I refer to this process as "bringing in the baby" in clinical work with parents struggling emotionally around the time of childbirth. While certainly this mother's grief remained front and center in my thinking, my unique role was to support her relationship with her newborn child. I have found that rather than various forms of "talk therapy," the actual baby and their communication often offers the most powerful voice for growth and change.
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3-year-old Peter and his family were referred to my behavioral pediatrics practice for help with "managing his aggression." In the second session, having taken a full hour to listen to the story from his parents Jonathan and Jalissa the previous week, we are all sitting on the floor. Peter drapes himself across his father Jonathan's lap, wriggling around while drawing with markers on a pad on the floor. His mother quietly observes. There is a long moment when it feels like nothing is happening. I notice in myself that feeling of not knowing what’s going on, but will myself to tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty.
No matter how messy the situation in which we find ourselves, this singular focus on the transformative impact of facilitating moments of meeting between parents and their young children brings a sense of calm purpose to the work. Again and again we observe how such moments produce extraordinary changes in families, shifting the narrative from generational trauma and disconnection to possibility for healing and growth.
In the final minutes I remarked on the unusual way Zoom sessions allowed for a kind off photo op by screen shot framing their family of three. Of course I wouldn't take a photo of them as that would have been inappropriate for the setting, but I wanted to share with them what I saw. In our hour visit, with opportunity to slow things down and make meaning of everyone's experience, we created a moment of meeting. As together we navigated from mismatch to repair, both Alice and Carter appeared to feel a renewed sense of confidence. With hope, moments like this strung together over time will serve to buffer this growing family from the storm of challenges the world presents in this time of unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty.
Why is trust vulnerable in America today? Pete Buttigieg asks this question midway through his brilliant new book Trust: America's Best Chance. In it he lays out a clear, concise, and compelling argument for the urgent need to rebuild trust in order for our country to heal and grow. Not only his extraordinary wisdom but also his unrelenting sense of hope make his voice one we must listen to at this time of unprecedented uncertainty. As a pediatrician and infant mental health specialist I read his book from the perspective of developmental science, with the knowledge that trust has its roots in our earliest relationships starting from birth. What relevance does this knowledge have, I wondered, to Buttigieg's core thesis? Does it help us to understand why trust is vulnerable? And if so does that knowledge guide us into any specific form of action?
I will never know the experience of a Black person living in a world where people in power condone your murder simply because of the color of your skin. My family wearing a yellow star is the closest I can come to some kind of understanding. But unlike the Holocaust, which was a defined moment in history and is generally well-recognized, today many White people remain largely oblivious to the centuries of brutal violent systemic and structural racism perpetrated on Black Americans.