The difficult role of the mother

This article is also available in Italian.

The role of the mother appears, as I write below, something very complicated; in fact everything should be done so instinctively. A mother instinctively feel what is right for her child.

Winnicott, a famous English physician and psychoanalyst, tells us that it is important that the mother be able to introduce the reality in the minds of children, in small doses, so that its acceptance is not too painful (the first serious contact with reality is given before everything from the awareness of being something separate from the mother). Then we speak of the concept of frustration, a necessary condition to develop the mental apparatus of the child. It is natural that frustration, even if necessary, must be limited and I will now explain what I mean.

Rightly, when born, the baby is completely dependent parent or carer. We understand the needs of our child so as to give him something to eat immediately when he is hungry or put to sleep when he is sleepy, but it is important to adapt with the growth in the right mental development encouraged in this case by gradually increasing the waiting time for food and any other thing. The time that elapses from the moment the child begins to be desired, for example, the milk, when in fact his mother brought him, will be a precious moment in which he will create the mental image of the desired object taking conscience that in addition to himself, there is a world that surrounds him.

If this stage of development is lacking because of the absence of frustration, it is would create an omnipotent child who has everything he wants in the very moment when he so wishes. Conversely, too much frustration or a state of frustration continues, bring the child to close. For example when he calls because he’s hungry and his mother never arrives, leaving crying, stop calling because he will be discouraged, not encouraged in the pursuit of satisfaction.

Winnicott speak of “good-enough mother” that, said in this way, seems almost derogatory, in reality this phrase means that a mother is already perceived as a good mother to instinctive level, without going in search of anything: we must learn to listen ourselves, we have everything we need to be good parents.

Talking with a friend, we thought that this phrase of Winnicott would be nice if turned into a “better mother“; does not sound better to you? About “better mother” I mean one who is able to help the child to separate from her and find his way toward individualism, without suffering too much. Is not the one who loves too much his son to keep him tied for eternity, not allowing him to let his feelings emerge. Nor is she who not poses no limits, no prohibitions, only for fear that her son hates her. Too many prohibitions, not good. We went through an era (the ’50s) in which education was based precisely on excess of prohibitions and the result was a widespread sense of guilt. Often this leads to pathological narcissism in which the sense of guilt, replaces the lack of self-esteem, depression and addiction.

The mother, as Winnicott said, is the mother who instinctively understands what needs his son, knowing strike the right balance, and knowing create the right distance between her and the baby.

About this, I remember the importance of the object of transition, which should coincide (four to five months) at the age where the child proves to be capable of performing actions on reality in some way deliberately and, ultimately, should coincide with “the area of the game“.

The object of transition will be for him help for tolerate the absence of the mother, replacing her with a symbolic object like a teddy bear or a blanket for the sleep.

Another important point, perhaps too often not considered is that a small child is unable to interpret his emotions. Hence the usefulness of help the child, to channel and interpret the emotions and impulses, with phrases like “I understand why you are angry, but to hit is not a good thing”.

How many times have we heard parents say “My son has a difficult character, he does not allow me to say no to him”? As the psychoanalyst Caroline Thompson explains in his book “La violence de l’amour”, in reality it is to link the behavior of the child to behavior too permissive parent. It is as if the son claim the authority of the parent, in the only way he understand. We can therefore say that be too permissive, or be unable to set limits and punishments, is caused the difficulty of the parent to start a good separation for fear of losing the love of the son, with the only consequence of having a child “rebel”, who refuses to do what the parent asks, “so nothing changes”, at most, the parent yells (equivalent to a sign of helplessness of parents, be heard).

Give the rules is very important and the punishment will give the right weight. I am convinced is essential to explain to children, such as explain why you have to wash your teeth after eating or why we must wash hands before eating but one thing is certain, the moment will come, when they will question your rules, partly because they must see how far can go. This will be the moment when the parent should be assertive, he has to make feel his authority, putting an end to all discussion and ensuring that rules are followed, including requiring phrases like “here I decide“.

And please, do not yield, constancy is essential to maintain the rules.

It is beautiful to go always agree, but does not help the baby’s growth; is necessary the contrast with the child, always in some measure to allow him to develop his personality and express his feelings. It could also happen that the child, suddenly, to a denial of the mother, try feeling of hatred towards the mother, but it is a normal thing. Similarly may be normal to feel hatred or anger against a brother newborn. The child who is not yet able to interpret his feelings well, he will feel bad for what he is feeling, and his feelings could backfire on him through the self-punishment. In this case we will try to help him, explaining to him that the feeling of “hatred” does not mean to be bad. It can happen to have feelings like this when you are angry or frustrated, but to hit and to think hit are different things.

In conclusion I just say this: there isn’t a perfect mother, above all we must accept being a mother has her ups and downs, sometimes she wrong and that what we are doing less well is not disastrous for the child.

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