted babies who started out life not having their needs met. Some babies were left with a few bottles in playpens, not having a diaper changed or being looked on for days at a a time. Mom has friends over and is busy with drugs and a new guy. Some were left in a swing or high chair for long periods of time while mom left the house. All too frequently the real cause is the stress and overwelm of poverty. Though love doesn't cost anything, it requires time, hope, patience and a gentleness that are increasingly difficult when the mother is literally starving and sees no future for herself.

A baby who sleeps a lot and seldom cries sounds eerily nice. Even if suddenly the needs start being met some children will have lifelong issues to face from this early situation. The child is still a child and in trying to be self reliant, rejects anyone attempting to take over that role of caregiver. It's a form of emotional self preservation. The child has been taught that no one will help her meet her basic needs. Something in their little hearts has broken, as if they no longer have the ability to love or trust or accept even the most basic of necessities. The consequences shift from a lack of crying, a stiffness and listlessness, to a failure to make eye contact, a refusal to accept affection and an undercurrent of violence.

It's unthinkable really. The future of our nation, our most precious resource, unattended and uncared for. This results in a baby who is callous or a child who is a time bomb and may begin his show of rage at anyone who dares to come into his life and claim the title mother. Make no mistake this rage will generalize towards others and as the child gets stronger, their power to destroy increases. The price to be paid by society will be not only the loss of the distinct character and gift of that child, but a whirlwind of damage and loss as the growing child turns to drug use or increasing acts of violence to push people away.

It is staggering to think that the simple act of holding and feeding a baby has dramatic effects. We know that brain development occurs when a mother holds and feeds her baby. and We need to rethink the rocking chair. The simple task of holding a baby has long term effects for the baby and society. Changing a diaper and comforting a baby are both critically important tasks. Does that seem dramatic? Perhaps, but it is true.

Feeding a baby helps connect neurons in the brain! I have seen effects of a poverty of motherhood in the lives of children. It is difficult to imagine. It is hard to understand the feelings some foster parents face as they try to care for children who haven't experienced enough caring before. Despite years of love and attention, a young person damaged by the initial years of neglect may still reject the woman who has dared to be mother. It is much easier to keep a child's heart than to reclaim it.

We are in many respects experiencing a poverty of motherhood in America. It is not always as drastic as in attachment disorder children. Sometimes it is as simple as working mothers, teenage mothers, or single mothers. It is absolutely true that some people in these categories did not choose them and are working desparately to be everything to their children. A mother can do amazing things and stay involved in her children's lives even if circumstances and time are not ideal. However, the underlying theme running through these situations is a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of motherhood in the life of the child. Sometimes a mother must work and children can understand when it is a necessity, but they know the difference. Chidlren know when something is being chosen over them, whether it is nicer clothes, personal fulfillment or financial gain.

It is not just nice for a child to have a mother, it is essential for their emotional and physical growth. Children need a great quantity of time so when they are ready the quality moments can happen, not in little packages of time on the adults schedule, but casually by the kitchen sink, or sorting the laundry, reading a book or sweeping the floor. The basic development of a child is only possible when a mother chooses to mother. It cannot be outsourced for convenience sake, it cannot be begun too early by mistake. The development of a healthy child demand preparation and attention.

It is really astounding that it would ever have to be said that a woman should mother her children. She should choose when to have those children thoughtfully, then devote herself to them. Time in the rocking chair should be encouraged, supported and recognized for what it is, a powerful life giving force. Motherhood can reduce poverty and increase peace in the world on small and grand scales.

In saying all of this I do not mean to under emphasize the power of fatherhood, just to delegate another day for a discussion of that role.

Now back to our dear little friend snoopy. We have hopes for him as his owners have already seen great progress. We are very patient and he is coming along. His owners may have to resort at times to physically controlling him and caging him. As a young child I had a dog like snoopy who had been mistreated. We ended up putting him to sleep because despite all our efforts he bit everyone and was only increasing in his violence. Rightly, we would never consider physically controlling or "putting to sleep" an increasingly violent child. Children are too precious and valuable, no matter their behavior.

It's time we recognize chidlren as a priority in a practical, simple way. The path to destroy the poverty of motherhood is a simple one. It involves singing to your child no matter your voice, playing a game, rocking and reading more, encouraging a young mother, reminding a teen of her own self worth and her potential for motherhood and a thousand other little ways in which can affirm that motherhood matters. Tell the next young mother you see that what they do is powerful. It is not simply a rite of passage for a young woman it is a fundamental, saving power in our society. "For the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world." William Stewart Ross "Woman:her glory, her shame, her God"