We have a new baby in our family. Before you get too excited, you should know that it’s not my baby. This baby belongs to my daughter and her husband and is grandchild #10 for us – not counting fosters, steps, and those whose existence is unknown to me. I know that sounds a little weird. However, in our world, sometimes we have to accept the weird.
Let me explain how it works. Many of our grown kids suffer with mental illness. This is most likely the result of early trauma in their lives. Some do not believe they have these struggles, so refuse to medicate. Others choose to self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs. And some, even though they have received medication designed to help, have not found the proper mix of medications to control their symptoms. It’s sad.
As they go forward with their lives, they find that being an adult is hard. Life can be hard for all of us, but for people who struggle with mental illness, it can be almost impossible. Many of my adult children have either walked away from their own kids or had them taken away by the authorities. Of my adult children, only one has partial custody of her children. The others do not. Two are in the custody of the state in Florida. Two live with their father over 1000 miles away. One lives with her mother a few hours from us. She promises to stay in touch, but never follows through with her promises. One used to live with us every other week but has now moved with his mother and new step father to New York. And, three are with their mother part time and with their father the rest.
We don’t get to see any of them very often and some we’ve never met in person. We’ve been told there may be one more who died as a small child, but we can’t find any record of her birth or death, so she may be the manifestation of a mentally ill mind. It’s definitely not the life I imagined when I became a parent. I was naive about the impact mental illness could have on our family. I’ve had to rethink what it means to be a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, and even great-great-grandparent.
And, every time a new baby arrives in our family, I think about all of this. I think about how horrible it is for people to abuse little children to the point that they become detached and fearful. I think about how blessed we are to be trusted with these little lives. I think about the wonderful things they will add to our family. And, I think about some of the old wife’s tales that can contribute to some of this problem.
While in the hospital, one of the nurses told her to let the baby cry it out and learn to self-soothe. I’m sure you’ve heard that advice. I know I have. But, let me tell you my fear with that. Too many people take that kind of advice to heart. Babies whose needs are not met by the caregivers can turn into children with attachment disorders. Babies aren’t supposed to self-soothe. They aren’t supposed to take care of themselves. Babies are supposed to be coddled and spoiled. Babies are supposed to learn that if they cry, someone will come take care of them. That’s how they learn to attach to their parents.
Many of my children were neglected. They were left to take care of themselves – to self-soothe. So, they did. They learned to take care of themselves. Their tiny little brains re-wired so that they learned they couldn’t count on their parents or other adults. They learned to reject anyone who attempted to care for them because it was all a lie. They were to take care of their own needs. And, they grew up into people who just can’t be in a healthy relationship with other people because their brains aren’t wired to work that way.
Love isn’t enough to fix these brains. These are people who grow up to struggle with adult relationships. These are people who grow up to struggle with relationships with their children. These are people who grow into adults who hurt.
The only time this can be truly fixed is in infancy and early childhood. So, spoil those babies. Hold them as often as they need you to do so. Show them that you are there for them, especially when they cry. It’s when they are crying that they need you the most. And know, in this way, you can help them become happier, healthier, more loving adults.
- Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, 2 biological kids, Guardian of one adorable toddler, and has been the foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She has worked with kids in the foster care system for over two decades, actively advocating for all kids, but especially those in the LGBT community. And, in her spare time, she can be found preaching in some of our area’s most LGBT-friendly churches. Feel free to send your parenting questions to her at Pastor.Kelly@comcast.net.