Instagram Live with Dr. Levita D’souza
I had a riveting conversation with Counselling Psychologist and Researcher, Dr Levita D’Souza, on Instagram Live, where we talked about attachment theory, attachment styles, how our own childhood experiences affect our parenting choices, ruptures and repairs in the bonding process with our babies and children, how parentj g is an opportunity for personal growth and much more!
Unfortunately, there were some disturbances in the audio. So that Levita’s amazing insights don’t get lost, I am sharing a transcript for the conversation here. Do read through until the very end so that you don’t miss some transformative truth bombs!
How our childhood experiences and attachment styles affect our parenting choices.
Himani: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining in for this live with Levita D’Souza. I’m super excited because every conversation I have with Levita is just full of these truth bombs that she tends to drop.
Levita is a Registered Counseling Psychologist and Lecturer within the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests are in the area of perinatal psychology, adverse childhood experiences and its impact on attachment patterns and subsequent parenting practices. Within this space, her current research projects are looking at psychological factors affecting first-time fathers as they transition to fatherhood and father-child bonding. She’s also undertaking research on cultural influences on parenting choices in relation to infant sleep. So that’s really where Levita and I have had many conversations – where infant sleep is concerned. And, as an Indian living in a sort of industrialized, westernized – “westernized”, not “Western” – country, I’m sure you’ve faced this dichotomy and perhaps that was one of the factors that drew you towards this research. So, could you tell us a little bit about your journey and what drew you to your current work?
Levita: Yes, I think my journey first started with my quest and questioning around mental illness. Why people are mentally ill; if it runs in families, does it mean I’m doomed; does it mean that we cannot do things differently. And that led to my early work in my early study working with families where there has been mental illness. And what I found was that some outcomes were much better than others. So, for some patients, the outcomes were much better than others. And the same sort of thing was replicated when I was working with children who had experienced trauma. You know, crap happens to everyone. But some children were better able to deal with the trauma and overcome it or manage their symptoms compared to others. And what I could see clearly was those early sorts of parenting experiences. And it wasn’t till I became a mum myself and I started to question why – who am I as a mother? What kind of a mother do I want to be? What from my own parenting experiences do I want to bring into how I parent my child? What do I not want? – that I started to really dabble in this thing of attachment theory and how that can influence – those really early experiences can influence – later outcomes for children. And so then I’ve landed in this space where, very crudely, I say “how not to be a jerk of a parent”. That’s what the transition to parenthood is. What influences us, what will help us be better parents? What do we draw on? What do we not draw on? What do we want to leave behind? And attachment, I think plays a big role in that.
Himani: So, you know, just for some of us and the uninitiated and the layperson, the lay parent rather, could you very simply explain attachment theory – what you spend years teaching your students – in about two minutes?
Levita: I’ll try. I will try. I was reflecting on this and going, “can I reliably do it?” But I’m going to try this. So, very simply…
Himani: You can take ten minutes. I’m joking about the two minutes.
Levita: Thank you! Much appreciated (laughter). So, very simply, it’s like a bond. It’s a bond that exists between the baby and the caregiver. For the purpose of this talk, I will interchange between “caregiver” and “mother” but I want to absolutely acknowledge that families come in all forms and so it can be the father, it can be the grandmother, or any caregiver who is consistent, who is reliable, who is dependable, who is sensitive, and who is able to attune to the baby in a timely sort of way. And so, what is attachment? It’s a bond between the baby and the caregiver. Why does it exist? It exists purely and solely for the purpose of survival. So, when the baby is born, the baby is born with a system, what we call a “bio-behavioural system”, which it uses to cue the parent that they need things, to meet their needs. So, let’s take an example, here’s a little baby. They experience hunger, and they experience hunger on a very physiological level, right, it’s a biological behaviour. That hunger puts the baby’s system in chaos. It experiences pain. The baby doesn’t immediately cry. What the baby might do earlier to cue the parent would be root, stick their tongue out, put their hand to their mouth, and these are, sort of, very early signs where the baby is cuing in the caregiver to say, “Mamma, look at me, I have a need, I’m expressing this, attune to me, meet my need, make me feel good.” When the baby does that, the mother goes, “oh, you’re hungry! You want me to pick you up, let me feed you.” When the mother meets that need, the baby’s system – that had started to be in chaos because of the hunger – returns to this really calm, nice, happy place. Mum feels good because baby has stopped crying; baby feels good because baby’s needs have been met. And, in that interaction, really, what has happened is that the baby has learned 3 things: 1) I am very capable of expressing my needs, which must mean my needs are important; 2) Others – are very reliable, you know, because I can express my need and they can meet it; it must mean others are safe to be around; and 3) the world is an amazing place to be because…imagine being in relationships with everyone who can meet my needs. And, so, these three concepts of how I think about myself, how I think about others and how I think about myself in relation with others is what we call an “internal working model”. It’s a script about all our attachment relationships that we then take with us through life. So, it’s not one interaction, now, this is thousands of interactions, through the day and through the child’s lifetime, that will be fed into this internal working model about what attachment relationships are – very, very simply. The element here, unfortunately, is what mum does when she sees her baby express a need. To work out what that need is, mum needs to – what we call – “attune” to the baby. So, baby cries, mum listens to the cry and goes, “I now need to do something about this. I’m moved to respond, to make that cry go away.” That’s attunement, where I’m stepping into the baby’s experience and I’m really trying to work out what’s going on with the baby here. Now, sometimes, I cannot attune, for whatever reason. Sometimes, I may mis-attune, which means I may misread baby’s cues, or sometimes I simply cannot respond, I’m on the toilet, baby’s crying but I cannot respond right away. We call that a “rupture”. What a rupture is is a “mini break” in the relationship temporarily, where baby is signaling but mum is not able to respond. Ruptures are not bad, if there’s repair. Mum finishes what she’s doing on the phone and goes, “I am so sorry! You were really calling out to me there and I couldn’t respond to you! Come, let me pick you up, let me try to meet that need. The baby escalates a bit but as soon as mum starts to respond again, the baby de-escalates. And so the rupture and repair, rupture and repair, through the numerous interactions mum and baby have is what’s strengthening that mum and baby bond. So, very simply, that’s what’s happening in the relationship. Now, there are styles of attachment. So, what we’re calling attachment styles now is how frequently and how reliably parents can meet some needs and not others. So, the “securely attached” style is when baby’s needs are met on two levels: one is, are you going to be around for me to safely explore? So, if I’m out in the world and I turn around and come back to you, are you going to be there? So, is mum supporting baby’s need for exploration? Or, secondly, when I go out in the world and the world is a scary place or I get hurt or I get sick or something worries me, are you going to be there when I come back? Can you be my safe haven? So, a securely attached relationship is where mum can balance the baby’s need for exploration and the baby’s need for comfort, where baby goes out to explore and baby comes back for comfort. When baby’s going out – and it can be seen in newborn infants as well…they will look at you when they want to engage you and they’ll coo and they’ll smile and they’ll, you know, give you eye contact, and then suddenly they’ll look away – what a securely attached mum might do in those circumstances is: wait. Wait for baby to come back. And then, when baby’s done and goes “I’ve had enough of you now, I need to look away” and then baby comes back and mum goes, “oh, yeah, you’re back! I’m here. We can play again, we can engage again.” Sometimes, mum might look away, right, because mum’s doing something else and baby will escalate, and go, “hey, look!”, will cry, will grimace, will grunt, in an effort to bring mum back. And, so, there are these multiple ruptures and repairs, this little dance that happens between mums and babies, and a securely attached mum can do both – let the baby go out, let the baby come in. Then, you have the “anxiously attached”. So, there are 3 types of “insecure attachment” – one is the “anxious attachment”, where, these are the inconsistent caregivers, so, sometimes they’re doing it, they’re available and, sometimes, they’re not. So, baby, then, really has to amplify needs because they don’t know reliably whether mum’s going to come back or not. So, it seems like they’re clingy, seems like they’re seeking more proximity but what it is is that they’re too worried to go out and explore. These mums are better at keeping the baby close but not very good at letting them go out. “Avoidants” are the ones that are quite happy to let them go out. “I want you to be independent, you need to be out there, you can do what you want”. Are not very good when the baby comes in. And then there’s your “disorganized”, which is usually when there’s very traumatic experiences and so the baby is sort of in a “freeze” state, where they don’t know whether to go out, they don’t know whether to come in, it’s quite complicated.
Himani: Right. And in your experience – I don’t know if there’s any data around this but, in your experience – are all four equally common or are there cultural differences in this or are some very, very rare and only found in cases of, say, deep trauma or something like that?
Levita: So, there is research around this. And, again, I have to be very mindful here because the research that is conducted is done in a western setting. So, generally, between 60-70% of the population tends to be securely attached. And then there’s like 20%, and then 20%, and then 10%. So, that’s the breakdown of how many. Now, the disorganized ones, that’s the one where there’s deep trauma, they are the ones that we are likely to have more presenting mental health issues. It can still happen with your other insecurely attached ones but it’s a little organized structurally. We have the organization being secure, the organization being avoidant, and the organization of attachment being anxious. That the mums are predictably unpredictable in certain ways. Like, the anxious mums are predictably unpredictable when the baby goes out. Whereas the avoidant ones are predictable in that they don’t like intimacy too much. So, the baby organizes their attachment to them, based on what those trends are. The disorganized ones are the unpredictable ones, where the baby doesn’t know what to expect. You know, one time they may be hit, the other time they may be yelled at, sometimes they are comforted, at other times they are not. Those disorganized ones are the ones where we see a lot of mental illness and trauma and things like that.
Himani: Right. Practically speaking, what are the kinds of experiences in infancy that positively impact our adult lives? I mean, with regard to attachment theory, but even beyond that.
Levita: Yeah, I think it’s a great question because, you see, our infants are born quite a dependent.
Levita: While we are mammals, unlike the giraffe mammal or the cow mammal, where the baby is born and then walks off, our human infants are born very immature. So, what our human mammals need is this predictable, secure, very proximal care for extended periods of time in a safe and reliable way, to learn that the world is safe but also to become independent. So, you’ll often hear terms like “co-dependence” and “co-regulation” – these are really being thrown around a lot more recently. So, our children are learning to be independent through dependence. And so the kind of experiences for infants, where they can be allowed to be dependent with a safe, secure, predictable caregiver is what will have an impact on the baby for later on, because they transfer those scripts they have about their relationships to their peers, to their teachers, and the world in general.
Himani: Right. There is also a lot of conversation now about how human beings are dependent, whether we like it or not, and if they’re not going to be dependent on the parent or the primary caregiver, they’re going to be dependent on someone or something else. And that is where, you know, the trouble can start. Like there can be an excessive orientation towards peers or dependence later on, you know, on substances or something like that because not having your needs or your need for co-dependence met by a parent means that you’re going to look for it somewhere else. What are your thoughts on that?
Levita: I agree. I absolutely agree. Because you know how we talked about this notion of a secure base and a safe haven, right? So, the caregiver functions in a secure base from which the baby – the child – can go out and explore and then come back in to the safe haven. As adults, we internalize that notion and have a template in our minds of what this is. If we don’t have that reliable template, we then seek that elsewhere. So we’re still looking for those calming, those warm, fuzzy experiences but we may find that in either adaptive ways or maladaptive ways. So, if I’ve had an experience of a caregiver who is warm and fuzzy and predictable and loving and comforting, I might call a friend when I’m stressed, I might take a warm bath when I’m stressed, to replicate those sort of experiences of physiological calming. But the same effect can be given to someone who is using or abusing drugs, for example. So, you can also have these sort of maladaptive ways of recreating those comforting experiences based on how you’ve been parented.
Himani: Right. So, I think this sort of preoccupation with independence is something that one needs to – parents would need to – introspect on and figure out because there is this preoccupation with “I want my baby to be independent, I want to remove my baby’s dependency on me, or I want my toddler to go independently to… I mean, I want to start school early or I want to send my child to daycare, etc, because I want my child to be “independent”, right? But there’s a sort of fundamental misunderstanding here, I think, about what dependence is and what independence is. Right?
Levita: Yes, yes. I think I want to start by saying that I don’t think daycare is bad, okay, and I know that there are absolutely reasons that children need to go to daycare because, you know, mums need to go back to work, and dads need to go back to work. But the notion of “independence”, for a child who is born dependent, for a human mammal who is born dependent, the idea is so contradictory. Independence from what, is what I usually ask. Do you want your baby to learn that the world is not dependable, is that what you’re saying? Because, for the first three years of a child’s life, they don’t need to socialize, they really don’t. It’s not until a child is 4 or 5 that they start going towards their peers. Even a 3 year old is playing beside their peers, they’re not playing with each other. And, so, this notion of…”you have to be”…I think what the parents are saying is that “I don’t want my child to rely on me” but I’m not sure how helpful that is, given that babies are born to rely on their caregivers.
Himani: Right. So, this concern that we as parents have…I think all of us have it to some extent, we’re all learning, we’re all trying to figure out this dance between making our babies and children – I don’t know, these terms are so dicey, right – “self-reliant”? We’re trying to figure out how much support they need or how much we should scaffold them versus stifle them, etc. But our own attachment styles come into play here, right? So, as you were saying, if the mother’s attachment style is anxious or avoidant, then that’s going to transfer to the baby, right? So, how do the parents’ attachment styles impact how they parent their child?
Levita: I’m quite fascinated by the topic, really, because, you know, on one end it seems like doom and gloom, right, because, if I’m anxiously attached, does that mean I’m gonna have an anxiously attached child? Research would say “yes”, that you can actually predict the child’s attachment security when mum is pregnant. So, how mum thinks about her baby when she’s pregnant and the attachment style that’s part of her then remains stable when the child is 1 year old. So, it is transmitted, in that way. So, does that mean it’s all doom and gloom? No, because the reflective space or what we call the “reflective capacity of the parent”, to reflect on why they’re doing will also reflect on their child’s mind – in terms of what needs my child has of me – can mitigate some of those experiences. So, I’ll give you an example here of a family I’ve worked with, where the mother herself was abandoned quite frequently as a child. And I don’t mean physically abandoned, I mean emotionally abandoned, that the mother’s mother was just so busy that she really didn’t have time to emotionally be present for the child. So, what the child experienced was this deep sense of abandonment. “I can’t allow other people to meet my emotional needs for security and safety.” No problem with the physical needs of hunger and that sort of stuff. Now, this mum now becomes a mum, has her own baby, and every time the baby looks away – as babies do – or plays with the fingers or does her thing, possibly expressing her need for exploration, the mum perceives that as: “My baby is abandoning me. My baby needs to be there for me and I need to be there for my baby. So, if I’m not engaging my baby, I am abandoning her.” But what’s really being triggered is mum’s own experience of being abandoned. She’s doing things differently on a conscious level, where she’s going, “I constantly need to be there for my child, I’m never going to let them feel abandoned.” But, in doing so, she’s not really looking at the child anyway, she’s not looking at what the child is expressing. She’s parenting her child from her own experience of being abandoned and, so, when the baby is expressing their need for exploration, through looking away or wanting to be alone or playing with their fingers or whatever it is, mum goes, “no, she’s going to be abandoned, I’m abandoning her, I can’t do it, I can’t go to the toilet, because she will be abandoned. I can’t do that.” And, so, you can see how, on a conscious level, she’s doing things differently from her mum but, on an unconscious level, the baby is still not seen, just as she wasn’t seen. And that’s how it gets transferred again. It’s not the conscious stuff, it’s the unconscious stuff that we don’t know that’s being transmitted.
Himani: How does this attachment style – how does the parent’s attachment style – influence how they manage their infant’s sleep? Because that’s something that you are undertaking research on as well. There is this gamut of sleep practices, right? Ranging from bedsharing and breastsleeping to sleep training…okay, those are the two extremes, right, but let’s say there are all kinds of variations to this along the way – maybe just keeping the baby away in a cot or in a different room. So, what are some of the factors that determine the parenting choices that parents make, especially with regard to sleep? Because it’s such a fraught topic and there’s so much misunderstanding of how infant sleep actually works.
Levita: Umm… I don’t know if I can reliably answer that question because it’s such a fraught topic. And that’s why we’re doing research. When you think of an attachment relationship, it isn’t just about one behaviour. It’s a range of behaviours across the day. So, sleep practices are one element of so many other things a mother could be doing or a mother could be doing differently to repair any sort of rupture that could occur during sleep practices. Then you bring in culture and what culture tells you – what’s okay to do for your baby and what’s not okay to do for your baby. So, coming from a co-sleeping culture, for example, we can’t reliably say that a securely attached mum will co-sleep and an avoidant mum won’t co-sleep or an anxious mum won’t do it. Because all sorts of mums co-sleep and all sorts of mums don’t co-sleep. But I think when you talk about practices like sleep training and deliberately switching off responding to your child’s cry, there is an element – I don’t know what that is but I think there is an element that a certain type of parent would be more capable, I imagine, of switching off from their baby’s cry than another type. Because the cry is designed to make you respond to it. So, if you’re switching off from your baby’s cry, I think – and this is, again, my opinion – you’re switching off from something within yourself as well. And what that is – could be a whole range of things. Question me more. But I don’t think that I can reliably say that one mum would do it and one mum won’t.
Himani: Right. Also, as you said, I mean, 60% to 70% of the population is securely attached. So I think that it’s also very difficult to…I mean, it’s not like only 30% of the population is sleep training or not bed-sharing. So, I don’t think those parallels can be drawn. But it’s just interesting to look into some of these questions, right? Like, even if we move out of attachment theory and just talk about “what are the factors that drive parenting decisions”? Because one does see a sort of anxiety amongst parents where certain practices are concerned. So, for example, they will very clearly see that their child needs them but there will be anxiety around meeting that need. So is that cultural or is it linked to some psychological factors within the parent itself?
Levita: I’d be saying both. Because the culture, I think on a broader level, tells you what’s okay, what’s not okay and, so, you then start to develop a model of parenting, so to speak, based on what the culture tells you, based on what your family tells you, based on your own experience in life, so it’s an intricate link between these extrinsic sort of cultural factors and policies and your own internal expectations of what a good mother is or what you’ve been told of what a good mother is. And then, when there’s a discrepancy – you know, if I’m in a culture that’s endorsing co-sleeping and I feel okay with intimacy and being close to my baby and responding to my baby’s needs and keeping my baby close, there is a connection between my expectations and my models of parenting and my culture’s models of parenting – it makes it easier for me to respond to my baby’s needs. But if my culture’s telling me something that doesn’t fit with my…like, you should co-sleep, for example, but I can’t tolerate the intimacy, it’s too much. Like, I’ve heard mums say, “I can’t sleep if I’m sleeping with someone, I need my space” or “I don’t get very good sleep”, there is some element of some extended history. Having a baby kicking you in the spleen all the time is not very great but some mums are better able to tolerate it more because they can tolerate the intimacy more than others. So, when there is this mismatch between what my culture, my family, my extended extrinsic factors are telling me I need to do and what I think I should be doing, that’s when it can really impact how I deal with sleep, because it also impacts how I see myself as a mother, which my infant then picks up on and reacts.
Himani: This kind of ties it into my next question. So, attachment theory is different from attachment parenting. So, is it possible to have secure attachment without attachment parenting? Okay. I mean, I know the answer to that is “yes”. But I think the question really is: how much of an overlap is there? Because I think that there are also lots of…you know, attachment parenting in some ways has also got a bad rap. But, if you kind of just break it down…I was re-reading Laura Markham’s book for the hundredth time…and she talks about how you don’t need to think about it in terms of attachment parenting but, if you’re thinking about it as just being responsive to your baby, the fact of the matter is that, at least for the first year, if not the first three years, physical proximity is a basic need that the baby has. And so you don’t need to think about it in terms of attachment parenting or not attachment parenting but, if you’re actually being responsive and actually meeting your baby’s needs, there is a lot of physical contact and a lot of physical proximity. So, we can’t really escape that either, right? So, how would you say it’s possible to have that secure attachment while not belonging to the cult of attachment parenting?
Levita: I like your use of the word “cult”. Interestingly, part of my research is also looking at attachment parenting “experiences” – like what parents who identify as being attachment parents believe and what their experiences are. And, thankfully (or maybe not thankfully, I don’t know!), I haven’t spoken to the “cult-like” people. I’ve spoken to people who identify with wanting to be close to their children. Very simply, for those who don’t know “attachment parenting”, it’s a set of rules or practices where you breastfeed on demand, you have a natural birth and, you know, as much as possible, you facilitate the bond with your baby. Do you need to breastfeed to have a secure attachment? No. Can bottle-feeding mums have a secure attachment? Absolutely! Do you need to babywear your babies all the time? No. Because I’ve had one who would cry blue murder if I did so much as put her on the floor; the other one would cry murder if I kept her against me, so….(laughs). One had a stronger need for physical contact to regulate. The other one didn’t have that strong need for physical contact. Does that mean she doesn’t like physical contact? No, she just determines it on her terms, not on my terms. And so, the difference here is, do babies need physical contact? Absolutely,yes. But how much physical contact really depends on who that child is, what their temperament is, what they’re experiencing. I’m pretty sure my first was not separated from me for more than ten minutes at a time. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t. And I thought I broke her. I was like, “what have I done to you?” But then my second came along and I was the exact same mother and she went, “you so much as touch me when I say no and you watch it”. That was her. Just very different needs for physical proximity. So, rigidly following a practice without taking into consideration what need your baby is experiencing is not great for secure attachment. And so you have this other element with babies who are worn all the time – what if the baby wants to walk, what if the baby wants to explore, what if the baby is okay with being in the pram and looking around? You’ve got to make space for the baby’s state of mind, what baby’s saying. That facilitates a secure attachment. It’s great to have these practices which help you keep baby close, I think, so you can learn your baby’s cues, you can get to know your baby better, you can get confidence as a parent because you’re close enough to respond quickly. But does it have to be prescriptive? No.
Himani: You strongly believe that parenting is an opportunity for growth for the parent as well. Could you elaborate on this? What exactly does that mean?
Levita: Yes. So, when we are parented we are also socialized. We are socialized into the families we are born into, we are socialized into extended families, we are socialized into the culture. What that means is – based on what your family and extended family and culture – what their rules of good behaviour and bad behaviour are – will determine how your parents have parented you. Which means some parts of yourself flourish and other parts are silence. Take, for example, you know, “boys don’t cry”. When a boy was born in a family where the norm is “boys don’t cry”, very quickly sensitivity is silenced. Expression of emotion is thwarted. “Good girls don’t express needs, they don’t express anger”. So, the parts of ourselves that we express to our families are the ones that will be reinforced and accepted, and we very quickly silence out the parts of ourselves that are not going to be accepted, that we know are not going to be expected. When we then become parents, we have this beautiful whole child. And they start expressing needs. But they trigger our unmet needs. So, if you have a child screaming or angry at you, but you’ve never learned how to safely express your anger, you start to silence the child, or you go, “I’m doing something wrong” or “I’m a terrible mother because my child is telling me that they’re angry at me”. But that’s not what the child is doing. Our own unmet need or not being able to manage our own unmet needs for anger expression are now being triggered. If we are able to step back in that dynamic with the child and go, “what’s being triggered here for me? Why is this creating such a strong response in me? What is my child really trying to say to me?” We can get in touch with parts of ourselves that were silenced through our own parenting and, in that way, grow. A great example I see is always when they say, “my 7-month-old is manipulating me”. And I go, “okay…your 7-month-old baby is manipulating you…how might that be the case?” “Their crying is manipulative, they just want attention and they’re manipulating me.” And I’m like, “okay…this 7-month-old can barely control their bodies. What you’re telling me is, through their crying, they are controlling your mind – adult mind – to respond in a way that the adult doesn’t want to. How? How, when they can barely control their own body?” But what the mum’s really saying is, “I’m not used to, I’m told, that expressing a need through crying is attention-seeking, it’s manipulative, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t happen.” And that gets projected on the brain. So, this mum’s projecting her own unmet needs onto this little baby who’s just saying, “hey, meet my needs.” When we’re able to create that reflective space, going “what’s my unmet need? What’s being triggered? Why do I feel like a cry is manipulative? What is not met in me?” It gives you space to meet that child where they’re at. And, in doing so, you don’t inadvertently project or silence your child but also you don’t inadvertently silence yourself.
Himani: Right. So, Levita, according to you, what is the best way for a parent to grow or to repair their own inner selves and their own experiences? So, let’s say that we do discover what triggers us or what our own experiences have been. What is the best way to deal with that? I mean, would you go so far as to say that some amount of self-work and therapy should be part and parcel of parenthood? Or what?
Levita: I strongly believe that some type of therapy is needed. Now, bringing back attachment theory, even with securely attached parent-child relationships, there are still going to be parts of us that are not great because they’re not perfect parents. They’re securely attached – they’re “good enough” parents. But, depending on the temperament of the child, there might still be hurt and anger and resentment and, you know, our children trigger back at us. And I think, one is, creating this reflective space to go “what’s going on with me over here?” but doing it with a safe adult, who is willing to see those parts of you and not run away – that can be a good friend, it can be journaling, it can be your partner. There’s a term for that called “earned security”, where we rework things in ourselves in relationship with a safe adult, who will help us repair some of these experiences that we’ve had early on. And therapy is a great thing.
Himani: Right. Well, now somebody is saying that you’re not audible, again. So, what I’m actually thinking is, as long as the recording is okay, I’m actually going to publish the transcript of this conversation on my blog so that, in case there is an audio issue, that’s another option for people to read. In that case, maybe we should wrap up. Now, I did have a couple more questions but maybe we can take those up on another day. I wanted to know more about the father-child bond. And, again, as you said, that might have to be a whole other live. And I also wanted to know about cultural differences in parenting practices. Your two main research areas. But, let’s see, we’ll connect and figure out how we can talk about that. But I’m going to do the transcript thing so that at least a lot of this really interesting stuff is accessible to parents because I know that the parents that I support and that I work with do struggle with these questions, the ones that are meeting the needs of their babies left, right and center and the ones that are not. But, I mean, there is this question around what drives us as parents. And why am I reacting this way? Or is it okay that I feel this way? There is also an anxiety around “am I damaging my child when I do this”? So, I think that one of the greatest takeaways from this conversation is really that we as parents need to look into what drives us and our own experiences. It isn’t just about what is driving the baby and it isn’t just about cultural practices. It’s also about our own inner experience and how we’re translating that, how we’re interpreting that, how we’re responding to that. And just, as you said, stepping away and recognizing that there’s something going on inside us as well, and that’s going to affect what we do with our baby or with our child. So just recognizing that is a huge step, right?
Levita: Absolutely. And I think when you’re able to recognize that for yourself, you allow yourself choice. You’re not just reacting, you’re responding to what is happening in front of you, and that is what is really important to strengthen that relationship with our child.
Himani: Thank you so much, Levita, for joining and for struggling through these tech issues with me. I know we’ve now completely overshot the time as well – the time that I’m sure you had put aside for this. Thank you for that. And this is going to be very, very helpful to parents. Honestly, there is no stigma around seeking help. I mean, that is so out. I mean, that’s not even a thought anymore. I think it needs to be as simple as – it’s not even like a health check-up because even that happens only if there is an issue or you do it once every year or once every three years. I would say that this is almost as basic as a salon visit.
Levita: It is! You know, what comes to my mind is religious practice. Like, you would go to church, you would go to temple, you would go to do something. It’s almost like a self-meditative, self-help activity to re-orient yourself a little bit in a more conscious way, in a more healthy way.
Himani: Right. And, in fact, our church pastors and our religious leaders and spiritual leaders were actually playing this role for centuries, and so were our elders and our larger community. But things have changed, and I guess that’s a topic for another day, but, if we have that support from a family member or from a friend, as you said, even just having that conversation can help to a large extent. But a professional, again, going to a professional doesn’t mean that there’s something seriously wrong or that you’re doing this very extreme thing. It can be considered very routine and just a part of your regular self-maintenance or just your regular life. And, as parents, we’re actually bearing such great responsibility and we’re under so much stress and pressure parenting in the times that we do. Honestly, again, as Laura Markham says – sorry, reading the book right now, so it’s all in my head (laughs) – she says that parenting is the toughest job in the world, right? And it is. And if you’re doing the toughest job in the world, then you need counseling for it.
Levita: You need help. You need help to do it well.
Himani: Yes, it is a job without any training.
Levita: That’s right. I see my therapy as my regular pilates class. I don’t say there’s something wrong with my body and that’s why I go to pilates. I do it because I want to stay healthy. And, for me, counselling is just that. It allows me to be a better professional, be a better parent. So, there you go.
Himani: Yeah, absolutely. Great. Thank you, Levita. This has been an absolute delight and pleasure and I’m really looking forward to putting this out there and also having the transcript out there and having many more of these whenever you can spare the time as we go along, just so that we can reach as wide an audience as possible and support parents where they need it.
Levita: I’d be delighted. Thanks for having me.