The Ever Expanding Parental Alienation Theory: Amy J. Baker's Research Revisited

By the awesoeme Randi James

As previously discussed by F. Bessette, Amy Baker's participants were mainly recruited via internet advertisements:

Nothing wrong with this method. However, the wording could lead to a biased selection:

1. She introduces herself as a research psychologist, versus a researcher.

2. The word manipulated is loaded. How does she define it or how do her participants define it?

3. The word alienated is loaded. How does she define it or how do her participants define it?

And so what kind of people responded to her ads? Who was represented? Baker gives us some information in her research entitled, Patterns of Parental Alienation Syndrome: A

Qualitative Study of Adults Who were Alienated from a Parent as a Child.

40 participants were utilized (a large sample size for a qualitative study)

The age range was from 19 to 67 years old (keep in mind that they are reflecting on their childhood.

37.24 was the average age for women and

42.73 for men

in rounding ages mode=40

just some maybe useless information!!)

15 men and 25 women (interesting gender distribution)

29 of the participants reported that their parents divorced during their childhood. (This ranged from from birth to age 13, with an average of 5.76 years and a mode of 2. What about the other 11 participants? )

34 cases in which the mother was the alienator

6 cases= father

**There is no information about the parents'/children's economic status [pre-divorce, post-divorce] which may give us information on class issues. There is no racial or ethnic information which may give us some background on cultural issues.**

Baker's goal #1:

to determine whether there were people who identified themselves as having been alienated from one parent due to the other parent’s actions and attitudes.

She notes:

Although these data do not provide any benchmark for determining the actual prevalence of the phenomenon in the general population, they do provide evidence that there are people who believe that they have had this experience.

There are also people who believe they were raped, impregnated, and abducted by aliens. There are people who believe Tupac Shakur and/or Elvis Presley are still alive. There were people who thought the world would end in 2000. All of their evidence says/said so. What mattered in this study was not there was something called parental alienation, but people's beliefs about their recollections. This study did not involve proving anything. It was exploratory in nature.

Baker's goal #2:

to determine whether there were different types of parental alienation experiences or whether they all followed the same general outline.

So she might be trying to expand on the previous literature. Innovative.

This is what Baker found:


all portrayed their mother as self-centered, demanding a high degree of attention and admiration, and not able to see them as separate individuals...a woman who was charming, dynamic, and preoccupied with having her own needs met rather than meeting the needs of her children.

Picture portrayed does not necessarily equal reality. A mother (or any parent) more concerned with her own needs against her children's own best interest would essentially be neglecting her children. In what ways did the participants in Baker's research describe the children being neglected--emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually? Each is very different.

it can be surmised that these narcissistic mothers cultivated an emotionally enmeshed relationship with the participants when they were young children that appeared to serve their own need for love and admiration rather than to promote the emotional health and growth of the participants.

Enmeshed is an overused word--heavily saturated in psychological literature--that tries to malign the relationship between mothers and their children. The opposite of enmeshment is detachment, which is also pathological according to psych theory (yes, these are theories, not laws). It is easy for strangers and those without a vested interest in the relationship to pathologize other people's family dynamics. Perhaps it would serve psych researchers better if they were to performethnographic studies--become a part of the family and observe--in order to determine how what has been classified as maladjustment may serve to benefit the family in various situations.

Baker goes on to say:

Maternal narcissism appeared to fuel the alienation in at least three ways. First, despite the powerful personality presented to the world, narcissists tend to feel empty inside and easily become enraged at the first sign of humiliation or abandonment (Masterson, 1981). Therefore, it is quite likely that the end of the marriage triggered in these women feelings of shame and rage that became directed towards the husband.

Pure speculation. (Then again, who ever said what was presented in research was fact?) If the marriage's end was a result of the husband's actions, is that shame and rage unwarranted? Could we also not apply the same humiliation or abandonmentand/or shame and rage to the father because he now realizes the extent of his actions? Could the father be the narcissist?

This is certainly consistent with the fact that the participants recalled a steady stream of badmouthing about the absent father following the divorce. These men were referred to as cheaters, gamblers, rapists, alcoholics, and abusers in front of the participants.

This is almost laughable (not at the children's pain though). Might we want to consider that these fathers were in fact the names that were used, or that the behaviors they exhibited matched these names? No. This research wasn't supposed to verify or dispute this. The focus is on the mother's actions, rendering the father's potential behaviors as invisible. And who gets to decide what a mother should or should not tell her child or what is or is not age appropriate? Psychologists?

Thus, the alienation may have been partly motivated by revenge, as if the mothers were saying, “If you don’t want me you can’t have the children.”

Speculation. What if the mother was saying, "Your display of character has caused such a disturbance and is evidence of your utter disregard for the children."

A second underlying motivation of the alienation fueled by the mothers’ narcissism appears to be anger towards the children that they wanted to have a relationship with the father even though he had rejected the mother. This is consistent with the fact that narcissists generally have a hard time understanding that others (including if not especially their children) have separate feelings and experiences of the world (Kernberg, 1976). For the narcissist, if she is angry with someone, the children should be as well.

Was the mother angry because the father rejected her or because the father abusedher [or the children]? Big difference. How would we know, decades later? If a mother is not to speak of the father being a drunk or cheater, is she supposed to speak of him being physically or sexually abusive? And if so, when should that information be divulged? On the other hand, if the father is the narcissist, wouldn't he have a hard time understanding that others (including his children and maybe his ex-wife) have separate feelings and experiences of the world? How might he display that narcissism? (hint: by claiming parental alienation)

Third, the narcissistic mothers might have felt especially alone and fragile following the divorce and might have relied more on their children for comfort, companionship, and reassurance than before. Seen in this light, the time the children spent with the father under these circumstances would have been experienced as a profound loss. Many narcissists do not know how to be alone, as they need an audience to make them feel real and to reassure them of their grandiosity (Golumb,1992).

Speculation with misogynistic undertones. This particularly pathologizes mothers who do not re-couple after divorce and choose to focus on [rebuilding] the relationship between her and her children (which is vital if they were previously subjected to abuse). And then, as I previously stated, would the same thing apply to the father if he is indeed the narcissist (doesn't know how to be alone and thus re-partners quickly, garners support from his parents, then decides to take interest in kids now that he has an audience)?

Moving on,


There were 8 cases in which "parental alienation" was displayed in an intact family--no divorce, no custody battle--the parents and children lived in one household. I have asked this question repeatedly--Does parental alienation occur in intact families?-- and I have stated that these so-called alienating behaviors occur in "regular" households (see Parental Alienation in "High Conflict" Divorce: Questions We Must Ask). According to Richard Gardner, founder of parental alienation theory, this isn't parental alienation. According to Baker, it was like this:

The primary technique entailed confiding in the child about the inadequacies and failings of the father.

Confiding implies that it was some sort of secret between the mother and child. Was this the case?

Much of what was shared with the participants about the father was designed to make them feel anger or resentment toward him and protective of the mother, furthering the alienation.

Is this a fact or opinion and how can we know? How do we know that the child did not carry these feelings on his/her own and look to the mother for mutual support?

It is also possible that the mother was not able to maintain an adult relationship in which emotional honesty and compromise would be necessary. Perhaps these mothers turned to their children because having the unquestioning adoration of a child was more satisfying and less demanding than a mature relationship with another adult.

Horrible speculation. Furthermore, how does one carry out a mature relationship with an alcoholic or cheater? The emotionally dishonest person would be the one with the negative behaviors that are ruining the family, not the person who cannot communicate with him.


According to Richard Gardner, if there is bona fide abuse, there is no parental alienation (although with Gardner's encouragement of sexual relations between fathers and their children, his categorizations are questionable). According to Baker, it was like this:

Rather than a “fabulously close” or “excellent” relationship, as the participants in pattern 1 and 2 described having with their mothers, the participants in pattern families were physically, verbally, and/or sexually abused by the alienating parent. Sixteen cases fit this pattern, three in intact families and 13 in divorced families.

That is 45% of the divorced family participants and 27% of the intact family participants fitting into this category. And these are people who elected to reveal this information.

In half the families the alienating parent was alcoholic in addition to being physically, emotionally, sexually, and/or verbally abusive and in five cases the father was the alienating parent.

That is out of 40 families, 20 of them had alcohol abuse issues on top of other abuses. And out of the total of 6 cases in which the father was considered the alienator, 5 were physically, emotionally, sexually, and/or verbally abusive (83%) (I'm unsure whether I am interpreting Baker's statement correctly as it is rather unclear).

The alienation occurred not through the alienating parent winning the child over through charm and persuasion, but through a campaign of fear, pain, and denigration of the targeted parent.

This is what has been described as Domestic Violence by Proxy or Stockholm syndrome. Interesting, Baker didn't offer these terms as possibilities however she chooses to repeatedly align mothers with cults throughout this research, and then, makes this statement:

Thus, parental alienation syndrome can take different forms.

because her (and others PAS theorists) ultimate goal is the expand the definition of what constitutes parental alienation syndrome/disorder. And she doesn't try to hide her m.o.:

Narcissistic mothers as alienators may present different clinical opportunities than alcoholic physically abusive fathers. The first scenario is the one commonly envisioned and described when parental alienation syndrome is discussed (Gardner, 1992). However the field needs to recognize that there is more than one type of parental alienation syndrome

...it appears that it may be time to broaden our understanding of parental alienation syndrome..

She also notes:

...alcoholism, maltreatment, and personality disorders co-occurred

in most of the cases included in this study.

And yet it appears that the focus is still parental alienation; therefore, it is a mask, a distraction from dealing with the real problems inherent in the select families in which PAS is said to exist.

And here Baker gets down to the nitty gritty of this research where she fills in the gaps with the true motivations for PAS theorists:

Second, determination of personality disorders should be taken into account when devising methods for overseeing visitation schedules since such individuals are not likely to comply with court orders. People with narcissistic personality disorders tend to be arrogant and, therefore, are likely to devalue authority figures and emphasize their own ability to make judgments and decisions (e.g., Golumb, 1992; Hotchkiss, 2002). Without real teeth in a visitation or shared parenting order, it is not likely that such a person will comply. The legal system has developed measures for tracking and enforcing payment of child support; it is now time for methods of ensuring compliance with visitation to be developed as well.

Personality disorders, Visitation enforcement, and Shared parenting all thrown together on the backdrop of child support. No surprises here. Amy Baker appears to be advocating for punishment in suspected (or assumed) cases of parental alienation.

A second notable finding from this study is that parental alienation can occur in intact families. The majority of the attention to parental alienation syndrome has emerged from the legal system in response to problems dealing with high conflict divorces, custody disputes, and false and real allegations of parental alienation (Darnall, 1998; Warshak, 2001). To date,there has been minimal if any attention to the fact that parental alienation can occur outside of the legal system.

Third, alienation occurred in some of these families that were not involved in post-divorce litigation. Again, the typical parental alienation scenario discussed in the field is that of a family involved in intense and chronic legal conflicts around custody and visitation (Gardner, 1998). This was not always the case.

These findings are not notable. And it leaves a major question unanswered: If PAS occurs in intact and non-litigating households then what would be the likelihood that this occurs in a significant amount of otherhouseholds? The greater the likelihood, the less pathological it would be. Maybe it is a natural phenomenon.

...one of the participants who did not fall into the three patterns reported that the alienating parent was the non-custodial father.

But Baker would prefers to explain it like this:

Despite the fact that the targeted parent lived in the same household, the participants rejected them, avoided them, denigrated them (in their hearts and mind) and essentially lost out on the experience of having a healthy rewarding relationship with that other parent.

See Parental Alienation and Loving Relationships: Questions We Must Ask

And Baker would like to get everyone involved:

Likewise, teachers, social workers and other mental health professionals who come into contact with parents and children should become versed in the patterns of parental alienation syndrome and the strategies parents use so that they can identify them when they are present.

Will they be mandated to report it just like other child abuse suspicion? Will Social Services or Child Protective Services get involved? Will this lead all other families into court and into protracted litigation? Will every family get a third person embedded into their family life..aka Parent Coordinator or other Court Whores? And at whose expense--the parents or the government?

Fourth, the parents who were the target of the alienation appeared to play a role in their own alienation. In some cases these parents were passive and uninvolved (even when living in the same household) and did not work particularly diligently to establish and or maintain a positive and meaningful relationship with their own children. Many did not write letters or make phone calls to their children during periods of non-visitation, they did not attend school events and sporting competitions, they did not follow through on planned visitations, and in some respects appeared to be casual about their relationships with their children.

So, is this considered parental alienation, too? Who is the alienator?

Baker adds:

...it must be noted that these reports were made by the adult children, and because they were children at the time of the alienation, they may not know everything that the targeted parents did or tried to do for them...

without mentioning that this same disclaimer (delimitation?) can be applied to the knowledge the children/adults may NOT have about why the mother behaved as she did.

The final finding that emerged from a review of these cases is that the alienation was not always completely internalized.

And so, by according to Richard Gardner, this would NOT be parental alienation either.

This marks the end of Amy J. Baker's research. In this study, she never defined what parental alienation meant. She interviewed the participants herself and didn't specify whether she personally analyzed the data for content/themes, or not. These things matter.

Baker tries parallel the concept with cultism, and explains that PAS isn't in the DSM, similar to other syndromes that took time to get it in. A similarly appropriate parallel would be to the former catchall diagnosis of female hysteria...which then went to be called somatization disorder and then conversion disorder. The field of psychology operates in this wish-washy manner because it is based on "theory" (opinion).

Another important thing to keep in mind is the demographic data provided at the beginning of Baker's study. Go back and re-read it above...........

In the study, Baker states:

Section two focused on memories of the marriage, the participant’s relationship to each parent until the time of the separation/divorce,how the participant was told about the separation, who moved out of the house and a description of the custody/visitation schedule through age 18.

I have provided you with enough information and emphases throughout this post to let you put this together on your own.


In performing a study in this manner, Amy Baker tried to expand the definition of parental alienation syndrome by using people's beliefs so that the the people could define parental alienation as it meant to them:

the interview aimed to understand in a focused way the subject’s every day life world as it related to parental alienation and the meaning of the alienation for them

This is a magnificent selling point to society at large. PAS theorists have struggled with trying to separate from Richard Gardner not only because his definition was limited (to "high conflict" divorce with mothers as the main alienators), but because of his pro adult-child sexual beliefs. ie:

Special care should be taken not alienate the child from the molesting parent. The removal of a pedophilic parent from the home "should only be seriously considered after all attempts at treatment of the pedophilia and rapprochement with the family have proven futile."

Gardner, R.A. (1992). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse . Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.(p. 537)

The child should be told that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. "The sexual exploitation has to be put on the negative list, but positives as well must be appreciated"

Gardner, R.A. (1992). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse . Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.(p. 572)

Older children may be helped to appreciate that sexual encounters between an adult and a child are not universally considered to be reprehensible acts. The child might be told about other societies in which such behavior was and is considered normal. The child might be helped to appreciate the wisdom of Shakespeare's Hamlet, who said, "Nothing's either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Gardner, R.A. (1992). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse . Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.(p. 59)

However, the broader the scope of parental alienation, the more watered down it's definition becomes. If any child (and parent) can suffer from parental alienation in any circumstance, what makes it abnormal? How is it a mental illness?

DSM stands for “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” and is published by the American Psychiatric Association, the professional organization representing United States psychiatrists. The DSM contains a listing of psychiatric disorders and their corresponding diagnostic codes. Each disorder included in the manual is accompanied by a set of diagnostic criteria and text containing information about the disorder, such as associated features, prevalence, familial patterns, age-, culture- and gender-specific features, and differential diagnosis. No information about treatment is included.

Please stay tuned for part 2.

See Also: Amy Baker and Parental Alienation Syndrome: Is This What Scientific Research Looks Like?

Psychology and Parental Alienation: Closer to Science?

Tioga man killed his wife and then tried to run over two deputies while he had his 2-year-old son in his truck,

Officers with the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office investigate at 1530 Hickory Hill Road in Tioga on Thursday morning. Rapides Parish Sheriff Chuck Wagner said Joseph Chehardy shot his wife, Janeva Chehardy, late Wednesday night at their Hickory Hill Road residence.

Officers with the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office investigate at 1530 Hickory Hill Road in Tioga on Thursday morning. Rapides Parish Sheriff Chuck Wagner said Joseph Chehardy shot his wife, Janeva Chehardy, late Wednesday night at their Hickory Hill Road residence.


If you or someone you know suffers from domestic violence, call the Turning Point Battered Women's Program's crisis line at 1-888-411-1333. For information about donating to or volunteering for Turning Point, call (318) 442-7196.



TIOGA -- A Tioga man killed his wife and then tried to run over two deputies while he had his 2-year-old son in his truck, prompting the deputies to fire shots and wound the man, authorities reported.

The slaying suspect, Joseph Anton Chehardy, 51, of 1530 Hickory Hill Road, Tioga, was arrested a short while later while seeking medical treatment for a gunshot wound.

The deputies didn't know Chehardy had a child in his truck when they fired shots at the truck as Chehardy tried to run them over Wednesday night, officials said.

Rapides Parish Sheriff Chuck Wagner said the deputies acted properly under the circumstances and "did a great job."

Chehardy has been charged with second-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, one count of child desertion and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Chehardy shot and killed his wife, Janeva Lasyone Chehardy, 43, in their home Wednesday night, Wagner said.

The slaying is the latest in a rash of domestic violence-related homicides in Rapides Parish.

Around 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office received a call of a disturbance with shots being fired at the Hickory Hill Road residence. Two sheriff's deputies arrived within three minutes of getting the call. The deputies parked their patrol cars a short distance from the home and were easing their way up when they saw a man -- later identified as Chehardy -- running out of the home, Wagner said.

Deputies told the man to stop, but he refused to listen and got into a pickup truck. Chehardy then "raced the engine" and drove into the path of the two deputies, Wagner said. The deputies fired shots at the pickup truck as they were jumping out of the path. Several bullets hit the truck, with at least one going through the door and hitting Chehardy in the leg before he sped away.

Wagner said the deputies went into the home where they found Janeva Chehardy dead from at least two gunshot wounds -- one to the head and one to the groin. Officers found a child's electronic toy still activated near where the woman was found but couldn't find a child there.

About 20 minutes after Chehardy fled the scene, deputies who were scouring the parish looking for him or the truck he fled in found Chehardy seeking medical treatment for the gunshot wound at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Pineville.

He was taken into custody and then taken to Huey P. Long Medical Center, Pineville, for treatment of the minor injury from the "flesh wound" he suffered from the gunshot.

Wagner said deputies discovered the couple's 2-year-old son at the VA Medical Center. The child was in the truck that was fired upon by officers as Chehardy was trying to run over them, authorities said. The boy was not injured, although Wagner said he seemed to be in shock because of the incident.

Deputies found the truck, which Chehardy had attempted to hide behind the hospital.

"We are still in the investigative process, but this appears to be a domestic argument that escalated into a shooting," Wagner said.

Chehardy was described as having an "extensive record" of crimes, including charges of cruelty to children, injury to a child, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, carrying a prohibited weapon including switchblade and brass knuckles, deadly conduct, criminal mischief, theft of more than $1,500 and resisting an officer, Wagner said. The charges date back to 1977 and are out of Texas.

The couple recently moved to the Tioga home from Texas. Sheriff's officials said Janeva Chehardy's family lives in the area, and she was from here.

Wagner said the two deputies involved in shooting at the pickup truck were put on administrative leave with pay after the shooting, as is the department's procedure. There is no investigation into their shooting as "we are very adamant they acted within their bounds," Wagner said. "They did a great job, and we are thankful that no one else gets hurt."

The men were allowed to return to work Thursday. There will be no further investigation into their shooting, Wagner said.

Domestic-Violence Deaths

The Tioga slaying was the fourth domestic violence-related homicide in the past six months worked by the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office alone. In the past three months, Alexandria Police officers have handled two such homicides, and Avoyelles Parish law enforcement another.

In November, a then-83-year-old man was arrested after he reportedly shot and killed his 81-year-old ex-wife in the Boyce area and then called police and family to tell them about the shooting.

Richard Hargis of Colfax was charged in November with first-degree murder in connection with the case and then was charged in January with sexual battery. He reportedly assaulted a nurse in January while receiving treatment at Huey P. Long Medical Center. He remains in the custody of the Rapides Parish Jail where he's been since his November arrest.

On March 17, family members found the bodies of Bobby Ray Smith, 70, and his ex-wife Alvy Jean Smith, 65, in their Deville home. Both had been shot. Investigators have said that sometime after March 14, Bobby Smith shot Alvy Smith and then himself. There were reports of previous domestic violence between the two.

On March 22, sheriff's detectives were called to a Rapides Station home to investigate another murder-suicide. Investigators found the body of Thomas E. Evans, 28, of Rapides Station in a suitcase at his home. The body of Johnny C. Clark, also 28, was found in the driveway of the home near bushes.

Officials said Evans and Clark were childhood friends and that the fight leading to the shooting may have started because Evans' girlfriend didn't want Clark to continue staying at their home. They suspect that Clark shot Evans and then stuffed Evans' body into a suitcase. Clark shot himself as deputies arrived at the home to investigate a report of shots fired.

Alexandria Police arrested an Alexandria man in February for an apparently domestic violence-related homicide in which his girlfriend was killed.

The body of Chiquina Robinson, 31, was found Jan. 31 in a Dumpster on Lower Third Street. She apparently was beaten to death. Her boyfriend, 25-year-old Marcus McCray, was charged with second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in her death.

Alexandria Police officers suspect Robinson was killed on Jan. 28 in her Walden Point Apartment on Twin Bridges Road in Alexandria. Authorities say McCray has confessed to killing her.

Robinson's death happened on the heels of a suspected domestic-violence murder in Avoyelles Parish. On Jan. 24, Avoyelles Parish law enforcement officials found the body of Amy Harris, 32, of Cottonport in a pasture in Marksville.

Her longtime boyfriend, 39-year-old Terry Jerard Day, of 451 Delphine Alley, Cottonport, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Detectives in that case said Day and Harris reportedly had a "tumultuous relationship" and that officers were called to their home several times in the past for reports of violence or arguments.

Before the Tioga slaying, the most recent domestic-violence death resulted from an argument between two brothers at their home on Highpoint Drive, Alexandria Police said.

Nathan White, 27, was charged with manslaughter, accused of stabbing his brother, Josh White, 30, to death with a sword. Witnesses said both men had been drinking when they began arguing.

Increase In
Domestic Violence

"We are seeing an increase in domestic violence right now," Wagner said. "I'm not sure what is going on, if it is the downturn in the economy or what. But it is something law enforcement deals with day to day."

In April, the Sheriff's Office served 49 temporary restraining orders, and so far this month there have been 30. Wagner said the department is doing what they can to deal with the issue, but said it is hard to be protective when it comes to domestic violence beyond education on the part of the officers and the community.

"We are doing our best to make sure we handle the situation before it escalates," he said. "And there are several laws in place to address the issues."

Wagner pointed out that there are laws that require anyone arrested with domestic violence see a judge before they bond out to be sure they have had ample opportunity to cool down and to give the partner a chance to get away if needed. Also, law enforcement officers are required by law to make an arrest if there is a sign of violence.

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A Second March on Judge Lemkau ! May 26th!! Be There!


WHAT: A Second March on Judge Lemkau !

WHEN: Wednesday, May 26th 7:45 am (SAVE THE DATE !)

WHERE: Rancho Cucamonga - Location Details To Be Announced Very Soon

WHY: We need your help to attend this march to GET THE WORD OUT TO VOTERS (our final media push) to REMOVE JUDGE LEMKAU before voters make their decision at the June 8th election !

* PLEASE RSVP if you will attend the march at:



* Please call the John & Ken Show at KFI-AM-640 – ONCE EVERY DAY BETWEEN 3 PM – 7 PM:

Let them know you would like them to cover our second March on Lemkau: CALL: 800-520-1534

Thank You,

Lemkau Must Go


Send questions to: lemkaumustgo@gmail.com


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The Proper Role for Mental Health Professionals in Domestic Violence Cases

Time's Up! by Barry Goldstein

by Barry Goldstein

I dedicated my first book, SCARED TO LEAVE AFRAID TO STAY to three brave children Stephen, Serena and Brianne. When they were seven, five and four respectively, they told the judge, court appointed evaluator, their attorney and the child protective caseworker that their father was abusing them physically and the girls sexually. As happens in most of these cases, these professionals assumed the mother was brainwashing the children and warned she would lose custody if she didn't stop. The court then ordered a resumption of unsupervised visitation.

Shortly before the first visit could take place, the father was confronted by the babysitter in the presence of the law guardian and he admitted to kissing his daughters on their privates. The law guardian immediately filed a motion to stop the visitation which I supported on behalf of the mother. The judge consulted the psychiatrist who had been appointed evaluator. He said the father demonstrated poor judgment but there was no reason to stop the visitation. We later learned the father penetrated Brianne for the first time during this visitation.

When the judge refused to protect the children, I filed a new complaint with the Child Protective Service (CPS). When the judge learned of this he yelled and screamed at me saying the case had already been investigated. The new caseworker assigned to the case did a thorough job this time and learned the father had done worse than we had alleged. CPS brought charges against the father and he never again had anything but supervised visitation.

The mother invited the CPS caseworker and myself to a celebratory dinner after she won custody. The children had gifts for us, but most important they had a name for us. They called us believers because we believed them when all the professionals who were supposed to protect them didn't.

A few years later, this same evaluator was appointed to resolve any disputes in a joint custody arrangement that another abused mother had been pressured to accept. She called him after learning that the father's new wife had a mental breakdown at a child's birthday party attended by her son. The evaluator responded totally appropriately to her concerns and then said he thought when she called she was going to make allegations of sexual abuse AND HE WAS FULLY PREPARED NOT TO BELIEVE HER.

This psychiatrist was far from the worst mental health professional in the custody courts. He did not have a male supremacist agenda, did not use PAS and was actually good in cases unrelated to domestic violence and child abuse. The judges in Westchester County loved him and used him more than anyone else. Of course if he immediately discounted allegations of sexual abuse before hearing the facts, sexually abused children had no chance for protection with him as evaluator.

Mental Health Professionals in Custody Courts

Evaluators and other mental health professionals were invited into the custody court system at a time when many assumed domestic violence was caused by mental illness, substance abuse or the actions of the victim. All of these assumptions have been totally discredited, but mental health professionals continue to play a major role in domestic violence custody cases.

These mental health professionals seldom have more than a few hours of training in domestic violence. They are unfamiliar with the specialized body of domestic violence research. Despite this, they routinely ignore the ethical requirement to consult with someone expert in a topic in which they don't have expertise. Surprisingly, despite these circumstances that would make courts outside the custody arena disqualify or discredit such "experts", custody courts routinely accept their recommendations with little scrutiny. Genuine experts often find their testimony discredited or are even prevented from testifying because they are not "neutral" professionals. In reality, their ignorance and bias very much favors abusive fathers. Since they have no scientific research to rely on, the evaluators and other professionals relied on by the custody courts instead use myths, stereotypes and their personal belief system. The recommendations usually tell courts more about the beliefs and biases of the evaluator than the qualifications of the parents.

Evaluators often use psychological tests that create a false sense of a scientific basis for the recommendations. These tests were not created for the populations the courts see in custody court. They were created to determine mental illness and reveal nothing about parenting skills or domestic violence. Even with mental illness, the evaluators rarely inform the courts that the finding is based on probability. At best the tests demonstrate a 55-65% chance that someone answering the questions as the test subject would have the problem diagnosed. Even worse, this figure goes down if the subject is under stress such as a difficult custody case or domestic violence.

Of particular concern is the practice of unqualified mental health professionals pathologizing protective mothers. These professionals usually fail to recognize domestic violence because of their lack of training, unfamiliarity with up-to-date research, bias, belief in the myth that women frequently make up false allegations of abuse to gain an advantage in litigation and the manipulation by the abuser. They then create imaginary conditions like delusional or paranoid that are based solely on their own failure to recognize the father's abuse.

These mistakes are often committed by mental health professionals acting in good faith, but without the proper training. Even worse is the cottage industry of unethical professionals catering to male supremacists who are often appointed by the courts despite their bias in favor of fathers. They often have close relationships with GALs and judges which help them win appointments. They have found that the money in custody is to be made by supporting abusers because controlling men have access to the family's resources. These biased professionals use bogus theories like Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and support male supremacist tactics like shared parenting and "friendly parent" considerations. In some communities we have seen an outbreak of numerous cases of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy although it is an extremely rare condition. Perhaps there should be an investigation of the drinking water in the community to see what suddenly caused the widespread outbreak of such a rare condition. In reality, we know the cause: the use of a male supremacist evaluator who specializes in Munchausen and is paid substantial sums of money for this diagnosis as a way to take children from safe, protective mothers so they can be sent to live with abusive fathers.

The Role of Mental Health Professionals

Just as good men need to speak out against sexist jokes, remarks that objectify women and to challenge male supremacists who seek to use the children in order to maintain what they believe is their male privilege to control women, good mental health professionals also must speak out against the minority in their profession who routinely hurt women and children whether out of greed, sexism or ignorance.

Most mental health professionals never go to court and most of their work does not involve domestic violence. At the same time, with domestic violence as prevalent as it is in this society, most mental health professionals will inevitably come across cases involving domestic violence. Accordingly it is important for mental health professionals to receive significant training in domestic violence in school and later as a regular part of their careers. My friend, Dara Carlin, often speaks about the fact that professionals have a certain conceit to believe any training they receive should be from those in the same profession. Thus lawyers would only learn from other lawyers and psychologists from other psychologists. Far better would be to regularly engage in multi-disciplinary training so that mental health professionals could learn from lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, sociologists and especially domestic violence advocates. This is why our new book, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY contains chapters from all of these professions as well as judges and journalists.

Domestic violence experts understand that couples counseling and other practices that bring together abusers and their victims are dangerous and unethical. This is because of the unequal power the man and woman have. Consider the dilemma a victim has. If she doesn't tell the therapist about her partner's abuse, they will spend the time discussing pretend or less significant issues (like we often see in custody courts), but if she reveals his abuse, he is likely to hurt her when they leave. We have repeatedly seen mediators take on domestic violence cases even when the law specifically creates an exception for dv cases. Mediators rarely have much training in domestic violence and either don't recognize the abuse or believe their tremendous skills can overcome the problem. Whatever the mistake, the results overwhelmingly benefit abusers and harm their victims. Accordingly, good mental health professionals must make sure their professional associations have strong ethical rules that forbid the treatment or meeting of couples when one is abusing the other.

We have also seen many unscrupulous mental health professionals enter the batterer treatment industry. Of particular concern are professionals who claim their treatment can help make abusers stop his abuse. It is not just that this is a waste of money, but it is dangerous. Partners and judges are likely to make decisions based on these false assurances that these methods make him safe. Such decisions are likely to place the woman in danger. The research is now quite clear and in fact a huge amount of money has been spent (wasted) trying to establish the effectiveness of batterer programs. The only thing that has been shown to reduce men's abuse is accountability and monitoring. Batterer programs, anger management and therapy have all failed to provide any long-term reduction in men's abuse of women. Again good mental health professionals need to lobby for strong ethical standards that forbid their colleagues to make promises or imply that their treatment will change men's behavior. To be clear, I am not saying batterers should not get mental health treatment. Batterers, like everyone else have problems that can be helped by therapy, but the belief system that causes men to abuse and control women is not something likely to be changed by therapy. I should also mention that there are exceptions to this when a mental health problem causes a man's abuse, but these cases are rare.

For many years we have witnessed a phony debate about medical malpractice in which medical groups supported by insurance companies and the politicians they support (pay) demand a one-sided medical malpractice "reform" that involves taking away many of the rights and protections consumers have when they are victimized by medical malpractice. Cases in which patients appear to receive a large award are well-publicized because the special interests have the money to do so. When poor patients are denied the ability to bring valid claims or receive far less than they deserve, the public doesn't hear about these common cases because the victims don't have the resources or influence for their complaints to be heard. It is well known that a small percentage of doctors commit most of the medical malpractice. Any balanced approach to medical malpractice would include a way to discipline or otherwise stop these serial offenders from continuing their malpractice. This would save money and reduce insurance premiums the best way, by reducing the harm to the public caused by medical malpractice.

Just as good doctors need to challenge their incompetent colleagues, mental health professionals must stop those of their colleagues who make a living helping abusers while destroying the lives of protective mothers and their children. I recently read an article by a psychologist arguing that evaluators should be given immunity. He pointed out that his colleagues face a far larger number of professional complaints than those working in other areas and that 99% of the complaints are dismissed. He thought that meant the complaints were frivolous and never considered it is because those reviewing the complaints are themselves psychologists who have a personal interest in dismissing the complaints.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is an unscientific theory concocted by someone who supported sex between adults and children. It is not recognized by any reputable professional organization and is not listed in the DSM IV which contains all recognized mental health conditions. It is a tactic used by abusers and their supporters to stop investigations of domestic violence and child abuse complaints and instead give custody to the abuser and little or no contact to the safe protective mother. PAS, which is sometimes also referred to as parental alienation or just alienation because PAS is so discredited is responsible for destroying the lives of thousands of children. Recently at least three psychologists have lost their licenses for using PAS because they are in effect diagnosing something that does not exist. Good mental health professionals need to make sure that this kind of enforcement of professional ethics occurs more frequently. Similarly, evaluators who fail to consult with domestic violence experts on cases with domestic violence allegations, fail to consult with sexual abuse experts when there are allegations of sexual abuse, are unfamiliar with up-to-date research about domestic violence, engage in myths, gender bias, stereotypes and other similar errors must be disciplined. The reputations of all mental health professionals and the entire profession are harmed when unqualified and prejudiced evaluators are permitted to mislead the courts and harm children.

Use of Mental Health Professionals in DV Cases

Many of my friends and colleagues who have seen the harm caused by mental health professionals in the custody court system want to eliminate any role for them in custody decisions. This position is completely understandable because these professionals have done far more harm than good. If the choice is between continuing the present use of mental health professionals or eliminating them altogether, children would certainly benefit from ending their role. This should help good mental health professionals understand the tremendous harm being done to the reputation of all mental health professionals of remaining silent while unethical or incompetent evaluators and others destroy children's lives with impunity.

Nevertheless, I believe the research supports a role in custody cases for mental health professionals if the present harmful practices are stopped. The courts should use more critical thinking about the purpose of involving mental health professionals in a case and not automatically appoint evaluators just because it is a disputed custody case. Judges and lawyers should consider what specific information they need, whether such information is specifically in the expertise of mental health professionals and in making an appointment limit the investigation to the specific information needed. Evaluators or therapists can be used when there is good reason to believe one of the parents or the children have a mental health condition that significantly affects the ability to parent the children. Mediation can be appropriately used if the court is confident no domestic violence issues exist. If any allegations of domestic violence have been made at any time, one parent is afraid of the other or there are any other reasons to believe one parent has abused the other mediation is not safe or appropriate. Many courts in this and other contexts take a position that until domestic violence is proven, it is not a domestic violence case. This is wrong and causes a lot of problems. Courts need to use domestic violence expertise to first determine whether or not one of the parties has committed domestic violence.

When there are allegations of domestic violence there will rarely be any need for mental health professionals. The court needs to have a factual hearing about the validity of these allegations. If the allegations are true and the other parent is safe (which specifically has nothing to do with "alienation" issues), the only proper outcome is custody for the safe parent and at least initially supervised visitation for the abusive parent. This approach avoids the time and expense of hearing evidence about other issues that shouldn't affect the outcome if domestic violence is confirmed. Furthermore since at least 98% of domestic violence allegations by mothers are accurate, a hearing limited to this issue will completely resolve custody and visitation issues in the case.

If mental health professionals are going to retain a role in custody cases, they must create the following reforms to avoid the tragedies caused by widespread inappropriate practices.

1. In any cases involving domestic violence allegations the mental health professional must consult with a domestic violence expert.

2. Mental health professionals who work with custody courts will have training in recognizing domestic violence, gender bias and the effects of domestic violence on children.

3. Mental health professionals who work with custody courts will take steps to avoid manipulation by abusers and confirmation bias.

4. The mental health professionals will be familiar with the specialized body of up-to-date research about domestic violence.

5. Mental health professionals will never use unscientific or unproven theories such as Parental Alienation Syndrome and its progeny.

6. Mental health professionals will not use psychological tests that were not created for the population seen in family court and when using psychological tests will make the court and the parties aware of what percentage accuracy the tests provide. The professionals will also be required to make sure the scoring of such tests is not compromised by gender bias.

Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. The new book he co-edited with Mo Therese Hannah, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY was just published.

Abused Women in Maryland Aren’t Lying

Parenting News Network

by Elizabeth Black ·Ms.Magazine

This spring, the Maryland legislature killed a bill that would have brought Maryland’s restraining order policies into line with every other state in the union. Remarkably, in Maryland, a stalking victim seeking help is required to prove her case with “clear and convincing” evidence, a higher standard than “preponderance of the evidence,” which is the universal standard for civil dispute.

There can be only one reason for this absurd requirement: that the Maryland legislators who voted for the bill, listed here, believe that women who testify that they’ve been abused are less credible than men who deny being abusers. That’s not a level playing field, and it’s an absolutely unacceptable attitude for a legislator to hold.

But it’s no mystery where they’re getting this idea. Father’s and men’s rights activists have long promoted the myth that false allegations of domestic violence are rampant, especially in custody cases, and that women frequently file for protective orders in order to gain an upper hand in court. The group Fathers and Families in particular has promoted fathers’ rights propaganda around the country, and has directly targeted legislators. When Maryland Rep. Luis Simmons stated in an interview that he believed it only fair to expunge records of those who had been given a Temporary Restraining Order that didn’t lead to a final order (because a judge dismissed or denied it), Fathers and Families encouraged its supporters to contact Simmons to applaud his statement.

In fact, bona fide false allegations of domestic violence are rare. Dr. Michael Flood wrote in his paper “Fact Sheet #2: The Myth Of Women False Accusation Of Domestic Violence And Misuse Of Protective Orders” that most abused women are reluctant to take out restraining orders:

The risk of domestic violence increases at the time of separation … Women living with domestic violence often do not take out protection orders and do so only as a last resort … Protection orders provide an effective means of reducing women’s vulnerability to violence.

It is only when women experience more severe forms of violence, such as choking, beating, or being shot at, that they are more likely to take out a protective order.

As experts Rita Smith and Pamela Coukos of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence wrote in an article for the peer-reviewed Judges Journal:

Although both common sense and the prevailing legal standard dictate careful consideration of evidence in domestic or family violence when determining custody, allegations of domestic violence and/or child sexual abuse made during a divorce or custody proceeding are not always taken seriously. These allegations often are wrongly perceived as false because they are asserted in a contentious environment and because of the widespread myth that parents fabricate domestic violence and child abuse allegations in order to gain an advantage in court. When combined with the misuse of psychological syndrome evidence, the perception that a parent has fabricated the allegations often results in unfair retribution against the reporting protective parent.

Furthermore, obtaining a restraining order does not guarantee that an abused woman will be able to gain custody of her children or see her abuse taken seriously. According to Attorney Elizabeth Kates, citing Zorza, Dore, and Rosen:

Research does not substantiate this popular myth [that women frequently lie about domestic violence]. However, research does substantiate that there is no tactical advantage to making domestic violence claims. Fathers are more likely to get visitation when domestic violence is alleged, even in states with custody presumptions enacted to protect battered women. Abusive fathers are more likely to obtain primary custody when domestic violence is present, alleged or not.

More evidence that women don’t lie comes from a 1994 study of a Massachusetts database tracking restraining orders (RO’s):

[T]he high frequency with which RO’s are issued might lead some skeptics to assume that these orders are granted too easily for minor offenses and almost any man is at risk of being a defendant. The data from the new RO database in Massachusetts reflect otherwise. Men against whom RO’s have been used are clearly not a random draw from the population. They are likely to have a criminal history, often reflective of violent behavior toward others.

Thus, it simply isn’t true that women are likely to lodge false charges of child abuse or battering against their spouses in an effort to manipulate or retaliate–the rate of false reports in these circumstances is no greater than for other crimes.

This research and testimony needs to get out there to combat men’s and father’s rights group propaganda, so legislators are not influenced by untruths. To do anything less places an unfair burden of proof on abused women.

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The Science of Mother Love


by Cori Young

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the way babies are cared for by their mothers will determine not only their emotional development, but the biological development of the child’s brain and central nervous system as well. The nature of love, and how the capacity to love develops, has become the subject of scientific study over the last decade. New data is emerging from a multitude of disciplines including neurology, psychology, biology, ethology, anthropology and neurocardiology. Something scientific disciplines find in common when putting love under the microscope is that in addition to shaping the brains of infants, mother’s love acts as a template for love itself and has far reaching effects on her child’s ability to love throughout life.

the-science-of-mother-love.jpgTo mothers holding their newborn babies it will come as little surprise that the ‘decade of the brain’ has lead science to the wisdom of the mother’s heart.

According to Alan Schore, assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA School of Medicine, a major conclusion of the last decade of developmental neuroscience research is that the infant brain is designed to be molded by the environment it encounters.1 In other words, babies are born with a certain set of genetics, but they must be activated by early experience and interaction. Schore believes the most crucial component of these earliest interactions is the primary caregiver – the mother. “The child’s first relationship, the one with the mother, acts as a template, as it permanently molds the individual’s capacities to enter into all later emotional relationships.” Others agree. The first months of an infant’s life constitute what is known as a critical period – a time when events are imprinted in the nervous system.

“Hugs and kisses during these critical periods make those neurons grow and connect properly with other neurons.” Says Dr. Arthur Janov, in his book Biology of Love. “You can kiss that brain into maturity.”

Hormones, The Language of Love

In his beautiful book, The Scientification of Love, French obstetrician Michel Odent explains how Oxytocin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland stimulates the release of chemical messengers in the heart. Oxytocin, which is essential during birth, stimulating contractions, and during lactation, stimulating the ‘milk ejection reflex’, is also involved in other ‘loving behaviors’. “It is noticeable that whatever the facet of love we consider, oxytocin is involved.’ Says Odent. “During intercourse both partners – female and male – release oxytocin.” One study even shows that the simple act of sharing a meal with other people increases our levels of this ‘love hormone’.2

The altruistic oxytocin is part of a complex hormonal balance. A sudden release of Oxytocin creates an urge toward loving which can be directed in different ways depending on the presence of other hormones, which is why there are different types of love. For example, with a high level of prolactin, a well-known mothering hormone, the urge to love is directed toward babies.

While Oxytocin is an altruistic hormone and prolactin a mothering hormone, endorphins represent our ‘reward system’. “Each time we mammals do something that benefits the survival of the species, we are rewarded by the secretion of these morphine-like substances.” Says Odent.

During birth there is also an increase in the level of endorphins in the fetus so that in the moments following birth both mother and baby are under the effects of opiates. The role of these hormones is to encourage dependency, which ensures a strong attachment between mother and infant. In situations of failed affectional bonding between mother and baby there will be a deficiency of the appropriate hormones, which could leave a child susceptible to substance abuse in later life as the system continually attempts to right itself.3 You can say no to drugs, but not to neurobiology. Human brains have evolved from earlier mammals. The first portion of our brain that evolved on top of its reptilian heritage is the limbic system, the seat of emotion. It is this portion of the brain that permits mothers and their babies to bond. Mothers and babies are hardwired for the experience of togetherness. The habits of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing practiced by the majority of! mothers in non-industrialized cultures, and more and more in our own, facilitate two of the main components needed for optimal mother/child bonding: proximity and touch.

PROXIMITY, Between Mammals, the Nature of Love is Heart to Heart

In many ways it’s obvious why a helpless newborn would require continuous close proximity to a caregiver; they’re helpless and unable to provide for themselves. But science is unveiling other less obvious benefits of holding baby close. Mother/child bonding isn’t just for brains, but is also an affair of the heart. In his 1992 work, Evolution’s End, Joseph Chilton Pearce describes the dual role of the heart cell, saying that it not only contracts and expands rhythmically to pump blood, it communicates with its fellow cells. “If you isolate a cell from the heart, keep it alive and examine it through a microscope, you will see it lose it’s synchronous rhythm and begin to fibrillate until it dies. If you put another isolated heart cell on that microscopic slide it will also fibrillate . If you move the two cells within a certain proximity, however , they synchronize and beat in unison.” Perhaps this is why most mothers instinctively place their babies to their left breast, keep! ing those hearts in proximity. The heart produces the hormone, ANF that dramatically affects every major system of the body. “All evidence indicates that the mother’s developed heart stimulates the newborn heart, thereby activating a dialogue between the infant’s brain-mind and heart.” says Pearce who believes this heart to heart communication activates intelligences in the mother also. “On holding her infant in the left-breast position with its corresponding heart contact, a major block of dormant intelligences is activated in the mother, causing precise shifts of brain function and permanent behavior changes.” In this beautiful dynamic the infant’s system is activated by being held closely; and this proximity also stimulates a new intelligence in the mother, which helps her to respond to and nurture her infant. Pretty nifty plan – and another good reason to aim for a natural birth. If nature is handing out intelligence to help us in our role as mothers we want to be awake ! and alert!


“The easiest and quickest way to induce depression and alienation in an infant or child is not to touch it, hold it, or carry it on your body.” – James W. Prescott, PhD

Research in neuroscience has shown that touch is necessary for human development and that a lack of touch damages not only individuals, but our whole society. Human touch and love is essential to health. A lack of stimulus and touch very early on causes the stress hormone, cortisol to be released which creates a toxic brain environment and can damage certain brain structures. According to James W. Prescott, PhD, of the Institute of Humanistic Science, and former research scientist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, sensory deprivation results in behavioral abnormalities such as depression, impulse dyscontrol, violence, substance abuse, and in impaired immunological functioning in mother deprived infants.4 For over a million years babies have enjoyed almost constant in-arms contact with their mothers or other caregivers, usually members of an extended family, receiving constant touch for the first year or so of life. “In nature’s nativity scene, ! mother’s arms have always been baby’s bed, breakfast, transportation, even entertainment, and, for most of the world’s babies, they still are.” says developmental psychologist, Sharon Heller in, The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact With Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development.5

To babies,touch = love and fully loved babies develop healthy brains. During the critical period of development following birth the infant brain is undergoing a massive growth of neural connections. Synaptic connections in the cortex continue to proliferate for about two years, when they peak. During this period one of the most crucial things to survival and healthy development is touch. All mammal mothers seem to know this instinctively, and, if allowed to bond successfully with their babies they will provide continuous loving touch.

Touch deprivation in infant monkeys is so traumatic their whole system goes haywire, with an increase of stress hormones, increased heart rate, compromised immune system and sleep disturbances.6

With only 25% of our adult brain size, we are the least mature at birth of any mammal. Anthropologist, Ashley Montagu concluded that given our upright position and large brains, human infants are born prematurely while our heads can still fit through the birth canal, and that brain development must therefore extend into postnatal life. He believed the human gestation period to actually be eighteen months long – nine in the womb and another nine outside it, and that touch is absolutely vital to this time of “exterogestation.”7

Newborns are born expecting to be held, handled, cuddled, rubbed, kissed, and maybe even licked! All mammals lick their newborns vigorously, off and on, during the first hours and days after birth in order to activate their sensory nerve endings, which are involved in motor movements, spatial, and visual orientation. These nerve endings cannot be activated until after birth due to the insulation of the watery womb environment and the coating of vernix casseus on the baby’s skin.

Recall Dr. Janov’s claim that you can kiss a brain into maturity. Janov believes that very early touch is central to developing a healthy brain. “Irrespective of the neurojuices involved, it is clear that lack of love changes the chemicals in the brain and can eventually change the structure of that brain.”

Breastfeeding: Liquid Love

Breastfeeding neatly brings together nourishment for baby with the need for closeness shared by mother and child; and is another crucial way that mother’s love helps shape baby’s brain. Research shows that breastmilk is the perfect “brain food”, essential for normal brain development, particularly, those brain processes associated with depression, violence, and social and sexual behaviors.8

Mother’s milk, a living liquid, contains just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids for human digestion, brain development, and growth. It also contains many immunities a baby needs in early life while her own immune system is maturing. One more instance of mother extending her own power, (love) to her developing child.

Limbic Regulation: The Loop of Love

Another key to understanding how a mother’s love shapes the emerging capacities of her infant is what doctors Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon , authors of A General Theory of Love, call limbic regulation; a mutually synchronizing hormonal exchange between mother and child which serves to regulate vital rhythms.

Human physiology, they say, does not direct all of its own functions; it is interdependent. It must be steadied by the physical presence of another to maintain both physical and emotional health. “Limbic regulation mandates interdependence for social mammals of all ages.” says Lewis, “But young mammals are in special need of it’s guidance: their neural systems are not only immature but also growing and changing. One of the physiologic processes that limbic regulation directs, in other words, is the development of the brain itself – and that means attachment determines the ultimate nature of a child’s mind.” A baby’s physiology is maximally open-loop: without limbic regulation, vital rhythms collapse posing great danger, even death.

The regulatory information required by infants can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function, and more. Lewis, et al contend that , the steady piston of mother’s heart along with the regularity of her breathing coordinate the ebb and flow of an infant’s young internal rhythms. They believe sleep to be an intricate brain rhythm which the neurally immature infant must first borrow from parents. “Although it sounds outlandish to some American ears, exposure to parents can keep a sleeping baby alive.”

The Myth of Independence

This interdependence mandated by limbic regulation is vital during infancy, but it’s also something we need throughout the rest of childhood and on into adulthood. In many ways, humans cannot be stable on their own-we require others to survive. Recall that our nervous systems are not self-contained; they link with those of the people close to us in a silent rhythm that helps regulate our physiology. This is not a popular notion in a culture that values independence over interdependence. However, as a society that cherishes individual freedoms more than any other, we must respect the process whereby autonomy develops.

Children require ongoing neural synchrony from parents in order for their natural capacity for self-directedness to emerge. A mother’s love is a continuous shaping force throughout childhood and requires an adequate stage of dependency. The work of Mary Ainsworth has shown that maternal responsiveness and close bodily contact lead to the unfolding of self-reliance and self confidence.9 Because our culture does not sufficiently value interpersonal relationships, the mother/child bond is not recognized and supported as it could be.

The ability of a mother to read the emotional state of her child is older than our own species, and is essential to our survival, health and happiness. We are reminded of this each time a hurt child changes from sad/scared/angry to peaceful in our loving embrace. Warm human contact generates the internal release of opiates, making mother’s love a powerful anodyne. Even teenagers who sometimes behave as if they are ’so over’ the need for a mother’s affection must be kept in the limbic loop. Children at this age might be at special risk for falling through the emotional cracks. If they don’t get the emotional regulation that family relationships are designed to provide, their hungry brains may seek ineffectual substitutes like drugs and alcohol.

Children left too long under the electronic stewardship of television, video games, etc., are not receiving the steady limbic connection with a resonant parent. Without this a child cannot internalize emotional balance properly.

Our hearts and brains are hardwired for love, and from infancy to old age our health and happiness depend on receiving it.

As the research keeps coming in and we gain a gradually expanding vision of how mother love shapes our species, we see an obvious need to take steps to protect and provide for the mother/child bond. We can take heart knowing that all the while we carry in our genes over a million years of evolutionary refinements equipping us for our role as mothers. The answers sought by science beat steadily within our own hearts.

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