Mothers are often confused and worried by the intense emotions aroused in them by their children. The baby blues is a common complaint in the first few weeks after the birth of the baby.
Sometimes mothers even wonder if they are losing their sanity – they weep so easily and get so upset over trifles. Later, as the baby grows, some mothers are quite horrified that there are moments when they actually dislike the child.
It is a great help to a woman if she can understand her feelings and realize that other women experience these same emotions.
Modern research shows that maternal love and maternal behavior pass through stages of growth and development, but it can be seriously disturbed by many factors.
Most people used to believe that every woman had a maternal instinct which influenced her to care for her child and operated in the interests of the child, but it appears that this is not so.
Most women want to do the best for their child, but they do not instinctively know what is best. Emotion teaches no techniques, it doesn’t tell you how to feed or clothe a child, nor how to keep it clean.
Monkeys reared artificially without a mother did not develop normal play; they would not mate and form satisfactory relationships with other monkeys, and when they finally did have a baby they had no idea of how to look after it, they even pushed it away and refused to feed it.
This has frightening implications, because it suggests that girls with bad mothers and from broken homes may themselves be bad mothers. Statistics do bear this out to a certain extent, and children from broken homes do more often fail to make satisfactory marriages.
This may partly be example, but it also relates to the way they were handled as babies. It is by no means inevitable that the girl from an unhappy home will fail to make a good mother. An unhappy home atmosphere may have to be counteracted by education and preparation for motherhood.
Most women, finding they are pregnant, have mixed feelings. Quite a large percentage do not want the baby at first, but gradually as pregnancy advances their feelings change. Every woman experiences some fear, partly physical fear of danger to herself, but also the fear of responsibility.
During pregnancy the expectant mother is often moody; her husband finds her more unpredictable than usual and often not responsive to his attentions; she becomes self-centered (no doubt this is nature’s way of making her care for herself, and hence the baby); she is often more dependent on others, and appears to be expecting more attention (this is all quite natural, because when the baby arrives she will have to give her attention to the child).
Normally she turns to her husband for this support, and if he gives it they are well on the way to a happy marriage. Often, however, she turns to her mother, who makes a great fuss about her daughter’s health.
If the expectant mother came from an unhappy home she now tends to find herself thinking with her mother and against her husband, as her mother did. This can be the beginning of the end for the marriage, even though both husband and wife love each other.
When the baby arrives, the mother is often intensely possessive and protective (some mothers say they even resent the nurses holding the baby), and with this strong desire to care for the baby there is often anxiety about doing it properly.
Psychologists have studied monkeys and humans in this situation, and they find that the mother monkey cuddles her baby, clasps it tightly, grooms it, frequently feeds it at the breast, and rocks it. If it gets away from her she grabs it luck.
Many years ago specialists in infant care said that babies should be fed four hourly, and not picked up too often. Great emphasis was placed on not spoiling babies.
Well, the psychologists now say that babies need a certain amount of close contact, warmth, rocking, the sound of the mother’s voice.
Obviously these can be most easily given when the baby is breast fed. Some mothers dread close physical contact, others are tense and excitable, and the contact they have with the baby may excite it.
Some move quickly and never relax, so they make the baby tense; others nurse the baby at the slightest whimper and make him think that being picked up is the answer to all his trouble.
Studies of mothers and babies show that many factors can upset a mother’s feelings toward her baby.
If she did not want him, if the birth was a long and difficult one. if she wanted a girl or if he is born with something wrong, she may find it hard to give him the close relationship that to him is love and security.
If he is sick or premature she may be too frightened to handle him; if he is a sensitive, jumpy baby who cries a lot she may get desperate trying to find what he wants, and start to dislike him just because she can’t make him happy.
It is very important that a mother get expert advice early if she has an unhappy baby.
A baby with indigestion is not happy and neither is his mother, so don’t wait till he is three months old to see if it stops – by then the mother-child relationship may be thoroughly upset.
During the first six months, when the baby’s main needs are love, food, sleep, reasonable hygiene, and disposal of his body waste, he is gradually becoming more responsive. The mother is learning his language and how to supply his needs.
In the second six months he becomes much more attached to her, wants her near to be seen and heard, cries when she leaves.
As he gets older and able to get about he follows her and clings when he is uncertain of strangers or new experiences. Some mothers find this exasperating.
The good baby who was little trouble at 6 months becomes a very demanding, clinging child of 15 months who will not go to strangers. This is a dangerous year, a year of accidents, so nature sees that he firmly attaches himself to one person who will care for him.
As the child becomes more venturesome his mother has to allow him to get into trouble, but be there to rescue him. It is a wise mother who can decide just when to stop protecting and possessing, and encourage independence.
Unhappy family relationships often cause a mother to overprotect a delicate child and stunt his personality as well; the deserted wife can too easily make her child her whole life, and keep him too close and dependent.
Love is the most important thing in life, but it goes hand in hand with jealousy and hate, so don’t be surprised if at times your feelings are mixed.