I recently stumbled upon an episode from This American Life called Unconditional Love. I found it to be so interesting and it really helped to open my mind to the broader history of childhood bonding and its significance in America and Hands to Hearts International’s work.
The episode’s intro discussed the research of Harry Harlow. Between 1963 and 1968 he ran a series of tests that took baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers and put them in cages, each equipped with one mother made of terry cloth and one made of wire which provided food. Please watch the experimental video here.
As you can see from this video, even baby monkeys need to be nurtured. I was especially intrigued when Harlow said that the baby monkey would spend seventeen to eighteen hours with the cloth mother as opposed to the wire mother.
This might not seem surprising, but as Ira Glass said, before the 1950s, American doctors, psychologists, and the government believed that too much childhood bonding was a bad thing. Public messaging would discourage mothers from kissing and holding their babies too much. Influential psychologist of the time John Watson even said that “Mother Love is a dangerous instrument.”
Ira’s monologue was shocking to me and made me think on a grand scale. One thing was obvious; I knew that not all mothers listened to this messaging, but I shivered when I realized how many mothers did listen to the society’s ignorant warnings about bonding. Who out of my twenty-something generation would think that the American society was against mother and child bonding until the 1950s?
This made me wonder how this affected the childhood of my grandparents and their generation. I found myself thinking if I could connect this story to some of the more dysfunctional traits of my family.
It also reminded me of my travels in Asia when I felt my own frustration for a lack of bonding. I remember when I lived in Nepal and I had several children who I spent time with. I used to bring them crayons and teach them games like leapfrog and how to build a kite. We had fun and it was a precious time. Then, when I had to leave for America, I wanted to hug them goodbye, but it wasn’t acceptable by the Nepali cultural standards. It made me a little sad to leave without a proper hug, but there wasn’t much I could do.
The radio program went on to discuss an example of attachment disorder. Heidi and Rick adopted a child from a Romanian orphanage named Daniel. Daniel lived there for seven and a half years and didn’t remember much from the experience. He didn’t go to school and just stayed in his crib during most of his days. Daniel did remember never having a desire for family.
Heidi and Rick recalled how they enjoyed the first six months with Daniel, but that period unexpectedly came to a screeching halt. Out of thin air, Daniel became a violent child. He would throw things in the house and intentionally aimed physical attacks at his mother. The attacks brought police to the house twice a month on average. One day it got so bad that he held a knife to her throat.
Heidi had tried so many therapies with Daniel along the way, but this tragic and frightening incident pushed her to search harder. Thankfully, she found what she was looking for, and for the first time, Daniel was officially diagnosed. He had attachment disorder and the remedy for this was for him was to be treated with love and nurturing as if he had gone back to being a one year old again.
That’s right. The attachment therapist prescribed that Heidi and Daniel would have to spend three months together, side bye side, with no more than the distance of three feet apart. Also, even though Daniel was ten, both of the parents were ordered to cradle him like a baby every night for twenty minutes while looking deep into his eyes and holding him tight.
This sounds crazy to most, but it changed Daniel dramatically and his violence toward Heidi ceased to exist. At the time of this interview, Daniel was a teenager and he had just been awarded as a model citizen in his local synagogue. Quite a change from the day when he held a knife to his mother’s throat. The love and physical bonding cured him.
So, I’ll bring it back to my work and my own environment. I now work with Hands to Hearts International. Laura Peterson is its executive director, founder, creator, etc. and she has just reached over 10,200 children with her message of the importance of childhood bonding. From what I have seen of her work, of the video footage, the photos, the stories, and people such as parents who adopted a child from an orphanage where HHI’s program is strong, I am convinced that HHI is the answer to all of the problems that I have just mentioned.
I have seen a lot of disasters in this world. I have worked as a humanitarian aid worker in war-torn countries. I have worked in non-profits big and small, and I have to say that HHI is the most effective thing I’ve seen. Why? Because it starts at the core of children’s lives, with love. It’s so simple that I’m afraid that not everyone can grasp it. It’s true though. Just imagine how things would have been different for Daniel if he had HHI trained caregivers at his orphanage in Romania, singing him songs and cradling him to sleep as a baby. Is it resonating yet?
I don’t think healing people, a country, or the world is about a new democracy, newly elected presidents, the greatest new technology, or fancy billion dollar aid packages. It’s just about love and I’m waiting for the day when more people understand this. HHI gets this and it gives me hope.
by Liz Kimmerly