by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
Have you ever been summoned by a baby who is crying in another room? If you have, here is a book for you.
Natalie Angier, winner of a Pulitzer Prize as a New York Times science beat writer, has hit another home run in her column of March 3, 2009, wherein she offers reflections on Sarah Blaffer Hrch’s new book, Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.
In this book, a product of extensive research in the field, we see human beings described as cooperative creatures. In fact, we as a species developed cooperation as a signature quality before the full evolution of our brains and literally became “the nicest apes” even before our cortex was fully developed. Mother and baby become interdependent, their own system—and baby is an active partner in defining this relationship. Babies elicit smiles everywhere. A cooing baby becomes the center of every room. Even politicians might learn from a baby, as babies certainly know how to work a room!
This view of “an active baby” goes against some of the theories advanced psychology. John B. Watson, founder of behaviorism, thought he could condition any baby to elicit behaviors he wanted to see. Fortunately for babies, Watson left the field soon after he conditioned Little Albert to be afraid around anything white and fuzzy, even Santa Claus.
The idea that babies and mothers form their own active unit is good news for fathers who may be reluctant to trust their own parenting skills. Baby will offer some cues for the Dad’s who may be shy around them. So Dad—follow your son or daughter’s cues!
This book offers sound advice for therapists who work with mothers and babies. When help is needed for problem behaviors in either part, the therapist needs to work with baby and mother together and to respect the baby’s own style and manner of communication—similar to the way family therapists work with entire families.
For those who want to learn even more about interactions between infants and mothers, Stanley Greenspan’s book “infant and Childhood mental Health” is a must-read.
The next time you hear a baby cry, listen carefully: there may be a special message in this for you.