Archive for the ‘Newborns’ Category

The Lizard Brain is a Lonely Hunter

January 19, 2011

Goal:  facilitating calm and ameliorating fear, which I hold to be at the scene of every crime of every magnitude—from the cold shoulder to ghastly violence.  Hurt people hurt people; scared people scare people.

Today’s particular focus:  loneliness.  From modern alienation (intellectualized isolation) to primitive dread of annihilation (unconscious fear of disintegration—think panic attacks) we are wired to attach, and thus we are wired to feel our hearts come into our mouths and our guts drop horribly at anything that triggers us to feel cast out from the mother, which is akin, later, to being outside of the group.

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Attachment in the lab, implications on the couch (and in the brain)

December 15, 2010

In bare bones and admittedly simplified terms, I wish to share some emerging understandings from the cutting edge of attachment research and interpersonal neurobiology.

I am quite fortunate to have UCLA in my hood, and have just returned from a weekend conference there where the world’s foremost experts in attachment research, Mary Hain and Erik Hesse, were down from Berkley and having a highly illuminating love-fest with their former student/spiritual son, and true brainiac, Dan Siegel.

While my inner nerd was thrilled to soak up the technical details of nuances in attachment and to refine my understanding of the hippocampus, insula and dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, I thought a cool challenge to myself might be to put it all in plain speak and see what it looks like—in the hopes that it might spread the word on what helps and what hurts, what heals and what direction a parent (and our wider culture) might head, with regard to security, insecurity and attachment.

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Is parenting an unpaid internship?

April 7, 2010

A NY Times article on the potentially illegal growth of unpaid internships caught my parenting eye.

The criteria for an acceptable unpaid internship include, “that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.”

Let’s look at this again, substituting “parent” for intern and “child” for employer (after all, we do essentially work for our kids, don’t we?); thus we parents should get compensated for our work unless… the parenting work experience is similar to the learning we parents have experienced in school, that the parent does not displace regular paid workers and that the child “derives no immediate advantage” from the parent’s activities—in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution from the kid to the parent.”

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Out in the cold—balancing attachment and a good time

February 3, 2010

A reader inquires:

“I must say, I am enjoying parenting more and more…but I am feeling ‘out of balance’ personally and in my relationship with my husband, as I stay at home with my daughter (and the four or five times we have had a babysitter in the past 2 years to go have dinner alone, it has not gone well at all, with my daughter being unable to separate).  My husband, who works such long hours and travels so much, just wants time for ‘us,’ and so do I.  It doesn’t feel right to leave my daughter with a babysitter when she cries and is miserable most of the time and then continues to get upset about it for weeks, but it also doesn’t feel right not to make alone time for myself and my husband.  Parenting is certainly not easy, and sustaining and nurturing a marriage relationship alongside is something I am finding to be getting more difficult instead of easier.  How do we ‘get it right’ with our children and our spouses during these early parenting years?”


This is a rather classic challenge and I’d start by acknowledging that, my wife assures me, I was quite frustrated with things at this point in parenting.  While I might like to think of myself as having been a paragon of patience, alas I’m told that I would angrily say things back then like, “We never have any fun.”  Over a decade later (even if it seems to have flown by) it’s much easier to talk about that time without anyone getting too defensive.

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Ideals and realities of loving the planet in the context of sleep deprivation

January 16, 2010

I ran into a friend at the market, shopping for baby’s first solid food and it was lovely to see him talking about planning to feed all organic food from his garden—and it was also humanizing and understandable to hear lofty ideals giving way, in the context of sheer exhaustion, to the pragmatics of store-bought (albeit organic) baby-food. 

We joked about our grand initial plans for all natural diapers and how we (me a decade and a half ago) threw in the towel on the diaper service a few weeks into our colic-riddled child’s ever-leaking, high-maintenance cloth diapers, while my friend had, a few scant months earlier, started with all natural diapers, but they were so stiff and like sandpaper, he said, that he too caved in for big-brand, eco-crappy survival. 

It’s not that my hat isn’t off to those who succeed; I have just found that in the trenches we turn to survival mode and carry our guilt along with our growing children, out of the car-seat, up the stairs, yearning for nothing more than a good night’s sleep.

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Men and their postpartum depressions

January 7, 2010

In an article last month in the New York Times ( Richard Friedman, M.D. wrote about male post partum depression.  While up to 80% of women experience post-baby blues, with 10% becoming clinically depressed at this developmental juncture, it turns out that this too affects men. 

Research is scant, suggesting that maybe four percent of men become clinically depressed (to a level that could even include suicidal feelings of despair), and yet most men beset by post-baby blues have never heard about them (at least for men).  Friedman speculates that there could be a biological underpinning (or is it over-pining?) to male post-partum melancholy, since testosterone levels may drop in men during their partners’ pregnancies to help them be less aggressive and bond with the baby when it arrives; yet low testosterone has also been linked with depression in middle-aged men.

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Sympathy for the Tiger—and the tigress: Understanding the rocks before our marriages hit them

December 7, 2009

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past

Still I remain tied to the mast

Could it be that I have found my home at last

Home at last

Steely Dan, “Home at Last”

I don’t generally follow gossip, tabloids and the like, but when clients who are equally unlikely to be talking about tabloid headlines start mentioning something, be it Michael Jackson or Tiger Woods, I tend to pay attention in terms of what it could mean for us as a culture—and how it might related to the collective consciousness… and unconsciousness.

Although many a man (and woman) would say that men cheat because they are dogs, I disagree.  I think men cheat to the extent that they suffer narcissistic wounds—unclear about who they are, what they want, how to heal their wounds and how to suffer productively when suffering (or at least a modicum of frustration) is inescapable.  Men who know themselves, and then find themselves in a relationship that for whatever reason truly does not work, are at least more inclined to leave honestly than to betray. 

Yet men also cheat because often they really don’t know better.  There was a famous seducer of women who, after a life of liaisons rivaling Don Giovanni, confided his well-earned conclusion:  The f-ing you get is not worth the f-ing you get.

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Orchid Children

November 23, 2009

A recent Atlantic article by David Dobbs on the “Science of Success,” offers a wealth of insights on parenting kids with highly sensitive genes—or at least genes that put them at risk for depression, ADHD and the like.  While rough and tumble kids might be likened to dandelions, which can grow in any old crack in the sidewalk, kids with potentially problematic genetic proclivities are compared to orchids—delicate beings that need the special care of a greenhouse in order to thrive.  The bad news is that if we mess up, or fail to engage and attune with these “orchid children,” they can have serious problems with school, life and mental health, however if we get it right, these kids can be truly exceptional—even more gifted than kids with what we would have thought were “better” genes.  For the article see:

As sometimes happens with science, men come running out of the lab shouting “Eureka!” about things practically every experienced mom could have already told you—only she’s been too busy taking care of the kids to spend thirty years watching monkey moms raise (and sometimes fail) their children.  Just as the world was actually round even before it was a science newsflash, folk wisdom has long known that orchid kids are potential superstars if they get the right parenting.

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Wise Old Babies

October 11, 2009

I eat you up I love you soBabies are amazing teachers.  I had the pleasure recently of a couple bringing their five-month-old along to a therapy session and this child was so amazing that I found it a bit hard to tear away from simply gazing at him for the whole hour—partly because the child was already in the mental space to which I could only hope to guide my clients (and myself).  The kid was beyond “cured,” he was curative.

Now as synchronicity would have it, the very hour prior I had been working with a lovely young man who had a big wish to go back and be a baby, and who found it hard to believe that anyone could grow up to the point of feeling secure enough in themselves, and trusting of the world, to happily embrace not being utterly dependent and excused from work.  And therein lies the rub:  as babies we are free of the mundane (i.e. worldly) tasks like getting food and shelter for ourselves, but we are (somewhat terrifyingly) dependent upon others for our every need—including our profound need to be understood.  After all, if we don’t feel truly understood, we cannot feel fully loved and accepted.

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Is colic torture?

September 4, 2009

a cast for michelle's footI think most of us would agree that water-boarding is torture, but what about colic?  Given that colic subjects parents to severe levels of sensory input which do not stop despite all attempts at soothing, rocking, singing, distracting pleading and begging, I think that colic needs to be recognized as a form of torture.

Now, I’m not saying that babies do this on purpose, and I think that they should receive full immunity against prosecution (as well as against persecution and retaliation), but it’s only fair that we acknowledge how relentless and unstoppable howling, if done deliberately, could be considered a torture technique.  If prisoners were deprived of sleep, howled at for hours and then forced to deal with human feces, I think most of us would say that things had gone too far.

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