Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 1

Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 1

Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 1

Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 1

Excerpt

One of the fathers of the movement for enlightened infant care, John Bowlby, complained that Western societies today had created "the very worst conditions" for parenting and being parented, and likened the situation to a "social pollution" that was extremely unfavorable to nondetrimental child rearing. He regarded the nuclear family, unsupported by an extended group, as potentially hazardous : when things went well it could manage, but when things went awry it soon ran into difficulties. In the new discipline of infant psychiatry, we are beginning to examine some of the difficulties that arise when things go wrong in the predominantly nuclear system that can cause or culminate in three contrasting sets of psychopathology, in all of which mutual influences are constantly at work. The first concerns the complex impingements of disordered or handicapped parents on infants who are seemingly normal at birth; the second, the equally complex impact of disordered or handicapped infants on their apparently normal parents; and the third, the interaction of disturbing effects stemming primarily from both parents and infants.

Here one needs to make the point that is generally overlooked in this context: History (at least as modern demographic historians understand it) is not on Bowlby's side in assuming a steady decline in the morality of child rearing as compared with earlier and presumably better times. E. Badinter, for example, in a history of maternal love, has rejected the notion of some historians that maternal indifference was a defense that women adopted in an era of high infant mortality. Her evidence indicated the reverse of this proposition: the babies died because their mothers had no time for them. Another factor interfering with the spontaneity of the infant and mother intimacy prior to the nineteenth century was the practice of swaddling, which represented, in effect, childhood bondage for the convenience of the mothers. It may seem unbelievable, but in sixteenth-century France the swaddled babies were so often thrown back and forth between adults, apparently for amusement, that doctors lodged complaints of broken bones. These were, in fact, the first official reports of child abuse.

Neglectful and careless parenting, then, has been around for centuries and parental psychiatry has long been recognized. What was missing from the earlier picture was infant psychiatry. The infant had been regarded as not more than a victim—bruised, battered, and broken but only physically, as if the psyche were immune from abuse. The reactions of disordered parents described in this book carry us beyond this because we are now alive to the mutual influences at work in these early dyads. The predominant influence, however, remains that of the parent, and this raises the question about the existence or attenuation of instinctual parental capacities. Monkeys reared in isolation become indifferent mothers; certain types of schizophrenic women show an almost studied indifference to their offspring: Deprived mothers repeat the cycle of deprivation although earnestly professing to do better than their own mothers. Some researchers have found that even regressed and remote schizophrenic mothers will breast-feed their babies under careful and encouraging tutelage and that, as a result, the infants do better, the families are more adjusted, and the mothers have fewer relapses. The investigations, however, are too sparse to offer convincing evidence that the caring instinct persists in the presence of extensive psychopathology. Basic biological knowledge is also lacking. We do not know, . . .

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