What about a mother’s needs?
Knowing so much child psychology, makes me aware of how important the early years of my son’s life are. Even the way a baby’s brain develops is affected by the emotional bond between a parent and their child. Chugani et al. (2001) used brain scans to study Romanian adoptees who had been left in their cots without love or stimulation for an average of 38 months before being adopted. He found that the adoptees showed significantly reduced brain activation compared to controls in the parts of the brain associated with emotion. This type of research makes me aware of how the interactions I have with my son, will affect him long-term. Studies suggest that the more responsive a parent is to their child, the more likely a secure emotional attachment will be formed and the more easily a child will learn to understand and regulate their own emotions. Fortunately, I have found it easy to bond with my son and to put his needs first. However, my mum said to me the other day that I need to remember my own needs and that I should try and find a balance. I know that she is right for a number of reasons. Sometimes, I will completely forget to make myself a cup of coffee until two hours later because my son is demanding my attention. I will often not be able to get dressed until half-way through the morning because my son wants my attention. I sometimes put off seeing my own friends because I know it will be difficult with my son. So how do you strike a balance? How do you meet your needs? Perhaps I need to remember what Winnicott (1953) said “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure”. My son is now 3 years old, so perhaps he is more able to tolerate being frustrated.
But how can a mother of a newborn baby meet her needs? It is hard for some new mothers to make the adjustment to looking after a baby. They may miss the social interaction of the workplace and the stimulation. At the same time, they may feel that their career has been stalled and that motherhood is undervalued. I think that avoiding isolation and building a network of friends is crucial to enjoying motherhood. Fortunately, throughout my experience of being a mother, I have had a strong network of other mothers to share my experiences with. In fact, I am the person who organises this group. It is relatively easy, I email a rota around and people only get back to me if they can’t host. As there are twelve mothers in my group, there are always a few people at every meeting. Now the children are older, the meetings revolve around the different days that people work. Although I enjoyed becoming a new mother, I did seek stimulation outside of the home and kept myself busy with baby groups and coffee groups etc. This was a form of sanity or me as I didn’t have family close by to share childcare with. After 3 years, I have adjusted to the slower pace of life when I am at home and I enjoy not rushing around as much. I make cakes with my son and do craft activities, things I never imagined doing as my own mother was not into these things. I am also back at work part-time as a teacher (11 hours a week) so perhaps I have the best of both worlds. However, I have had to accept a step-down in my career and on occasion, it still grates but I believe that this compensated for by having more time with my son. Each mother has to work out how they will balance their needs with their child’s needs and this may lead to a mother staying at-home, working part-time or working full-time. I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have a choice about going back to work or how many hours they do. Monetary reasons step in to make decisions for people. However, if you did have a choice about how many hours to do, what would be ideal? According to Belsky and Rovine, more than 20 hours of childcare per week for a child under the age of 1 year old is associated with insecure attachments. A US study of more than 17,000 children found that there is a relationship between number of hours in non-parental care and behaviour (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Ritter & Turner, 2003). However, many mothers find caring for a baby or toddler tiring and stressful. They may not want to stay at home looking after their child. Obviously, if a mother is very stressed and unhappy this will affect the baby and in such situations it would be better for the mother to return to work. Brown and Harris (1978) found that women who don’t work and have several young children to care for are more likely to be depressed. There is no sense in a mother staying at home if she is depressed and unhappy. The child is more likely to become securely attached if the mother is happy but around less. Ultimately, it is hard for a mother to meet her child’s needs and at the same time meet her own needs but a mother must be happy for her child to be happy.