I saw a recent Facebook post by a young mother. It was an article talking about how hard it is to parent these days. The culture offers us minute by minute advice on how to raise strong, healthy, creative, sensitive, thoughtful, intelligent, athletic, well-rounded children. The stress can be overwhelming and the guilt can be debilitating.
When I read the article I was reminded of the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott who studied child development. He believed that central to the health of a child is the way she is held. The mother’s holding is important in that it creates a warm and safe place in which the child might navigate the changes in her life. He calls this “good enough mothering.”
Jacqueline J. Lewis interprets Winnicott this way: “[A] mother creates a holding environment for the child as she cradles him in her arms and creates a safe place for him to grow. This holding environment is increased with time and space; it becomes a cradle, a playpen, the next room, and eventually the weekly phone call between a parent and an adult child. Thus the arms-around feeling of the holding environment becomes the transitional space in which a child develops; transitional space is also the space for adult living, learning and playing. It is the space in which art, creativity and religious experience occur.” (The Power of Stories)
There are many things that our culture offers our children and so many of the young parents I know work really hard to make these available to their off-spring. But, I sometimes wonder if the stability of a holding space isn’t the most important. Parents, whether men or women, create a container to help children hold their energy and spirit so that they can work out how to live in the family, the neighborhood and the society. Children, regardless of our ages, need people who can help us hold what is sometimes the chaotic emotions of growing and changing.
So parents, hold on and stay present. Our children need the “arms-around” feeling that can help them discover their own way, their own strength and their own direction.