I went camping with my 12-year-old son this past weekend. As I was driving over to pick him up from a sleepover I began feeling waves of nervousness, sadness, and fear. I was not sure why I was feeling these emotions but was guessing because I was going to spend the weekend with a tired tween and because I had never gone camping alone with one of my kids. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I have never set up a tent or campsite solo without my friends or husband. I simply took a deep breath reminded myself of all my past camping trips and said, “Molly you can do this. All that matters is that you spend alone time with your son.” After pulling my son from his friend’s house we rattled up the road in my old Saab headed for the mountains to be together.
Thank goodness for some good karma because when we arrived we found a campsite on one of the busiest weekends of the summer. We set up camp next to a beautiful lake and after a much-needed nap we swam, paddle boarded, played cards, built a fire, ate smores, told ghost stories, laughed and talked more than we had in a long time.
As I sit here writing you would think this memorable weekend adventure would be the main thing that is residing in my brain and in my heart, but it is not. What is on my mind and in my heart are all of the mothers that did not get to spend the weekend with their children.
I have to admit before writing this blog I was not as educated as I should be on this issue, mostly out of denial. I have been closing my eyes to what is really happening from fear of facing the truth around this horrific situation. I have found myself clicking off of websites and turning newspaper pages and magazines so I did not have to read about what is happening to all the children and families trying to immigrate to the United States. Until one evening I was sitting with a group of friends and we began talking about the children locked up in jail like conditions and I knew that my denial needed to go away in order to speak out, especially from a mental health perspective and the trauma that is being inflicted upon these children and families.
After doing some research by reading articles and reaching out to a friend in D.C. who wrote an intelligent and beautiful letter to Congress, I came to some conclusions. One conclusion that is most glaring and right in my face is that what is happening in our country right now in regards to immigration and children is simply wrong. We were all taught as children what is right and what is wrong. Treating others as you wish to be treated, what you put out into the world will come back to you, or no act of kindness however small is ever wasted. These simple but profound acts that can truly change a culture are not being acted upon at this time in our country, and it is wrong. It is wrong that we are putting what I believe personal politics above people’s lives.
Second, coming from the perspective as a therapist and mental health professional this forced separation of children from their parents is causing massive amounts of trauma and this trauma will not only affect the thousands that are directly involved but will also cause a ripple effect upon many more.
Rachel Osborn, a therapist at Mary’s Center in Washington, D.C., who works in schools with children who immigrated from Latin America to the U.S. without their parents knows kids who slept in the immigrant detention centers in Texas that have dominated recent headlines.
“We have kids who will say that was the worst part of their journey,” Osborn says. “They were traveling for weeks and the hardest part was being in this freezing cold room where, you know, they were fed a cold sandwich and had a thin blanket to shiver under.”
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, shared when children are comforted by their parents, they produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which helps relieve the stress response, without a parent’s comfort, a child’s stress response can go into overdrive. And that leads to many different health problems, she says, including “changes in brain development, changes in the hormonal systems, immune system, cardiovascular system, and even the way our DNA is read and transcribed.”
As Rachel Osborne and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris share, I also know as a therapist who has witnessed the stories of many people who experienced trauma as a child or an adult. These children for a large portion of their lives will most likely have a challenging imprint on their mental, physical, and spiritual decisions and choices that will make their lives more challenging.
Lastly, I have come to the conclusion that in this world we are so much more connected than separate. When I see images of children being unwillingly separated from their parents my heart races, my palms sweat and I feel the same ping and pull in my belly that I feel when my own children are in physical or emotional pain. Reminding me of the somatic interconnectedness we all experience. We are one human race, living on one planet earth, and so when one hurts we all hurt. We are not separate from each other and because of this, these children are all our children. These images of children are more than victims; they are reminders of all children and pull on our heartstrings as parents and people.
Waking up to the reality of what is happening right now in the United States let’s begin asking ourselves these questions.
How can we roll up our sleeves and get to work to help those in need?
How can we recognize when we are falling asleep to the photos and stories of the children in the detention centers because it is too painful?
How can we stop and feel the ripple effect of trauma that is happening to these children and families in order to fully know the effect that this is having on all people?
How can we come back to the kindness that resides in the center of our being?
I cannot turn away anymore out of fear or avoidance of the truth, and I ask of you to do the same. Here are some places you can go to help support this cause.
KIND: Kids In Need of Defense: https://supportkind.org/
Women’s Refugee Commission: https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/
AILA: American Immigration Lawyers Association: https://www.aila.org/
Reflecting back to when I was picking up my son to go camping I realize the emotions that I was feeling of nervousness, sadness, and fear were not solely because I was going to have to set up a tent alone, but maybe because unconsciously I was realizing that I had the gift of freedom to actually spend time with my son. I realized that my weekend was going to revolve around my son lying on a camping mat, with a warm blanket, in a tent next to me, while other mothers sons would be lying on a camping mat, covered by a thin silver blanket in a cage.