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With the increasing acceptance of single motherhood, the question sometimes comes up, “Do I still need a man?” The answer is, “Yes and no.” Let me explain.
It makes sense to have a partner if he is supportive and you feel like a functional family. This will provide a healthy emotional environment where your child can thrive.
On the other hand, if you are pregnant, what you do not want is a high-stress relationship. That raises the levels of stress hormones circulating in your blood. Those hormones cross the placenta and pass through the umbilical cord to your baby. Then, your baby experiences your stress similar to the way you experience it.
This may not sound like much of a problem until you understand the consequences. When your baby experiences stress, this modifies the programming of his or her biological set points. These set points regulate how you child will respond emotionally to events in the world. So if you experience high levels of stress while you are pregnant, your baby will be programmed to tolerate high levels of stress when it is born. In that situation, your child will not adapt very well to quiet, learning environments when he or she starts school.
What this means is that your child will be able to tolerate the ongoing stress in your relationship. But he or she will feel uncomfortable at school. That is because there will not be enough background crazymaking to crank up your child’s stress hormones. Without those stress hormones running at the level your child expects, he or she will feel like something is missing. This might very well cause your child to act out in order to pump up the level of stress in the schoolroom.
The social implications of this are enormous. It explains why the incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is on the rise. As mothers experience more and more stress in today’s fast-paced world, their babies internalize more and more stress during pregnancy. Add to that the stress of dysfunctional relationships, where women are constantly arguing with their partners, and children get set up for academic disaster even before they are born. That is why so many children show up to school unprepared for learning environments. Yet, they might appear to behave normally at home because they feel okay in emotionally-tense situations.
Many psychiatrists do not understand this process. So they end up prescribing medications for children when they cannot sit still or concentrate at school. But medications often add another layer of stress to a child’s life. In contrast, what a child really needs is for his or her parents to step forward and seek help from a family therapist. In family therapy, parents can learn to lower the level of stress in their relationship. This, in turn, will create a home environment that stimulates your child’s emotional set-points to readjust, allowing your child to be more emotionally stable.
If you want to avoid this situation from the get-go, you need to have a low stress relationship with your partner. Don’t let stress program your unborn child for a lifetime of difficulties. Fix your relationship before you become pregnant. Or, if you are pregnant now, talk to your partner about working through relationship stressors in a collaborative fashion.
[Note: This is a question that was sent to Dr. Kidd via the feedback form on the Let’s Hear Your Ideas here at BlameBilly.com.]