Parenting is chalk full of hardships and adventures. And who better to talk about parenting than a 19-year-old, childless, college student. For real though, it’s about time adults my age began processing these topics before life as an adult, and perhaps future parent smacks us in the face.
Just this past spring I made the crazy decision to switch majors, and consequently (but also excitingly) my future. Entering college I was dedicated to the idea of becoming a mechanical engineer. The promise of success, and security that tend to coincide with that profession were sitting in my passenger seat. Engineering activities however, did not dominate my childhood years. Since around the age 8, I began to go on mission trips wtih my family annually to the Dominican Republic. And then in 2011 my family and I moved to the Domincan Republic on a long term mission trip for 18 months. We got to live along side of the people there, and got to show them the love of Jesus day in and day out. Reflecting on my past, inpute from friends and family, and a general loss of interest in engineering championed my decision to switch majors. I chose Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS) for many reasons, but foremost was that I viewed HDFS as a major that would bring me in contact me with many new people, something I have been raised to love doing.
This first post actually ended up being an assignment for one of the core classes of my new major. I was tasked with discussing a family science in a blog that also brought in research on my chosen science. Initially, I completely overthought this process and spent a week trying to decide what a family science was…turns out a family science can almost be anything attributed to a family. Choosing a topic was much easier at this point and attachment theory stood out in multiple classes I took this semester.
I think one of the most up-close experiences I have, in terms of mother-child attachment, is my family’s involvement with a program called “Safe Families”. “Safe Families” is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide recently unemployed, and perhaps now homeless mothers with the ability to put their kids in a safe home until they can get back on their feet. Our current family we are partnered with involves a mother who experienced intense neglect and abuse as a child. This has adversely affected her 3 children and caused there to be very harmful attachments between her and them. One of the harmful attachments we see in the kids, when they come to our house, is a clear display of anxious ambivalent behavior to both their biological mother as well as my mother. Anxious abivalent attachment forms when the infant or child becomes very anxious in the absence of their caregiver. However, this anxiety also persists in the presence of their caregiver. When the children come to our home they distance themselves from my mother, struggle to sleep, and avoid receiving love. The same behavior occurs when they return home to their biological mother. This prevelance of harmful attachment, in a low income home, matched exceedinly well with a study done in 2006.
David Cicchetti, Fred Rogosch, and Sheree Toth studied a group of 137 infant-mother pairs and the effects that different forms of psychological intervention had on their attachment. Their main findings found that poor attachment was often due to the mother’s poor treatment as a child, but also was exacerbated by low income environments. The randomly selected pairs of mothers and infants were placed in three groups. Each either received, Infant-parent psychotherapy, psychoeducational parenting intervention, or community standard controls. There was also a fourth group used as a base to analyze the data found. The psychotherapy given to the groups involved additions to the standard controls in the community. The infant-parent therapy was focused on improving current behaviors between the mother and the child, and fostered the development of more secure attachments between the two. The other form of therapy given focused on the mother’s past experiences, and helped reshape her current thoughts on said experiences. The mother of the kids we care for came from the foster system, so her natural inclination to form harmful attachment can stem from her lack of positive attachment during her own childhood. One of the saddest findings was that the group who only got community standard controls (Children protective services, social workers, and the likes) showed little to no decrease in attachment deficiencies. However, the mothers and infants who received positive intervention techniques did show observable, positive changes in their attachment.
It would be so great if we could just push our current family we are partnered with into psychotherapy, but it just isn’t that easy. It can be hard for many people to even seek psychotherapy, let alone keep returning visit after visit. Data has also shown that low-income families seek out psychotherapy even less than middle-class or higher families. When talking to a friend who sought psychotherapy he also described reluctance at first. He explained that it was hard to pinpoint a counselor to talk to, and at first he believed it was not necessary and that he could handle it without the added help. Given the fact that people struggle to seek out psychotherapy, it is my belief that community standard controls should broaden their scope and provide more resources for low-income families Greater intervention techniques like psychotherapy should be offered and advertised more freely, in order to promote a better environment for these kids and their parents. From our personal experience with our partnered family, we are finding that loving families reaching out to these families in need can provide these children with many joyful memories.
The road to those memories was not an easy one, and the road ahead is still uncertain. From the day we met these two boys, we began to get a hint of just how much the standard controls described in the research, simply did not work. Perhaps the most painful moment arose when we discovered a bruise on one of the boys. Evidence was there for abuse, yet no intervention was taken to place them in a (hopefully our) safe home. There simply was “not enough” to remove the children. This was the first of many instances where the right action could not be taken due to lack of solid proof of neglect. This is why the standard controls need to be expanded. Children need to be taken care of, and mothers need to be taken care of too! Psychotherapy and other programs should be more accessible to these families so that proper development can occur.
Cicchetti, D., Rogosch, F., & Toth, S. (2006). Fostering secure attachment in infants in maltreating families through preventive interventions. Development and Psychopathology, 18(3), 623-649. doi:10.1017/S0954579406060329, https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/1281AD348AD23F959131F575D2D70F85/S0954579406060329a.pdf/fostering_secure_attachment_in_infants_in_maltreating_families_through_preventive_interventions.pdf