ask dr deborah
Social Connection as a Preventive Measure
Research has shown that social connection is the best protective factor against perinatal depression and anxiety, marital strife, and childhood developmental issues, so why hasn’t the public health sector caught on?
Since research clearly shows that social support is a protective factor against maternal depression and anxiety, marital strife, and childhood developmental issues, where can middle-income parents go for high quality services that are also affordable? Well Baby Center, founded in 2007 by parent, social enterprise entrepreneur, and infant-family mental health specialist Deborah Groening-Rother, PsyD, was at least part of the answer to this question. Convinced that public funding would not abide by the radical idea that “an ounce of preventative care is worth a pound of lifelong struggles,” she determined to financially support the non-profit center through her family foundation. Today Well Baby Center has served close to a hundred pre-licensed therapists seeking specialized training in infant-parent mental health, and thousands of new parents seeking the support and guidance that our Mindful Parenting Groups, counseling and parenting consultations, and community services provide to them.
How can this approach be considered preventative?
Since studies confirm that isolation is a key factor in PMAD (perinatal mood and anxiety disorder) — feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility to nurture a new life along with the stimulation of one’s own childhood wounds that parenthood brings up, many parents retreat from former (both childless and with children) friends and their FOOs (families of origin) for whom they are scared or ashamed to admit their struggle. The pressure to solely breastfeed your child, followed by the demand to feed your child homemade food, give your child homemade remedies, determine the best medical care for your child, and be sure to maintain the romance in the parental relationship, is often just too much to bear. And to add to this toxic mixture, many new mothers who plan to return to work must ward off the onslaught of traditional parenting practices and advice along with constant disapproval from in laws and family members for whom they must seek support in the form of childcare.
Well Baby offers an alternative “tribe” of like-minded parents and professionals to lean on who will support rather than criticize, wonder and learn along side them, and grow new reflective capacities for their own growth and development. In Mindful Parenting, for example, we look with curiosity at the ways in which we were parented along with the ways as parents we want to do things differently.
In yesterday’s group a member stated that when they went “back home” to family members who were telling their child “there will be no crying in our house” or “only bad boys cry,” (which, prior to coming to WBC, may not have struck them as incongruent to their goal of raising an emotionally intelligent child), they realized how different their basic parenting philosophies were from their own parents. Also, had they not gone back to their childhood hometown, they would not have been aware of the fact that this approach was probably the way they were raised and they wouldn’t have been as connected to the thoughts and feelings this realization elicited in them. This new family, however, has a good chance of repairing the multigenerational trauma and dysfunction that brought them into adulthood and into Well Baby Center, but even greater still is the fact that this process, motivated by the birth of their child, is a second order change – defined as changing the rules of the game rather than addressing the problem later on in the life cycle when emotional problems are much harder to treat. This is the definition of a preventative approach to mental health and wellness.
Deborah and the Well Baby Center Family
Deborah Groening Rother is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), and Certified Infant-Parent Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Clinic Director of Well Baby Center.