Parenting Through Grief: “I’m Her Only Mother”

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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Peter and the Bear: Finding Hope in Child’s Play

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.

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The Examined Life: Listening to the Baby

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

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.

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Through Shame to Belonging: Confronting Racism as Developmental Process

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.

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Social Media Addiction: Beyond “Just Say No”

In my recent book The Power of Discord co-authored with renowned research psychologist Ed Tronick we address the problem of technology over-use within the context of human relationships. If we understand the problem as a symptom, we see that simple admonitions to limit time and find good content are not sufficient. When we eliminate a symptom without recognizing its function, we fail to address the underlying problem. Over-reliance on technology and social media may be a symptom of a social and cultural movement away from the normal messiness of human relationships. If so, only immersion in relationships can provide the solution.

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Can We Heal Our Country by Listening to Babies and Parents?

We learn to listen by being listened to. Our ability to find our way into another person’s experience begins to develop in our earliest months of life when caregivers naturally respond to our wordless communication. Our ability to listen is enhanced in a setting of connection and communication. Alternatively, our ability to listen can atrophy in an environment that does not model or value listening. When we protect this time to listen to the baby’s unique voice and support parents at this transformative and often disorganizing time, we set babies and families on a healthy path right from the start.


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The Growing Crisis of Stimulant Abuse

A wise colleague who works as a family recovery support specialist in a program for parents of young children identified a core contradiction. If we say that addiction is a biological disease that is treated with medication, how to we make sense of the narrative of the role of trauma? Could it be that the well-intentioned efforts to reduce stigma, in large part a response to the criminalization of drug abuse, has the unintended consequence of silencing stories that then reappear to exert their influence in other forms?

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Resilience Embodied: Dance in the Time of COVID-19

Dance offers a kind of parallel process to infant-parent interaction. As teachers and students together choreograph new dances, missteps inevitably occur on the journey to a coherent graceful performance. Each class offers participants the opportunity to build that hope and agency anew.
Over ten years ago my own daughter’s countless hours of classes, rehearsal, and performance with the dance program played a central role in her development as she navigated the tumultuous middle school years. The experience became part of her core resilience now revealed in fortitude and flexibility as a doctor-in-training on the front lines of the pandemic.

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Autism and the Search for Certainty

The truth lies in our humanity, in the complex interplay between biology and environment. It lies in the stories we tell and the meaning we make of our experience. The search for the truth lies in protecting space and time to listen to those stories, in all their richness and complexity.

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COVID-19 and Separation of Immigrant Families

Immigrant families currently face a disturbing variation of the horrific separation of parents and children imposed officially from April through June of 2018 but continuing through the fall of 2019 under the government’s “zero tolerance” policy. Now a federal judge has ruled that all migrant children must be released from detention centers because of coronavirus. But immigration officials are not expected to allow parents to leave with them. Anyone with a hand in such cruel and heartless policy should be required to view the classic still-face experiment. More powerfully than any words, it shows how a parent provides an infant’s ability to literally hold themselves together. Separations beyond their ability to tolerate them threaten their very sense of existence.

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