Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

27
The Influence Babies Bring to Bear
on Their Upbringing

E. James Anthony, M.D.

A baby exerts a huge influence on the household he enters, dominating the outer and inner lives of all the members. He is a developmental impetus. To quote Erikson (1968):

Because [the family] members must reorient themselves to accommodate [the baby's] presence, they must also grow as individuals and as a group. It is as true to say that babies control and bring up their families as it is to say the converse. A family can bring up a baby only by being brought up by him. His growth consists of a series of challenges to them to serve his newly developing potentialities for social interaction. (p. 96)

What is being considered here is not the introduction of a helpless member into a group. In fact, quite a different view from the time‐ honored one that sees the infant as someone in need of total care is presented. The infant is now seen as a mediator of interpersonal contact and communication. The group's dynamics undergo a radical change because the new member automatically has top priority where needs are concerned. In fact, the baby restructures the family, disorganizes established modes of living, and provokes disturbing fantasies in the other children because of his primitive behavior. For nine months the baby has been an invisible but disquieting presence, and the pregnant mother's growing preoccupation with her fetus provides the family a foretaste of what is to come when the baby eventually enters the arena of real life. To everyone, the event is a mixed blessing, and feelings of love and hate surround the newcomer although, in the arms of his mother, he is relatively impervious to these reactions.

The idea of a baby bringing up a family is more than just an eccentric thought: it is a comment on the subtle nature of influence and the paradoxical way in which it often functions. The smallest and weakest can be as psychologically influential as the most powerful. Everyone in the family is a parent or surrogate parent as far as the baby is concerned, and this may lead to the members vying with one another as caregivers in their efforts to reap a rewarding smile—that elusive crowning of the coaxing effort.

The baby's cry, especially one of hunger, can be as potent as his smile; its strength and insistence can be heard everywhere in the house, and everyone responds. The mother's breasts drip with milk, the toddler becomes cranky, the six-year-old sister runs to comfort him, and even the father grows grouchier as he makes his way to the refrigerator (Brazelton, 1969). No one can remain immune to the raucous appeals that sound so imperative.

After the "King," as Freud humorously but

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