This post is a summary of the talk I gave on attachment and bonding at the Ethical Mums coffee morning 24th May 2012.
To be completely in tune with your baby, understand their cries and be able to respond to them – this is what new mums often strive for, or expect of themselves. This kind of ‘perfect bond’ is idealised in our society. It is a myth of course, although when we have a good day we are tempted to believe it’s possible! But the reality is that being responsible for a new baby is hard work, and ‘mis-attunements’ happen all the time. We can’t always soothe our baby’s crying straight away. We sometimes feel angry and frustrated, or useless and ashamed.
‘Mis-attunement’ is a word that describes situations when mother and baby are not ‘on the same page’. You can try everything: feeding, putting down for a nap, changing the nappy, cuddling, winding, more clothes, fewer clothes – and feel as though you have no clue what baby is trying to tell you. Newborns have no concept of themselves as separate people, separate from you the mother. It is by the repeated process of mis-attunement and re-attunement that your baby develops into a separate person, with their own sense of self. The really important thing is how we manage the mis-attunements. It is how we as parents manage ourselves and relate with baby in these situations that counts. And how we ‘make friends’ or re-establish attunement afterwards. Can we be accepting of our imperfections, recover (after a cry or a few deep breaths or counting to 100!) and approach baby in a loving, calm manner?
As parents we need to be able to contain our feelings of inadequacy, anger, frustration or anxiety, and put them aside – at least during baby’s waking hours. To do this day after day after day, we need support. Without plentiful and regular support from family, friends, other new mums and professionals, our capacity to do all this containing can get stretched to breaking point. In the Ethical Mums coffee morning we talked about how we cope when those difficult days come along, shared tips and listened to each other’s experiences. Being listened to and knowing that it is not just you makes a huge difference. I’d like to thank all the mums that came and wish them all the best with their new families!
Esther is a UKCP-registered psychotherapist, counsellor and mother of two based in South Ealing. http://psychotherapyinealing.co.uk 07932 116171