Time Well Spent is Time Spent in the Present, Offering True Connection
Some of my earliest and most profound memories of my father are of him simply looking at me. He worked a lot when I was young, and his one day off was in the middle of the week, so when I was home from school on weekends, he wasn’t there. The time we did spend together felt very connected. Mostly, he liked to make us laugh, and I vividly remember the way he would just be in the moment, moving his glasses down the bridge of his nose to get a better near-sighted look at his child. He would look me directly in the eye as if he was just taking it in. Perhaps it was the wonder of childhood he was in awe of, or the wild gift that parenting is. Maybe he was remembering the way his own father would look at him; or maybe the way he did not.
I’m not sure if I consciously noticed it then, but I was learning the power of being truly present as a way to express and receive love. Dr. Gary Chapman describes this as “Quality Time” in his book The Five Love Languages. Others describe it as being intentional, being mindful, surrendering to the moment. To this day I feel anxious in any relationship where I do not feel able to truly connect.
The way we are loved when we are very young shapes the way we respond to, and treat others, especially in romantic relationships. As parents, we must be mindful to this responsibility and grateful that it offers an opportunity to learn and heal in areas that we may feel we have been lacking in our own upbringing or even in cases of trauma. These experiences affect our brain and body chemistry in ways that determine mental, emotional and physical health or dis-ease.
Why is the Beginning of life so Influential?
We are born defenseless and vulnerable to our parents. Dependent upon them for everything from dna, food, learning self-care skills, all the way to love. Babies rely on their parents for guidance as their brains undergo enormous developments.
1. The rapid brain growth of infants, including social, emotional and cognitive evolution of such an impressionable organ, early on, depends on numerous factors.
- A healthy and loving bond with a parent or caregiver
- The environment the baby is in plays a large part in brain development. (Think parent involvement, nurture, affection, attention, etc.)”Regarding the bond or attachment relationship with a primary caregiver, there is increasing evidence from the fields of developmental psychology, neurobiology and animal epigenetic studies that neglect, parental inconsistency, and a lack of love can lead to long-term mental health problems as well as to reduced overall potential and happiness.”
- In this paper, the authors consider the evidence for this claim across several disciplines and conclude that the support of babies and their parents in the first 2 years of life to be a crucial
2. Epigenetics, known as the science of how our environment changes our genetic expression, is shining a light on just how important a baby’s primary caregiver’s role is. “Imagine if the hugs, lullabies, and smiles from parents could inoculate babies against heartbreak, adolescent angst, and even help them pass their exams decades later? Well, evidence from the new branch of science called epigenetics is reporting that this long-term emotional inoculation might be possible.” states the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- The experiences a baby has are essential to the early wiring of the brain, enabling millions of new connections to form. Connections still present into adulthood.
- Repeated interactions and communication lead to pathways being developed that help memories and relationships develop, allowing learning and logic to form, according to Dev Psychopathol. 2013 Nov; 25(4 Pt 2):1635-53. PubMed.
Outcomes on How Infant Bonding and Attachment Shape Adulthood
The security of the attachment bond between an infant and their primary caregiver is considered to be a necessary base of the early care-giving environment, and its direct impact on emotional regulation as adults. These early bonds build the foundation for socio-emotional development according to a research paper by Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1979. “Secure attachments, relative to insecure ones, appear to confer a range of developmental advantages, such as better peer relationships, fewer behavioral problems as adolescents, and lower rates of affective disorder.” All factors that stimulate healthy development from infancy into adulthood.
“Retrospective accounts by adults of exposure to early abuse and neglect suggest that structural changes may result, particularly in prefrontal and limbic regions involved in self-regulation of emotional responding, according to (Andersen & Teicher, 2008.
The most Invaluable Concept is Love
The new science of epigenetics is discovering more and more how not only our brains, but also our genes, are affected by the lives we live and the environment that surrounds us. For example, a study conducted by Champagne FA, Francis DD, Mar A, Meaney MJ showed that mice put in the care of loving mothers (who are attentive and lick them caringly) grow up to be better mothers themselves when they have pups. This effect is so strong that it can even stretch over 2 generations, with granddaughter mice being better mothers and able to cope with stress better, too; all because their grandmother took good care of their mother. These long-lasting benefits of good parenting in mice are dependent on chemical changes in the DNA of the mice.
These same staggering effects called ‘methylation changes’ on the brains of mice have also now been found in humans. During DNA methylation, the process in which gene activity is adjusted during early development, changes in gene activity can last for the remainder of the cell’s life. Studies on the brains of people who committed suicide, who were also abused as children, show similar chemical patterns as neglected mice.
Love is what our children need from us, and what we need to bond with our baby to shape them into adults. We are hardwired to connect with them intimately, and no matter how complex an infant’s brain is, or fast-growing those first couple of years, the primary factor to ensure continuous growth is love. Your Love. Your baby’s brain may be one of the most complicated tasks you will ever help develop, molding and forming neural-networks into a kind, well-adjusted, loving adult. But, it is also the most delightful and vulnerable encephalon you will ever be responsible for shaping. Experiences we have as children are not just flashes of memories that have transpired, they frame the work for what we use to develop our identity as adults, and as adults we have the mental capacity to reevaluate our experiences and make choices in how we respond to them.
Your Love is Your Child(ren)’s Gain
You are raising an adult and their early life experiences and environment coupled with their genetic makeup are centered around you. Your baby, your child has so much to gain as an adult from your early love.
Cradle the millions of connections taking place.
Most of all- Love them.
This understanding can also help us to do better when challenges arise in our adult relationships. It can help us shift from reactive to responsive. We can use it to initiate intimate and healing dialogue with those we love that result in not only emotional healing, but the far-reaching effects of health on the entire mind/body system.
Love is Medicine.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath.
She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program.
From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia though naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.