Jeanne Denney
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Birth, Early life and Parenting  

There are things we know about birth and early life. In its essence and for all we know, in utero, birth and just after are the most formative times in our entire physical development in terms of our physical form and character alone. Parents in this age most often feel overwhelming responsibility through this deep passage. We are more and more aware of our formative influence yet perhaps feel more impotent than ever to answer the needs given the stressors of work, isolation, the media and natural environment children are raised in and diminishing family and community support. Awareness of need while carrying a sense that we cannot meet it is a great, great unspoken agony of first world parenting. A trauma in itself that many parents silently bear. All of this unfolds even as we make new connections with our own childhood memories and injuries through the experience of raising our children.

As a young parent I can now see that I was too often alone without helping hands, supportive wisdom and a matrix of love. Thousands of miles from family and in a very different culture than the village-like community I was raised in, there were missing pieces of connection I knew in my bones would have been there if all was right with the world. Indeed I felt resources and love ebbing away not toward me in one of my life’s moments of greatest need, a situation my friend Randy Sherman called “The Ritual, Tribal Abandonment of Mothers”. Home alone in a suburban house, I felt the drain in my body and bone of all that was being taken from it without replenishment through inter-generational connection. And I was especially fortunate. None of this was the fault of my children’s needs. But it did feel as though these needs were greatly distorted by un-parent friendly market influences, television, video and technology. I felt that these influences depleted them, took them away from nature (which quite naturally fills children) and created a deep hunger in them that could only be filled by more of it, and/or more from me.

Add to this situation the quantum download of research and neuroscience showing the impact of even small parenting failures (an angry moment such as “losing it” or even our depression) on the development of a child’s brain, body and psyche with imprints on health and psyche for a lifetime, and the unrealistic expectation that we can avoid them. Sleeplessness and over-work takes this further. Expectations of schools and communities to produce children in lockstep developmental sequence, classifications and testing for performance at young ages takes this even further still as the community that we need so much for support and acknowledgement most often expects, shames, grades and evaluates to the standards of politicians. The mess of it sometimes reminds of what Viet Nam Vets faced after returning home from an unpopular war, having risked life and limb trying to do the impossible without much support. Rarely (unless your child is compulsively high achieving ) are parents greeted with the “Thank you for your gift and your service” we all need to hear from family and community. These factors can produce mental health issues for parents (especially the conscious parent): extreme stress, depression and guilt. Such are the issues of contemporary parents.

Parents grow with children. They must. Indeed, a parent’s childhood imprints (both good and traumatic), are unearthed in the process of parenting. Most of this unearthing is unconscious. If more of this process were made conscious and supported, though, not only is there great benefit for the parent, but for children as well. Ultimately after the most basic physical and emotional needs are met,the greatest peril to a child is the undo stress of the unsupported parent. Indeed, it is clear that the greatest thing a parent can do for a developing child is attend closely to their own mental health needs. This support transfers directly to children as the parent/child diad is a team with the parent’s well-being as one of the most important factors in health of this diad. As we spend greater and greater material wealth on the physical stuff of early childhood, in children’s entertainment and toy environment, it might be good to consider that a parent’s mental health is one of their primary needs. Mother’s groups are helpful in connecting to like others and coming out of isolation. Time away from children can be a great benefit. It is also my experience that intergenerational support, energy and wisdom from people who have gone before and come after is also deeply needed, perhaps even moreso than like others.

In the Far Side of Early Development and Parenting, we can candidly begin to acknowledge the situation of parents in this culture and get a sense of what the truer needs of the parent/child diad are, the parent’s deep need for growth and change with their children, as well as their need to receive tools for self-preservation and growth. A parent’s work unfolds as they learn about the developmental arcs of their children, both of their truest needs, receiving fully the gifts of their children. Working these processes in tandem, gaining the capacity to attach as well as detach with love is the work of parenting.