“The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”: Shifting from Blame to Support

The field of psychology has a terrible reputation of giving mothers all the blame (or on good days, all the credit) for the psychological health of all human beings. In the 1940’s Dr. Leo Kanner, one of the original autism researchers, listed “refrigerator mothers” as one of the causes of this disease (he later recanted). There are current well-respected attachment theories that claim healthy bonding won’t occur if mothers don’t carry their infants around 24/7 in a sling. I’ve had more than one mother earnestly ask me how she was supposed to go to work with her baby constantly on her chest. The guilt that mothers carry around about the “right way” to mother can be brutal and devastating. I’ve learned to focus on finding a middle ground between the character and nature of the child, parents, and the rest of the family (as much as possible). This takes some of the pressure off mothers, offers realistic solutions, and helps everyone feel more competent.

Lizzie spent her twenties working on a successful career and was thrilled to meet Mark in her thirties. She planned on being a stay at home mom and was over the moon when she discovered she was pregnant. Then John was born and it turns out he was a finicky, colicky baby. He didn’t want to spend time cuddling; he wanted to swing by himself. After making sure John was physically healthy, we began to get to work. Bringing in the whole family (Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters and grandparents) I was able to see that John reminded everyone of Uncle Rick, the “black sheep” of the family. As a group we were able to highlight the differences between Rick and the new baby, and then create a plan to help everyone connect with John. Turns out John loved to visit the pool that Grandma swam in every week. Dad enjoyed hiking on the weekends and John thought the off-road stroller was cozy and fun. Each family member actively worked to let go of their expectations of John (Lizzie learned that John loved baths but not rocking in the chair she bought especially for him), and trying to find natural points of connection. With the pressure off and tools in place, Lizzie and John were able to bond. What is your experience being a Mom or supporting moms around you?