Thank God we only need to get this parenting gig right 30% of the time. I was told this recently in a professional development course on trauma and infant attachment. During the first 20 minutes of the session, I was sweating it, hearing all about what being ignored as a baby does to your brain development. I was thinking of all the times when the twins were very very little, and they’d cry at the same time. I was only able to comfort one at a time, seeing as how I’ve not got 4 arms and all. Or the time when poor twin two fell down the stairs head first and all I could do was watch as I was carrying the other one at the time. Or the many times when I was so physically and emotionally over it that yes, I did ignore them and let ’em cry it out. I thought many times during those months what is this doing to them? How do twins even survive to be fully functional human beings? Catastrophising as I am wont to do at times. But then the presenter uttered the magic words. In the absence of trauma and neglect, with a stable base, parents only need to get it right 30% of the time. Whew.
At the same course I learned something that floored me. If a child does not use his eyes by the time he is 4 months old, he will never see. There will be nothing wrong with his eyes, but he will have missed the chance to develop the pathways in the brain he needs to have sight. Likewise, if by the age of between 9 and 18 months a child does not learn that he has a safe, secure, soft place to fall, the damage can be close to irreparable. I’ve seen the end result of that damage from the pointy end of highly disordered attachment. It’s pretty devastating and if you’re into bang for your tax paying buck, the cost to society is enormous. These kids grow up to be school refusing, impulsive, risk takers. They are the road rage guy. The kids your kids are scared of at school. The chronic shoplifter. The woman who can’t hold down a job. The violent husband. And worse. Much worse.
If we could just catch these kids while they are still in utero. If we could just keep their mothers safe. Safe, healthy and stress free. If we could just teach her about how her little baby’s brain is developing and why smiling at him, touching his soft skin and making silly noises at him is so important. If only more of us understood why a baby needs to go to bed fully able to trust that his little world is going to be just the same in the morning when he wakes up. If only we could teach as much as we need to, support as much as we need to in those first few years of life. If only we could catch them all in time. Imagine.