This is fre­quent­ly the sce­nario in my expe­ri­ence of ear­ly child­hood care when a moth­er isn’t suf­fi­cient­ly con­nect­ed with her baby from his ear­li­est days. ‘Bonding’ is often used to describe the con­nec­tion that moth­er and baby ought to have and many moth­ers use the term. How­ev­er, I don’t always see the mutu­al bond­ing that I expect for a healthy mother/baby pair. I always seem to search­ing for Don­ald Winnicott’s ‘ordinary good enough moth­er’! Where did she go?

A mother’s edu­ca­tion has no bear­ing on her abil­i­ty to moth­er. A good instinct for her baby’s and young child’s needs will go such a long way in ensur­ing pos­i­tive and neu­rotyp­i­cal devel­op­ment in all domains: phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and lin­guis­tic (by ‘lin­guis­tic’ I mean all forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the first three years).

We have to know our babies well and want to get to know them in order to be ‘a good enough moth­er’. Chal­lenges abound for the work­ing moth­er who leaves her baby in group care from infan­cy. Those who under­stand the two sides of the bar­gain of par­ent­ing have no trou­ble bring­ing up their babies and real­ly work hard to devel­op their moth­er­ing and par­ent­ing skills and under­stand­ing their child.

How­ev­er, in every instance where a child is ‘awkward’ when in group care there are miss­ing pieces to that mother/baby pair­ing, most­ly stem­ming from the mother’s poor skill set and poor abil­i­ty or desire to con­stant­ly learn about her baby.

So when I say ‘disorganised’ when refer­ring to a moth­er I don’t mean she’s untidy in her per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al life but I do mean that there are pieces of her baby’s devel­op­men­tal puz­zle that she is inca­pable of observ­ing, learn­ing from and then mak­ing the req­ui­site changes to her own contribution.

If you cou­ple that dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion with a ‘dis­or­gan­ised’ care­giv­er for 10 hours a day it is unlike­ly that the child will be emo­tion­al­ly bal­anced, feel secure and have the lan­guage skills and coop­er­a­tive behav­iours I expect at 18 months, when in group care they usu­al­ly make the tran­si­tion to a tod­dler classroom.

An intel­li­gent child that hasn’t been over­pow­ered by his par­ents or care­giv­er can become extreme­ly men­tal­ly well bal­anced and com­mu­nica­tive, and can even come out of a dis­or­gan­ised state when he starts to recog­nise that although his moth­er is dis­or­gan­ised an adult in his group care room is worth con­nect­ing with in a pos­i­tive way.

Of course the best devel­op­men­tal results come about if the care­giv­er is RIE trained (prac­tic­ing the Mag­da Gerber/Emmi Pik­ler phi­los­o­phy) and the moth­er is ‘organ­ised’. Those tod­dlers are a delight to watch; they are hap­py, greet you with a smile, say­ing your name and are very ready to lis­ten to a sto­ry. “Read! Read!” they scream with excite­ment – it’s a won­der­ful sight to behold!

RIE train­ing is always the best route. How­ev­er, it is per­fect­ly pos­si­ble for young and oth­er­wise inex­pe­ri­enced yet very car­ing young women to read Magda’s books, dis­cuss her phi­los­o­phy with me and quite quick­ly absorb most of the skills need­ed to care for babies. What a dif­fer­ence they make in the group care classroom!

One young assis­tant won­dered if the lit­tle ones would remem­ber her after she left. I told her they might not remem­ber her specif­i­cal­ly as the years went by but they would always remem­ber how kind­ly she treat­ed them. I was a recent wit­ness to her return as a vis­i­tor. One of ‘her’ babies, now in the tod­dler class, came into the infant room looked at her slight­ly puz­zled but not scared. She said noth­ing but “Hi, Peter” with a love­ly smile. He then remem­bered the voice and the face! And walked over to her and calm­ly backed into her wel­com­ing lap.

It is hard to explain how impor­tant such con­nec­tions are in a baby’s ear­ly years. If they haven’t had this spe­cial con­nec­tion with their moth­er and haven’t had it with their care­giv­er they are in dire straits, but in Peter’s case his moth­er was always very ‘organised’. She seri­ous­ly accept­ed her role as Peter’s moth­er, nev­er rushed to him at pick­up say­ing (demand­ing?) “Where’s my smile?” or “Where’s my kiss?” or “Where’s my hug?” (the usu­al litany of requests from a ‘dis­or­gan­ised’ moth­er. Some even say to their baby on arrival: “You hurt me when you don’t give me a kiss”! How insen­si­tive and dis­re­spect­ful is it to say that to a 16 month old?).

‘Organised’ babies, tod­dlers and 3’s quite com­fort­ably lean on a lov­ing and warm (RIE?) care­giv­er. Oth­er, less car­ing and less intu­itive, staff mem­bers feel they have to tell me that “Tom is lean­ing on your back” while I’m feed­ing anoth­er baby. 

What the staff mem­ber doesn’t know (because she’s ‘dis­or­gan­ised’!) is that Tom and I have a per­fect under­stand­ing – he knows that I know he’s there. He doesn’t need any­thing more from me except to be a prop to aid his new-found abil­i­ty to stand and take a few steps. If he need­ed me he would be much more assertive and make more noise – I would be forced to respond to him!

To answer your ques­tion: Tom’s moth­er is ‘organ­ised’!

I repeat: “Disorganised mum­my = dis­or­gan­ised baby”