As a mom, I have become adept at ignoring those instincts of mine that work an inconvenience in my life.
Calling it "balance," I have stepped on instincts shouting at me that time spent with the kids in the car driving to and from school is not quality time. In the name of "prioritizing,"
I have karate chopped instincts that screamed at me that spending ten minutes on the phone with my kids while I was away from home on a business trip really isn't in keeping with the motherhood I had envisioned.
Dr. Gabor Maté, a world-renowned physician and best-selling author, says I'm not alone, I'm not to blame, but I do have to do something right now for my children's sake.
Maté, our guest on this week's episode of Know-It-All: The ABCs of Education, talked about our ailing society. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), autism, peer pressure, bullying, violence - all of these things are part of a net that has captured our children's attention and dictates their behavior.
Grown-ups sit back slack-jawed and half-heartedly bandy about theories we think might kind of work a little bit. We point fingers. We bury our heads. But Maté doesn't blame parents, who love their children immensely, for having to raise children in increasingly difficult circumstances. He doesn't blame educators, who are under tremendously unfair pressures to perform miracles. He says the culprit is in plain view, and its name is Stress.
There have been numerous studies that have explored the mind-body connection. Dr. Maté calls this body of research the "Bermuda Triangle," because it is mostly ignored in mainstream discussions about health and wellness. In his book, When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection , Maté adds to the growing body of research that says we have to pay attention to what our bodies tell us to do and stop doing. And, in his book “Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers” (co-written with Dr. Gordon Neufeld), Maté says that stress contributes to broken attachments, those bonds between parents and their children that are necessary for children to thrive and, in fact, survive.
Without strong adult/child attachments, our kids look to other kids for instructions on how to grow into adults. It's the clueless leading the clueless. Maté warns that parents have to keep their children close so they can grow into healthy adults and, in the meantime, resist the negative influences that will naturally come about when children are left to raise themselves.
With our busy lifestyles and our emphasis on social acceptance, we sleepover and playdate our children right into the waiting arms of one another. Our peer-oriented children are more focused on gaining social acceptance with their friends than on inquisitive, intellectual, independent living. And, Dr. Maté says it starts early, "If the United States was a civilized country, there would be maternity leave so that mothers could stay home with their kids for at least a year. The average maternity leave [in the U.S.] is 6 weeks of unpaid leave."
According to Dr. Maté, human beings are the most dependent beings "in the universe." Eighty-nine percent of our brain development occurs outside of the womb, and parental attachment is crucial to guiding that development.
When I first heard Maté speak, my instincts were illuminated, and they danced the I-told-you-so jig all over my heart. I wasn't around much for my kids. More and more now, parents are not around, and children, seeking to bond, will attach to whoever is around, usually their peers. The results are something of a nightmare. According to Dr. Maté, millions of children are on medication for behavioral and emotional disorders; bullying and violence receive almost constant attention; and educators are called to the mat for failing to educate disconnected children.
Teachers who choose to work in an upper-middle class community where at least one parent is home most of the time with the kids, where public and in-home libraries are available to the children, and where parents don't put their children in front of a television set for hours a day will be successful. Yet we punish and criticize those teachers who choose to work in challenged neighborhoods, usually expending much more of their own time and resources to do so.
We also punish and criticize in schools the children who have suffered the worst attachment failures. Rather than work to ensure that children are emotionally secure, we penalize misbehavior and exclude them from the school environment. Add to this standardized tests and rote memorization, which Maté says are "anti-human" and have gotten worse under the Obama administration, and you have a formula that seals the fate of an entire generation.
And, while placing the microscope on people living in poverty and people of color is a place of comfort for many, lack of parental attachment is an equal opportunity affliction. After hearing the show, neuroscientist Jessica Phillips-Silver asked, "In the recent fad of American parents towards so-called 'attachment parenting' (which, I believe, is a misnomer and a completely misunderstood construct), what can we do about the fact that so many parents are confusing attachment with indulgence?" Indeed... Perhaps a future show topic.