Lydia’s* earliest memories were of violent fights between her parents that ended when she was 7 years old when her father left the family. Her mother suffered from severe depression and was often unable to provide the consistent care and attention that Lydia needed. As a teenager, Lydia suffered from low self-esteem and got involved with alcohol and boys who tended to mistreat her.
At age 17 Lydia gave birth to a baby boy. When he was one month old Lydia was referred to CALM’s Infant-Parent Program by her family doctor. The young mother was distraught, resenting the baby’s constant demands and complaining that the baby was “selfish” and “greedy” for waking her up at night.
“She was so overwhelmed and angry at her baby,” said the CALM therapist. “I helped to normalize her feelings and provide education about postpartum adjustment and the mood swings that many mothers experience.” Lydia was distrustful at first but the caring, non-judgmental attitude of the CALM worker helped her to open up and talk about her new role as a parent. Like many parents who seek help at CALM, Lydia had unresolved issues from her own childhood that made it difficult for her to provide nurturing environment for her baby.
After a few months of home visiting Lydia was confident enough to join one of CALM’s infant-parent support groups. As Lydia became more accepting of herself and more confident as a parent she was able to respond to her baby’s emotional needs and develop more empathy for him, which in turn, created mutual joy in their relationship. “It is amazing to see how bonded they are now,” said the CALM therapist, “the protective factors are beginning to outweigh the risk factors for this young single mother and her baby.”
Alana* came to CALM’s treatment office at the Family Resource Center in Carpinteria looking for help renewing Medi-Cal coverage for her two children. The CALM staff walked her across the hall to Health Linkages, who worked successfully with her to complete a medical application. While speaking with CALM’s Great Beginnings staff, Alana divulged that she had had a troubled childhood: the oldest of 11 children, she quit school in third grade to help take care of her younger siblings. In order to escape her family, she married the first man who proposed to her and became pregnant at 21. Her partner was physically abusive and insisted she have an abortion; she refused to comply and he left her.
The daughter is now 3 years old and Alana is in a new relationship and has a new baby. She was very concerned about her new baby, who was constipated and cried after each feeding. When the home visitor inquired about the feeding history, he discovered that Alana had stopped breast feeding at 3 weeks because she feared her negative feelings towards the baby were coming through the breast milk and harming him. She had also mixed the formula incorrectly, adding too much powdered milk due to her anxiety about his lack of weight gain. The home visitor strongly recommended an immediate consultation with the pediatrician and gently told her that mixing the formula in this way could be the cause of the constipation.
Alana was encouraged by Great Beginnings staff to join the parents’ group “Abrienda Puertas” (“Opening Doors”). At the first meeting, staff observed that Alana had a flat affect and was not connecting with her baby, making very little eye contact. As Alana listened in the group meeting about developmental stages, she shared that her 3 year old did not like to sit quietly and was very active, always running and jumping, and that she thought her daughter was stupid and a trouble-maker. Staff performed the ASQ and saw that the child’s physical behavior was in the normal range for her age and that her problem-solving and communication were above normal.
This was very encouraging to Alana, who stated that her own father had always dismissed her, telling her that she was stupid and a trouble-maker. Now she realized that she was following the same pattern. Alana said she was very happy to learn that she could change her behavior and feels very motivated to do so. Now when Alana comes to the group, the facilitators notice a change – her affect is no longer flat, she makes eye contact with her baby and kisses him and laughs with him. Alana says she wishes she had learned earlier what she learned from Abrienda Puertas and is resolved to change her ways of treating her children to become less negative, and more supportive.
During assessment sessions, the mother revealed that the pregnancy was unwanted and unplanned and that her marriage was in crisis at the time. The pregnancy was normal but the mother struggled emotionally and experienced high levels of depression, post-partum stress and inability to with her son. Chris was a hyper-active, difficult baby, constantly crying, which compounded the mother’s attachment issues and caused her to be angry with him. Since then, the marriage has stabilized, but Chris’ mother continued to punish him physically, and made emotionally abusive threats such as “When you do that, it makes me hate you.”
During the intake process at CALM, the child presented angry, defiant behavior and depression. He made statements such as, “I want to die. My mom doesn’t love me.” To address these behavioral and attachment issues PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy ) was recommended to this family.
The child clearly suffered from low self esteem and anger as a result of his mother’s inability to attach, as well as her lack of skills in managing her child’s behavioral issues. PCIT treatment helped the child feel more secure in his relationship with his mother and taught him to be more compliant with her directives. Mother was taught PRIDE skills and how to give commands and ask him to obey without violence.
After 9 months, Chris’ behavior has improved; he no longer suffers from depression, is less aggressive and has learned to obey his mother. Mother is very happy and proud to feel that she has learned positive parenting tools and is confident she can raise her son in a safe and supportive environment.
* Client names changed for confidentiality