During the month of February, our thoughts turn to love. Let’s face it, we can hardly move without commercial references to showing our love with chocolates, hearts and roses.
It feels nice to be truly loved and whilst February is a focus for showing our love to our nearest and dearest, love is even better when it is felt throughout our whole lives.
St Valentine’s Day for many of us now, is a focus for love in a wider context, this may be the love of a partner, but increasingly it is the love of any significant person who is prominent in our life, like a son or daughter, father, mother, aunt, uncle or friend. If we are fortunate, we have many cherished people in our lives, and they cherish us in return.
If we take a look at the film” Love Actually”, it explores the different loving relationships around a group of interrelated people in a community. It includes unrequited love. Where despite loving someone, the love is not returned and it causes unhappiness emptiness and hurt.
I love you to the moon and back is a phrase used widely to depict the strength and the distance we are prepared to go for someone we love. Our fostering agency name came from our determination to demonstrate our love for young people, and especially those in care who need love and support to overcome their challenges in life.
From our experience, many children living in the care system don’t always feel loved and often feel instead like a commodity passed around from family to family like an unwanted present. We however see them as a gift to us, to nurture, love and support no matter what, because in return we will get something, resembling love.
Love is a strong feeling which is sometimes difficult to explain. One of my favourite quotes about love was reproduced by Global News, they asked some elementary kids in Canada to explain what love is.
“I guess my best way of explaining what I think love is would be like the solar system. There are a bunch of planets that can represent people. And then of course gravity holds them together. And gravity is sort of like love. No matter how far apart people are, love can hold them together”
This image of the solar system with its planets and stars links with our ethos at To The Moon and Back about caring for children using the concept of a series of relationships. Some relationships might look to be a distance away, but they may hold a significance for a child that is not always entirely clear, all of the time.
The singer, Tina Turner, sang, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. Well the scientists now tell us rather a lot actually. Doug Watt a prominent neuroscientist talks of our early life as babies as “unrememberable and unforgettable”(2001). This relates to how our early relationships as babies, may not be in our memory as adults, but impacts on our relationships throughout our life. This may be in ways that we least expect.
Our first relationships are based on learning about each other and responding to the needs of a baby based on the clues given to us. As a new parent, I remember looking lovingly at my baby boy constantly whilst trying to work out what his cries meant. Second time round as a mum I thought I was the expert as my daughter arrived, but her clues were so different and a new dance to get to know each other started. Every baby has their own way to communicate and a care givers role is to learn what this is.
Dr Allan Schore believes looks and loving smiles actually help babies brains grow. He describes how a baby takes the feedback of a smiling adult and this triggers’ internal processes, including a release of natural opioids, these are known to encourage brain neurons to grow. Put simply, those loving looks help our brains develop our emotional and social abilities.
So many scientists from different backgrounds, whether this is neuroscientists, biochemists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists appear to agree. As a baby, the more we feel loved, safe and stimulated, the better our life chances are as an adult because our brain develops its social and emotional abilities. The happier the experiences we have as a baby and toddler the better the chances are of having happy relationships later in life. The first relationships we have therefore become the predictor for future relationships. When we feel loved, supported and cared for in our first relationship as a baby we can expect that from others. It’s the start of our trust in others just beginning.
So, what about those babies who don’t experience love in their early years, who are left devoid of affection and stimulation. For those of us old enough like me to remember the horrific pictures of babies lined up in cots left unattended in Romanian orphanages, research following these children has taught us lots about the effect of love and attention on babies.
One study by (Chugani 2001) followed a group of adopted children in the UK, who had, pre adoption and lived in orphanages in Romania as babies. One year in to the adoptions there was a significant number of the adoptive parents identified as an absence of crying and a lack of expression of pain and fear in their toddlers. As the children were studied over time there was some great progress identified in all the children as a result of the care being given by the adoptive parents, but ongoing struggles with most of the children were identified by parents. These were around behavioural difficulties, struggling with relationships with their peers and their remaining focused on a task.
So, what has this got to do with fostering. We have experienced many of our foster children have had challenges in their early lives, as a result of significant parental instability and inconsistency, as well as neglect, the biggest reason why children are removed from their parents and brought in to the care system.
At To the Moon and Back, we truly believe that foster children deserve to feel loved for all of their lives. We want people who will go to the moon and back for our children and be prepared to show that what matters, IS love, actually.