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Power of Parenting

By: Heather Forbes

Parenting A couple of days ago, I was attending a small group meeting and in order to introduce a few new members at this group, an ice breaker was given. We were asked to go around the room and in the spirit of Labor Day, tell not what we did for a living but what our parents did for a living when we were growing up. Several of the participants, after describing credentialed careers of high cultural status of their fathers, remarked, "But my mom was just a housewife."

Just a housewife! How sad I was to hear this coming from grown men and women who had their mothers home with them to support them, guide them, and teach them around the clock. Parenting is the most important job on this planet. You know this, I know this, but there has not been enough recognition in our society. Perhaps this is due to the intangible nature of this job. This job does not have a paycheck, there are no holiday bonuses, and there is no big desk to sit behind with plaques and certificates to recognize our accomplishments or to present our worth to others.

Good news…this has changed! We are now living in a time where we can show real, tangible evidence of how important this job of parenting is for children. We now have solid, objective evidence that shows the need and importance of safe, attuned, and supportive parenting.

To give you an example, the image below shows the brain scans of two different threeyear-olds. On the left side is a healthy three-year-old who has been in a nurturing and loving home his entire life. This child is showing an average size head (50th percentile). On the right side is a three-year-old who suffered severe sensory-deprivation neglect. This child's head is significantly smaller than average (3rd percentile). These images are taken from Dr. Bruce Perry's research ("Childhood Experience and the Expression of Genetic Potential: What Childhood Neglect Tells Us About Nature and Nurture." Brain and Mind 3: 79-100, 2002).

While this example is extreme in nature, other examples of research are showing the significance of nurturing care. Research is showing that simple changes in a child's environment can literally change a child's physiology. In a recent conversation with Dr. Karyn Purvis, she shared with me how their research at the TCU Institute of Child Development is demonstrating that by placing children with trauma histories in calmer environments with more love-based parenting techniques that are designed to create safety, stress hormones within these children's body systems are decreasing. This means that parents have the ability to literally change the chemical make-up of their children (not to mention themselves, as well)! Certainly this is a job more powerful than the attorney next door or the mayor of your city.

From the research today, our responsibility, or "job description", as parents, is to help our children learn, grow, and develop. While not an easy task, it is possible. It takes us changing our perspective not only to understand our children and ourselves, but a change in our understanding as to the significance of parenting. No more "just a housewife."

So, instead of waking up in the morning thinking, "I've got to get up, fix my children breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!" I encourage you to say to yourself, "Today is the day that I will press on to help mold my child's brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level." Wow! Now that is something worth jumping out of bed for!

Heather Forbes, LCSW, is the cofounder of the Beyond Consequences Institute. Ms. Forbes has been training in the field of trauma and attachment since 1999. See her website for more information on parenting.
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