Seeking Safe Harbor: a response to the current immigration policy of separating children from their families
written by Marsha McKeon, Ph.D. Clinical Director
We sit with babies. We protect them. We nourish and nurture and rock them in our arms. We sacrifice for them. This is not political or sentimental. It is our genetic wisdom, our human goodness and our thoughtful intelligence that knows what is needed.
Infants or young children who have been forcibly removed from the arms of their parents, especially for an extended amount of time, are traumatized by this. Their nervous systems are on high alert, they are bereft and vulnerable and those who know them best are not available to do the fundamental parental work of helping them to calm and feel safe again.
Forced separations of children from their mothers and fathers is wrong, and it is cruel. This has nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics, strong borders or theories of governing. It is about understanding what it is to be human.
Human infants and young children depend on their loving grown-ups to calm their bodies. Research and common sense tells us that healthy growth depends on soothing, settling and caring of children by adults who know them and love them. These early experiences of relationship influence a child’s lasting sense of safety, curiosity and creativity, capacity to trust others, physical health and present and future well-being.
Rocking, soothing, feeding, quieting, singing, stroking, smiling, observing. These are not extras. This is what we know to be necessary. This is the foundation of healthy community. Children need to be in the arms of those who love them.
This is what we do. We gather around families who have young children and we protect them. We are parents and grandparents and neighbors and aunts and uncles and friends who circle young families with love and care. We can imagine fear because we too have been alone and afraid. We can imagine running to safe harbor because we too have been threatened. We can imagine compassion because we have been protected when we needed to be protected.
May our hearts break when children and families are not protected. May it be unbearable.
This, our compassionate shared humanity, is our greatest hope.