How can we define the word mother

What makes a good mother-child relationship

Many women are unsure how to handle their baby, confused by advice from books and friends. Developmental psychologist Lieselotte Ahnert advises mothers to listen primarily to their feelings. But she also says: women shouldn't define themselves solely through their children.

GEO WISSEN: Professor Ahnert, can you answer the question what a good mother is?

Professor Lieselotte Ahnert: Of course, that is anything but easy to say. Because the question suggests that there is a fixed catalog of criteria or even a panacea. But there is no such thing. Renowned British attachment researcher Donald Winnicott advises that we should abandon the idea of ​​an ideal mother. Instead, he speaks of the "good enough mother".

Why should children be satisfied with less than with an ideal mother?

Since the classic housewife and mother have had their day, mothers today are overwhelmed with demands from many sides: They should be professionally involved in our modern world and get ahead there, but also devotedly care for family and children, organize a varied family life and be a partner for the man and be lovers.

This is a big program that should be maintained over many years of life and inevitably leads to excessive demands if the forces are not properly distributed.

It is also a myth to believe that the foundation for everything that will become of the child is only laid in the first two or three years. Mothers - just like fathers, by the way - have to be prepared for many years of development support and adapt to the changing requirements that growing childhood, but also adolescence and puberty bring with them. Parenthood cannot be terminated, which means that the resources for this task must be maintained. In order to be good mothers, women therefore have to pay attention to their needs in addition to the role of mother. You are well advised if you do not define your life in terms of motherhood alone.

What does that mean in concrete terms: a "sufficiently good" mother?

The central term for me is first of all the "sensitivity" in dealing with the child: You have to recognize their needs, get involved with the offspring and help them to recognize our complicated world and to find their way around it. The what and how of letting in and supporting is subject to the possibilities that mothers can and want to use based on their own attitudes and experiences. This creates a wide variety of motherhood variants, all of which are always "sufficiently good".

In contrast, what is a clearly bad mother for you?

One who lets everything go, who assumes that a child will get what it needs by itself; a mother who is hardly interested in the needs of children and who does not recognize them either. However, it is also not very helpful to put too much into the child's needs and want to align them according to your own ideas. The child of such a mother can hardly have its own learning experiences and develop no self-efficacy; it can hardly experience that it can do what it wants to do - and is thus understood.

This article comes from GEO WISSEN No. 53. You can order the magazine here in the shop.

What is the difference between such overprotection and sensitivity?

When it comes to sensitivity, child orientation is in the foreground, while overprotection is mostly about adult orientation, in which the parents project many expectations and wishes into the growing child. If the child is then cared for under these conditions, the question arises as to how he can develop his or her autonomy. Because it constantly experiences itself as incapable and externally determined, instead of trying things out and also pursuing its own goals.

When does the development of child autonomy begin?

Even a baby experiences relatively early that it can cope with something and that it feels good to be self-effective.

What is the role of the mother in this?

It has to give support where it is needed, but also direct its attention to the "zone of the next development", as it is called in pedagogy. This means that it is good for parents to be aware of the child's current stage of development, but that they should always ask themselves what the next developmental steps are - and how they can support them. For example, if the child has discovered a rocking horse in a picture book, they could be encouraged to try out their own motor skills on a real rocking horse.

Mothers usually give a lot of thought to the right way to deal with the child, read advice books, talk to friends. What can you best rely on?

Above all, first of all on your own empathy, because in the first six months an "intuitive parenting program" runs, so to speak - with both the father and the mother. It is in our evolutionary inheritance that parents usually do exactly what is needed in contact with a baby: they maintain the distance that we know the child can see best; they speak in a tone that is most comfortable for the baby; and they exaggerate gestures and facial expressions to make themselves easier to understand.

Why do mothers become insecure so quickly these days and don't trust these feelings?

In our knowledge society we always want to know everything exactly. The bookstores are full of guidebooks, which unfortunately all too often contradict each other, as early childhood is still a young field of knowledge and therefore too little researched. In addition, conclusions are drawn too hastily from current knowledge. Instead of comparing many advisors with one another, it seems to me to make more sense to find out more about the fundamental development processes of a child, possibly in a parents' seminar. There you could also benefit from the experiences of other parents, since nowadays mothers usually lack an exchange in their own family, for example with aunts or cousins.

Are women increasingly delusional about the great personal investment of time and affection associated with having a child?

Indeed, with the first child, the requirements are usually underestimated. It then depends very much on how the women are supported so that they can develop their motherliness appropriately.

Does it endanger the development of a young child if he or she is in a crèche for several hours a day?

This is a central question that has moved early childhood explorers for many years. They found that a mother can maintain a close bond with her child, even if it is looked after by other people from a very early age. If the mother continues to take care of the child sensitively in the remaining time and encourages its development, the quality of her relationship with the child will continue to exist.

Does this mean that a mother does not necessarily have to attach importance to the fact that she has sole, exclusive access to the child?

Not at all. Other caregivers usually do not interfere with the development of a child - on the contrary: Diverse experiences benefit the development of the child's social behavior.

In human history, collective support from relatives, friends and neighbors was important for raising a child for thousands of years. A mother could sometimes fail completely, especially in the harsh realities of life of our ancestors. The "natural" care of the child was therefore never purely maternal.

How important is it that a mother enables her very young child to have contact with their peers?

In such contact, competencies emerge at the end of the second year that the child cannot acquire when dealing with adults; So there are developmental impulses. In this way, the child learns, for example, to come to terms with situations "on an equal footing", to negotiate conflicts and to make compromises.

A child cannot learn this in contact with adults because they are more socially competent and quickly find a better solution.

In Germany, the daycare system is being massively expanded - on the other hand, many parents rely on child minders. What's the better alternative?

In 2011 we carried out an extensive study in Vienna and Lower Austria in which toddlers were observed and examined by their child minders and at home. We found that the quality of the bond between the children and their child minders was generally better than that of children who go to daycare centers.

What exactly is the benefit of child minders?

They are better able to cater to the children individually, which is certainly mainly due to the fact that they generally look after fewer children than an educator - and their relationship with the child's parents is much more personal. The quality of care of a childminder is also linked to their person, while in daycare centers the entire facility is responsible for this, but the insights are not always so tangible for the parents.

Then you don't have to ask why such a high level of effort is being invested in expanding the crèche in Germany, when a woman who loves children can evidently manage it?

Our study specifically only observed children up to the age of 24 months. Well-trained child minders have advantages here. It all depends on the individual care provided by a loving adult. Since the children also learn a lot through imitation and they much prefer to imitate adults than their peers, this type of care has an additional advantage - always provided that the childminder is committed. Later, on the other hand, children benefit more and more from the educational offers of good day-care centers. The group-related strategies of the daycare centers then present new challenges for child learning, which are essential for the growing intellectual performance in this development stage.

One final question: can a father be as good a mother as the actual mother?

He cannot breastfeed, but fathers can do everything else just as well.

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