Sunday, April 17, 2011

To parent or not as we grow older?

The decision to be a  parent or not gets more complicated as we grow older.  There are many layers involved in the decision making, to do with physical and emotional ability and energy of the potential parent. The time factor is also a big challenge.

By your late 30s, a woman who has not had children, is considering whether to have a baby or not. For some women the answer is no, for others it is maybe or yes.
This is the moment to be deliberate about planning for the future and to be very clear whether parenting is really a first priority or your life.

This is the beginning of prioritizing losses so that space can be made for something new to come in. This is not so easy as it takes a lot of courage to grieve and let go of certain dreams, so that that other dreams can be realized. This does not mean that single parents will be single forever or that if you choose adoption you may not eventually conceive your own child, it just means that something needs to change and a course needs to be set.  Time is of the essence, as whatever course is set and reset, it can take 1 to 4 years to be united with your child.

The older we become, the more life is not turning out the way we dreamed and we are not where we thought we would be at this time in our lives. For single women,  this involves not being married or not being  part of a commited partnership, as well as being childless. I would suggest to just take ' the bull by the horns' and choose a path and stay on that path for a set time period, rather than taking the 'wait and see' perspective.  It is difficult to be seeking a partner and trying to get pregnant at the same time.  Stay focused.

Many single women and couples try to conceive  and often spend  large amounts of money and time on trying to get pregnant.  It is best to set a time limit and financial limit on this pursuit.  If after a certain period of time your child has not been conceived then the option of adoption is still possible.  Stay focused.  I have found that when people are trying to both get pregnant and adopt at the same time the energy becomes split between two paths. However,  it is useful to do some preliminary research about adoption just so you know ahead of time which door to go through if conceiving is not successful. ie. There are now age restrictions on parents to be, who wish to adopt internationally from different countries and also there are certian limits on single parent adoption both domestic and internationally.  It is important to know what your possibilities are before they are closed to you due to age restrictions, or waiting too long.

As you get older just the  process of bringing a child into your life involves  large quantities of  emotional and physical energy to maintain the course. The older we get the more losses we endure and hopefully the wiser we become!  As you get older it is also important to ask yourself if you have the emotional and physical energy to raise a child and share your life with a child. Some people just truthfully know that they are too 'Self focused' to be able to share their life with a child, as it will involve giving up too much 'me' time and 'adult enjoyment'.  It is so important to know: "Is there room for a child at this time in my life?"  These are important considerations for potential parents, whether possibly parenting alone or as a couple.  In couples there are individual needs and relationship needs to be respected, discussed and evaluated in the decision to be older parents.  Whatever the decision,  it will be the right one for you.

If , after all the planning and endurance of waiting to have a child you are able to maintain your focus and know that this is what you want most in your life, then you will become a parent.  At times the only light at the end of the tunnel  is knowing  that  your son or daughter is coming towards you in the opposite direction on the same path.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Practical tips for soothing baby's digestive discomfort

Most babies get gas or get constipated, especially as they are growing into their ability to digest breast milk or formula. Another time of adjustment is when your baby begins to eat solid foods. The belly massage for a baby is very similar to some of the techniques which are used in the Japanese 'Hara' massage for adults called 'Ampuku'. As a Shiatsu teacher, I found it was always a profound experience for students to give and receive 'Ampuku'. Babies like it as well and as a parent it is always reassuring that you have ways to relieve your child's pain!

There are 2 rules for giving your baby a belly massage:  a) Wait 1/2 hour after eating breast milk and 3/4 hour after formula   b) Always do strokes in a clockwise direction, the way the plumbing goes! If your baby is crying/fussy and your baby is not sick  then gas maybe the reason for the discomfort.  How do you know it is gas? There are usually 5 basic needs that are needing to be met  at any moment in time when a baby is crying:   Feeding; changing; tired; needing connection; and gas/digestive discomfort.( NB, Teething can also be another reason for discomfort.  Massaging the gums gently with your little finger can help ) Listen to the cry and respond. Is the cry a monotone 'grumble' or is it high pitched, which indicates a severe pain or need.? If at any point during the massage the crying goes to a high pitch then stop the massage.

Once you have established that your baby has gas pain (the time of  the last eating can also help establish that it is intestinal gas)  then gently and with full contact place the palm of your hand on your baby's belly (the other on the side of your baby). This is 'still touch' and is very effective if the parent is calm and relaxed as your baby can sense your energy. Tell your baby what you are doing and watch for and respond to any non-verbal request from your baby to stop.

Slowly move your palm in a clockwise circular motion and do this 6 times. Then, you are going to hold both legs under the knees and bend the babys knees towards the chest. Hold for 15 seconds. In this position gently rock the baby's body from side to side. Bring the legs back down and begin the sequence again. Doing this six times can usually relieve irritating gas/fecal congestion pain. Do not forget to keep a diaper on the baby as fecal matter and gas get moving with a belly massage!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Attachment focused family therapy with foster/adopt children

A good resource book that I recommend to the parents in my practice is "Parenting from the Inside out" written by Daniel Siegel, a Psychiatrist and Neuro-scientist and Mary Hartzell, a Nursery School Teacher. Although first published in 2003, I find the information extremely relevant and useful today, as a parent and a therapist. In the first few pages they mention that this is not a 'how-to' book, it is a 'how-we' book. The authors share examples from their own parenting experiences and experiences with families in their respective fields of learning.
There is also some basic, easily readable, useful information about neuro-science and brain research describing how we as human beings remember and learn; the relevance of implicit and explicit memory; how we attach; how we make sense and meaning of our internal experiences.
Each chapter of this  book is  followed by easy and useful exercises for a parent  to do to gain personal insight and learning. Personally, I find new learning is freeing! The chapter on child and adult, attachment includes in it a page with 'Questions for parental self-reflection'.
I encourage the parents in my practice to take the time to answer these questions to help them gain some self-understanding and gain some freedom from the bindings of old negative internal working models  (ie. the way we were parented often shows up in the way we parent and what we believe about parenting - both negative and positive. 'Children should be seen and not heard' is an obvious example of this ).  The hope in this approach is that a parent can gain some space to try new ways of relating with their child.  Gaining the information and space to try something new is extremely important for a parent, particularly when you find yourself entrenched in a power struggle with your child

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Attachment focused family therapy with foster/adopt families and assessment

When a family comes into my practice it is usually the uncomfortable; disruptive; destructive or just plain disquieting behaviors of the child that brings them into my office. The goal of the therapy is to diminish the negative behaviors and help the child have more meaningful and positive relationships. This also involves the parent becoming experienced by the child as a trusting 'safe base' at all times. Initial sessions involve a comprehensive assessment and getting to know eachother.
Firstly, it allows us (therapist and parent) to understand how your child's strengths and deficits have been formed during a time line of physiological and emotional development. Next, we can get a sense of the environment and circumstances of your child's past caretaking relationships and any past traumas influencing the present. We can learn about the ways your child survived and coped during transitions and during times of trauma (often alone) - their self-soothing/regulatory strategies - which will tell us about the ways your child  manages stress and distress now (with you, in your family)  I find that when parents begin to describe and understand more about their child's known past trauma and the strength of surviing,  it allows the parent to open to feelings of compassion for their child, rather than focusing so much on the negative attention getting behavior.

Attachment focused Therapy and Parent support

In attachment focused therapy with adoptive families, the parent can be a profound agent of healing and change by practicing being the 'secure base' for the child in session. From this perspective, it is the job of the therapist to help the parent identify the strengths and deficits of his/her own parenting/attachment style and compassionately recognize how these patterns are contributing (exacerbate or relieve) the child's need to do the behavior. Or how the behavior of the child intensely 'triggers' the parent. Parent coaching is a significant part of the treatment.

Most parents find the parent only sessions informative, supportive and useful. If as a parent, we can learn and practice using self-compassion and not judge ourselves so much,  so that we can be curious  about our own effectiveness and  obstructions which contribute to the  relationship with our child, then it will go a long way to finding solutions.  An example of this is when the  intense feelings such as anger and despair, are left unharnessed by the parent and they are having difficulty staying regulated when their child is acting out.

This is not uncommon in the parents that I see, and it soon becomes clear to me, the parent, and the child that the parent is ineffective in 'being in charge' to provide appropriate strong, nurturing limits when emotions determine the disciplining. Here is an example: If, when you (the parent) were an 8 year old child you 'disrespected' your father by talking back, or saying "I hate you" and as a result you were spanked and sent to your room, then this may be the only option you feel you have as a parent when your child says the same words to you in the same intense way. The anger and despair often experienced by parents is totally understandable and reasonable, however, if we discipline from the intensity of this 'feeling' place, without fully understanding it,  then the lesson for the child will be saturated in that negative feeling state of the parent. Consequences will be felt by the child as punishment and will increase the negative behavior of the child.

Support for the parent comes in the form of parent coaching and exploring options for you to manage your intense feelings so they do not stall effective disciplining and connecting well with your child.
ie. Time ins with the parent in the same room (not necessarily doing the same activity) are more  effective and get better results than time outs in another room.  Separation from the parent during these times of intense feeling, especially for the foster adopt child, can be experienced as punishment, and can exacerbate their pain and inability to regulate their own  feelings and impulsive behavior.  However, if a parent is so upset themselves it is preferable to take a brief time out away from the child to find your own equilibrium. And, there is not just one way of managing this situation.

It is so important as a parent to retain a sense of humour; develop an ability to play and have a willingness to try something new if the old patterns are not working. Together, therapist and parent can often find creative ways  to interrupt the  negative pattern of relating  with your child when her behaviors and feelings become difficult to regulate. 

There is an element of surprise and confusion often for the child when the parent reponds in a very different way than they are used to experiencing. It is important not to trick or make fun of your child at these times but it is also important to not take yourself so seriously.