Sunday I was feeling sick, so I stayed in bed and read or slept most of the day. I finished reading a fascinating book titled If the Foundations Be Destroyed…What Can the Righteous Do? by Joy F. Hart. The book is written in story form, and describes a string of families with children with attachment disorders and delayed brain development.
The cover of the book looks amateurish, but in spite of the looks, it is a good read. I could not find a copy online in order to show you what it looks like, so I took a picture.
I found the mix of story-telling and philosophizing compelling, although there were times I wished the story would move faster so I could get to the core of the book. If the Foundations Be Destroyed discusses ways to form attachments, such as brain exercises, schedules, unique approaches to discipline, certain kinds of touch, safe spaces, eye contact in manageable doses; and of all things, sugar! Apparently sugar forms attachments, so the adoptive mom in this story would randomly give her kid a spoonful of ice cream or some milk with sugar in it. The connection makes sense when you think of an infant drinking sweet milk from his mama.
The information about the brain was so interesting to me because I can see some of the same patterns in a child who does not have an attachment disorder, but has some other brain dysfunction. For instance, child training is so different for a child with a malfunctioning brain. If a child is functioning out of the brain stem (survival mode) spanking is useless, or even harmful, because it retains the child in survival mode which is “fight, flight, or freeze.” According to Hart, a parent needs to reinforce the connections to the front brain to be able to change behavior. Only when the child is operating out of frontal and limbic brain systems can they feel, reason, and learn.
Hart talked about an exercise called “strong sitting,” which I would like to try with my son who has autistic tendencies. Several times a day, you have the child sit cross legged in front of a blank wall, with their hands on their knees, their back straight. They are not to move for the designated time (2-3 minutes). This forces their brain to transfer from acting out of the brainstem into using the limbic and frontal brain systems. Over time, this exercise strengthens the underdeveloped pathways to these centers of emotion and reason.
A random fact from the book: sitting still is the highest level of motor function. So it is actually unrealistic to expect a young child to sit still for a long time. (Yes, in church.)
All parents can benefit from learning about attachments. Even children who do not have neurological delays will not attach well if they are treated inflexibly. Rigid parenting, Hart says, produces kids who aren’t in touch with their emotions and are powerless to love well or think for themselves.
I had to think of a birth I helped with recently. The Amish couple was so emotionless over their baby’s birth that it made the midwife and me feel very strange. After reading this book I realized that child will likely grow up depending on himself for survival. Babies need to be touched, fed, talked to, comforted, snuggled. They need to experience a parent’s unrestrained delight. If babies do not have these things, or if they have some kind of medical issue that prevents the normal attachment behaviors from happening, they will grow up incapable of feeling or receiving love. However, with all these children, ground can be gained by some very hard work to create an attachment to a primary caregiver.
“Blocked care” is addressed in the book, referring to parents being unable to show empathy to their needy children due to the extremely high emotional demands that the children place on their parents. As Hart says, the parent needs to be able to work through the pain of her past in order to parent healthily. I found this very relevant even for normal parenting.
Toward the end of her book, Hart addressed the way hurting children are misunderstood by the church. This section especially gripped my heart, because it applies to any of us who belong to Jesus. All Christians have a responsibility to relate redemptively to those who struggle to feel loved. We can’t glibly look the other way and say it isn’t our problem. It is our problem! I know so little about childhood trauma, and this book helped open my eyes. Here are a few excerpts:
Joyanna had not been helped to mourn her losses. There were many losses in her life; not the least was the absence of an innocent childhood. Her counselors continually reminded her to forgive, but they never helped her grieve.
This is typical of our society. We are advised to ignore the painful and the difficult. We want everything “nice.” We silence the griefs of our experiences and dwell on the positives. Whether it is the transition from singlehood to marriage, the move from an inadequate home to a functional one, a change from one occupation to another; we are encouraged to ignore the losses of the experience and focus on the blessings, to be happy and count our blessings, but never to mourn. With little permission to mourn our losses, we deny them and send them into the depth of oblivion, where they will affect us for the rest of our days. (pg. 335)
We as a church do quite well with the inadequate parenting that leaves bumps and scrapes and bruises. We have our ways of helping that are quite effective if the recipient is open to help. But where we tend to miss it is when we…have a home that has left enormous wounds that have become infected and life-threatening–but we turn to the Band-Aids and the Tylenol. (pg. 336)
It seems to be that the age-old reality that the work of building is typically blessed, and the work of rebuilding–of rectifying what has gone wrong–is criticized… Families who have borne children biologically are families in the work of building. Typically it is a work that is blessed. Families who adopt, or who work with children who have been hurt, are families who are rebuilding. It is often rather unpopular and misunderstood. (pg. 358)
And this quote I found extremely sobering, especially considering the poor job many churches do of handling sexual abuse:
We are created in such a way that our brains have the capacity to cope with physical abuse and with losses… Physical pain and loss are a part of life, and there are areas of the brain, if it is healthy, that are able to handle these. If we know what types of abuses a child has suffered, we are able to work on helping those areas of the brain that work with those particular needs to heal. However… there is no area of the brain prepared to handle sexual abuse. It is devastating. It was never meant to be. To find recovery for that is a much more complicated journey. (pg. 388-389)
If the Foundations be Destroyed is worth the time it takes to read, even if you are not a primary caregiver for children with attachment disorders or brain dysfunctions. Gaining knowledge of their unique challenges will help you be a sympathetic supporter in their struggle for healing. Offering love and validation instead of judgment will pave the way to wholeness.
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. -Jesus
I was unable to find a link by which you can purchase the book online. I do have the email address of the publisher, so if you are interested in buying your own copy, contact me and I will give you the necessary information.
What are your thoughts? Is this a book you would like to read, and why or why not?