Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am a new mother of a baby girl, as of one month ago. My baby and I are healthy, and I have a supportive loving husband. Life is almost too good to be true. My husband and I are so in love with our baby. I’m writing to ask for advice because I want to make sure it stays this way. I’m so happy I don’t want things to change. What can I do to be the best mother I can possibly be for my baby?
Dr. Norquist responds:
The kind of mothering your daughter needs from you changes according to her physiological and psychological stage of development. What she needs help with right now is developing a sense of basic trust that the world is safe and responsive to her needs. Her world right now, of course, is mainly you and your husband. She needs to experience a secure sense of attachment to you. Mother and infant are biologically (as well as psychologically) primed for this bonding to occur. Ideally, your daughter needs a calm and confident mom who is able to respond to (“mirror”) her baby’s changing emotional states. In addition, she needs parents who can see and accept her basic temperament – whatever it is. As her mother, you can help her to develop the ability to sooth herself as she learns to move comfortably from waking to sleeping states – one of the primary developmental tasks she faces in the 1st year of her life.
Please do not read this and saddle yourself with the expectation of being the perfect mother. As Winnicott, a famous developmental theorist stated, what is necessary is a “good enough mother.” Incidents when we are not able to meet our child’s needs perfectly can actually serve as helpful, growth stimulating experiences for our children. This is because our children need to recognize over time that they can deal with these let-downs, or failures on our part. In so doing, they learn that mom and dad and the world can’t always respond perfectly to their needs. This is part of the ever so gradual, but consistent process of separation and individuation that characterizes the process of moving towards adulthood.
As you may know, mothering our children brings up our own unresolved experiences of being mothered. The clearer, more resolved and more accepting we are regarding our own childhood experiences, the more we are able to adequately meet our own children’s needs. Be conscious of staying close and connected with your husband as you work together to bring this new being into the world. Help her to establish a secure connection with both of you, with herself and with the world. Support each other. Enjoy this wonderful period in life!
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services