Confessions of a New Parent

by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen

Confessions of a New Parent

I am a late bloomer in the marriage and parent department. Certainly I would place check marks next to key line items on that list of 100 Pivotal Things to Do in Life. I simply wasn’t sure about the timing. Busy with grad school and starting a business, my priorities were elsewhere. Ron, the mailman, cautioned me: “If you don’t slow down, no guy will ever catch up with you.”

It wasn’t until four years ago that I met my very best friend, David. We were joyously married in 2012. I became an instant mom to his beautiful daughter, Willow, now 16-years old. Having lost her battle with cervical cancer eleven years prior, Amanda, Willow’s mom, passed the parenting baton to me. Take care of my little girl. Treat her as your own. Guide her. Inspire her. Love her.

Seasoned babysitter to neighborhood kids in high school. Ringleader auntie of fun and frolic for nieces and nephews. Chiropractor with a focus on families. Lickety-split, with utmost certainty, I accepted Amanda’s spiritual request. Quickly assuming the role of mother figure, mentor and sounding board, the responsibility of parenthood clarified my purpose both personally and professionally.

As a kid in 1976, square dancing in PE class was considered a legitimate form of exercise. Twinkies were not frowned upon. Having your bell rung after falling head first off the monkey bars was no big deal. Decades later, as an adult, I paid the price for not better managing mental and physical well-being proactively at a young age. The word balance had not yet been invented, I believe.

It’s a different world now. Like clockwork, Willow is adjusted on Sundays. I don’t suggest. She asks. She expects. As an avid runner (and by her own observation), chiropractic has improved her speed, increased her endurance, expedited her recovery time, and boosted her confidence. A year ago, after pouring over books on nutrition, she became a strict vegan. Watching her blossom from gangly kid to graceful athlete is rewarding. I would think any parent with a child in youth sports would value chiropractic tune ups as a natural component of performance training. Olympians do.

Willow has the advantage of understanding proactive wellness care (vs. reactive sickness care). I taught her the difference: fuel your body with healthy food; train your body with regular exercise; listen to your body; understand how your body works; rest your body; repair your body; respect your body. Her lifestyle is truly congruent with the philosophy of chiropractic, namely peak performance throughout life. With a tinge of envy, I wish I had these tools as a teen. A continual quest for self-awareness does not always come easy, let alone the discipline to put well-being on the priority list over daily minutia. It’s easier to grow a healthy child than to repair a damaged adult. And a lot less costly. Willow gets the big picture from an early age. Lucky girl.

Despite the loving kindness of David and his parents, Willow’s world changed forever when her mom died. Women naturally have the cozy gift of intuitive nurturing. Without the safety and comfort of the mommy factor that girls crave, being raised by a single working dad is well…different. Anyone who has sustained trauma, especially at a young age, will feel remnants of emotional scarring embedded deep within the psyche. As my mentor says, “What you put in your mouth comes out the other end. What you put in your mind sticks forever.”

With that said, the stress of emotional upset is far more damaging than physical trauma. We may trip and sprain an ankle once every blue moon. Eventually the ankle heals. However, whether we are aware of it or not, the human brain is constantly busy. It doesn’t shut down. We’re processing old stuff, new stuff, real stuff, imagined stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, your own stuff, everyone else’s stuff. Being in fight or flight, the cascade of stress hormones associated with anger, fear, excitement, confusion, resentment, sadness, loneliness, danger, anxiety, jealousy, insecurity, and depression has the potential to upset our equilibrium over time unless we actively seek balance.

Willow the teen is adjusted for a different reason than Willow the athlete. I understand Willow’s loss. One never gets over missing a parent. I’ve been there. Twice. No matter how young or old you are, that yearning for the comfort of a parent echoes softly within the soul. With compassion, I adjust Willow. Peel away layers of emotional debris. Clear the nerve system. Recalibrate the inborn intelligence. Train mind and body to recognize peace within. As adults, we tend to carry a giant backpack laden with unresolved junk on our shoulders forever. What if we were better equipped to leave the neurological burdens of the past behind? Luckily, Willow is a bright and bubbly kid. Yet, I know her history. I am also fully aware that as a teen, she’s in the middle of the weirdo years where girls and boys become young men and women. Every aspect of development – physical, social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual – is tested, questioned, revealed.

With chiropractic care, I am guiding Willow’s mind and body through murky teen waters so she may swim ashore to an emotional landscape where confidence, self-awareness and resilience come naturally. The earlier a child learns these concepts, the sooner a young one can experience balance. They are better equipped as adults to handle stress immediately. “Give your kids roots to grow and wings to fly.” By nurturing a child’s central nerve system from the start, the ability to bounce back from stress is automatic. Rather than being bogged down, we can direct a clear mind to embrace opportunity. Suffering is lousy. Shining brightly from within rocks.

I never knew my aunt. She died of a drug overdose before I was born. Morphine. The pain of having been gang raped by soldiers as a teen destroyed her. My cousin committed suicide at the age of 21. No one in the family talks about what really happened. The truth is difficult. Hiding behind a white picket fence is easier. My college roommate ate like a bird in public, yet I routinely found empty food bags stashed in odd places – under the sink, in the laundry hamper, behind the bed. The bathroom always smelled faintly of vomit. I was naive back then. Stomach bug? I got a call a few weeks ago. My friend was in tears. Her daughter is cutting herself. What to do? The pain of others hits me hard.

Babies are fearless, innocent, trusting, curious. Am I ridiculous for wishing to preserve these qualities within each person (young and not so young) I am blessed to meet? Starting on the home front, I will educate, encourage, inspire, love, and adjust that Willowbear of ours no matter what. Never would I want her to experience the neurological turmoil endured by my aunt, cousin, roommate and friend. She’s got a good head on her shoulders. Yet she is just as vulnerable to outside influences as any kid her age. Though I cannot shield her from life, protecting that delicate balance between mind and body is my priority. Good nutrition and sports have served Willow well. Yet the foundation for handling stress longterm is maintaining a nerve system that responsive, free of interference, connected.

By opening my heart, I’ve shared a piece of my story. I am fully aware that not everyone will understand me. I don’t expect agreement. I honor the decisions that best serve your very own children based on your own belief system. I do ask, however, that you roll a new paradigm around in your mind. Try it on for size. See how it fits. Bathing daily is mainstream. Yoga is mainstream. Dentistry for children is mainstream. Paying premium for non-GMO produce is mainstream. Braces are mainstream. Fitness bootcamps for kids are mainstream. Chiropractic has come out of hiding. Adjusting children throughout all stages of growth and development is mainstream. Times change.

It is no coincidence that Willow found her way into my life and I found my way into hers. I am grateful to Amanda for passing the parenting baton to me. I stand by the very words I have spoken since day one of practice: If I have had a positive impact any child (yours or mine) during this lifetime, then long after I am gone, I know I have served my purpose. With tons of love, your Dr. C!