As I recall my early experiences of motherhood I remember lots of beautiful memories, but I also remember a gripping anxiety. Is my baby breathing? Is my baby feeling loved? Is my baby feeling safe? Are they in distress? In pain? Am I being a good mother?
“Pick him up” “keep him in a sling … chest to chest” “breastfeed on demand” “organic food only” “always be calm” “mindful parenting” “stimulate with reading” “forget everything and focus on the baby” …. etc etc etc …
As a professional I knew all the right things to do and was expected to carry them out to perfection … until I had my first melt down of course … as a new mummy getting ready to return to work, juggle the house chores and finish off my studies … guess what? I discovered I was not superhuman! And I felt guilty about it.
In times of added pressure like returning to work, juggling the needs from other siblings, studying, or trying to fit in some time for our relationships or personal time, the feeling of guilt can become heavy.
The research has shown for over a decade that securely attached infants are more likely to have better outcomes in childhood and adulthood. Often we ask ourselves, how can a mother, who is also human, be able to juggle the real world and all its demands while at the same time being fully present, attentive and always sensitive to all her child’s needs?
We do know that infants and children do not need perfect parents to accommodate their every need. We know that being a good enough mother is actually healthy, however what exactly is “good enough”? How many times can we afford to get it wrong? To let them down? How bad could a bad response be? What kind of my shortcomings would strengthen my children and what kind could damage them?
Luckily for us, research seems to be coming to the rescue!
A new research on infant attachment, finds that it is enough for caregivers to “get it right” 50 percent of the time when responding to babies’ need for attachment to have a positive impact on a baby (Woodhouse et. al, 2019). Wow! This figure should be so reassuring to many of us, especially those of us mothers who have to juggle other children, work, study, domestic work ….
So the next question is, how exactly can we as parents provide this?
Infant attachment with a parent or primary caregiver is not only a bond of love, it is a special bond that has two sides to it:
- It ensures that babies feel generally safe and comforted in stressful times.
- It also allows babies to explore the environment, because they know they can return to their secure base.
A study by Woodhouse (2019) provides a valuable insight because it focuses not only on “sensitivity” but also on what they call “secure base provision”.
Secure base provision is the degree to which a caregiver or parent is able to meet both aspects of the attachment, i.e. the sense of safety and comfort as well as the exploration.