Are You a Good Mother?

November 9, 2009 at 3:04 am Leave a comment

Newborn babyEvery mother asks herself, “Am I good enough?  Am I doing something that is harming my baby?”  Often, comments from relatives or friends, parenting books, or even parenting blogs, can reinforce these doubts.

Donald Winnicott was a famous British pediatrician and psychoanalyst who devoted his life to studying what is best for mom and baby. He stated that every new baby must receive “good enough mothering”. What does that phrase mean? In Winnicott’s view, each ordinary devoted mother develops a unique, loving caretaking style that needs not reflect a perfect mothering theory. There is room for daily mistakes and imperfections.  However, he emphasizes that it is important that the infant and mother  have time to become bonded to one another and  form a loving unit or “dyad” during the first early months of life, when all infants have continuous needs for care, feeding and emotional interaction.  Winnicott states that society’s important role is to nurture the earliest mother-baby bond, as the child’s dependence upon his own mother is the foundation for healthy emotional independence. The job of the father and family in these earliest months is to support the new mother with food,  love and understanding, so that she can fulfill her role of mothering  to develop the infant’s basic trust within his own family and world.

Rather than trying to be “perfect,” each mother can simply pay attention to really getting to know her baby’s needs, disposition and personality. This involves responding to baby’s nonverbal cues, figuring out the nature of his cries, and providing lots of holding, eye contact, and talking. She also needs to trust her maternal intuition and gut feelings about what is best for her own baby – and not worry about all the advice she gets from friends and family. It is normal for a new mother to temporarily withdraw from the world for the first two months to assure her baby’s protection and well-being. Winnicott called this process “maternal-preoccupation.”  It is important to care for your baby from an open heart, rather than from a fearful, worried place.

A longer version of this piece appears  in St. Louis Kids magazine.  Click My Articles to read it.

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