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Time for Parenting...

...because raising children is a full-time job

January 2002 Newsletter

Editorial; From the chair; New members write; Financial report; AGM; What the papers say; Emotional development; What does the committee do?; Poem; Your letters

Emotional Development Starts at the Beginning - Old News?

By Jean Brockless Dip. COT Cert.Couns.WPF

I came across the following piece recently during my Post Graduate training in Psychodynamic Counselling Practice. The concept is not unfamiliar to me as I read some D. W. Winnicott whilst working in Child and Family Psychiatry before having my own family. I stayed at home with my children until the youngest (of three) was six and settled at school and the eldest was settled at Secondary School. I now work part-time with a dedicated mother-in-law and the After School Club (which I helped to set up) to cover my child care needs on three days when I have to leave the house early (one day now) and return only at 5pm.

I thought it appropriate to share it with the membership as it is long-known theory that manages to stay for the most part out of the headlines!! We may speculate why!!

Excerpt from: Psychoanalytic Theory, Therapy and the Self. Harry J.S.Guntrip, Hogarth Press London, 1971

"Winnicott saw how profoundly the struggles of the infant and child to grow a real self determine the nature and state of every problem the adult experiences. In "The Family and Individual Development" he writes of "The First Year of Life" and "The Relationship of a Mother to her Baby at the Beginning." His opening words are:

Emotional development starts at the beginning; in a study of the evolution of the personality and character, it is not possible to ignore the events of the first days and hours……and even birth experience may be significant. The world has kept turning in spite of our ignorance in these matters, simply because there is something about the mother of a baby, something which makes her particularly suited to the protection of her infant in this stage of vulnerability and which makes her able to contribute positively to the baby's positive needs. The mother is able to fulfil this role if she feels secure; if she feels loved in her relation to the infant's father and to her family; and also accepted in the widening circles around the family which constitute society. Her capacity does not rest on knowledge but comes from a feeling attitude which she acquires as pregnancy advances, and which she gradually loses as the infant grows up out of her.

I regard this factual statement, as the fruit of first hand experience, as completely nullifying speculative theories of a death instinct and of aggression as an innate primary destructive drive. If human infants are not surrounded by genuine love from birth, radiating outward into a truly caring family and social environment, then we pay for our failure toward the next generation by having to live in a world torn with fear and hate, grossly unhappy people who wreck marriages and friendships and constantly swell the ranks of the deeply disturbed, from unproductive hippies living in a flimsy fantasy world, to criminals, delinquents, and psychopaths.

In between are the all too common fanatical adherents of scientific, political, economic, educational, and religious ideologies trying to call or drive us to various types of earthly paradise, always failing to devote their resources to the one necessary thing, achieving recognition of the fact that the importance of security for babies and mother outweighs every other issue.

If that is not achieved, everything else we do merely sustains human masses to struggle on from crisis to crisis, from minor to major breakdowns. Today the world may not "keep turning in spite of our ignorance in these matters" much longer. Nor do we want hordes of would-be scientific educators teaching psychology to mothers, for the mother's ability to give her baby a secure start in life "does not depend on knowledge but on a feeling" that comes naturally if she herself feels secure. Winnicott writes, "It is often possible to detect and diagnose emotional disorder in ...the first year of life. The right time for the treatment of such disorder is the time of its inception." This is the overriding fact that should determine our social goals."

As I type this I wonder if it is dated in some ways, but decide that the fundamental message still rings true as I discover daily in my work as a psychodynamic counsellor. There has often been some 'failure of care' in the early days, weeks and months of these adults' lives that affects them in a lifelong way.